"I am an African Queen, a dark-skinned goddess, a melanin princess."

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learning to love black skin essay
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"You're pretty for a Black girl."

I was in seventh grade the first time I got that "compliment." For this and many other reasons, I grew up thinking that although my Blackness was beautiful, it only was in relativity and comparison to white beauty.

For a long time, I aspired to achieve impossible European beauty standards due to internalized racism. I strived for long, straight hair, a tiny waist, a tiny bottom, and tiny thighs. Everywhere I went, I only saw white people on magazine covers and on starring in major movies. When I searched for the term "beautiful woman" on Google, the first 100 or so pictures are of white women. Occasionally, I'd see a Latina woman, a few Asian women, and one or two light-skinned Black women. However, there were rarely dark-skinned Black women.

learning to love my dark black skin essay
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While I've always loved Beyoncé, Halle Berry, and Zoe Saldaña—and believe their representation of Blackness in the media is so important—I rarely saw dark-skinned Black female celebrities praised for their beauty. Growing up, I didn't have dark-skinned Black women to look up to or to relate my beauty to. Not seeing yourself represented in ways deemed beautiful by the mainstream can make loving yourself hard.

My self-love journey really kicked off when I started to college. Social media hashtags, such as #BlackGirlMagic, #MyBlackIsBeautiful, and #BlackExcellence highlighted Black women of every shade. I noticed that on Tumblr, the site holds several #Blackout days a year where Black users post selfies to show how beautiful dark melanin is. It was like suddenly, I started to see more people like me, and it felt amazing.

As time went on, new female celebrities began to emerge. Lupita N'yongo, Viola Davis, and Maria Borges—all celebrated, gorgeous, dark-skinned Black women who are proud of their natural hair and skin. Then, I started to see people who looked like me in makeup ads, on fashion runways, in commercials, in beauty campaigns, and more. Finally, it felt like the world had opened its eyes to the magic of dark, Black women—and it made me feel more confident.

dark-skinned Black celebrities
Credit: Karwai Tang, Leon Bennett, ABC; Getty Images

I began to further embrace my dark melanin, my rich dark skin, my glowing dark skin for everything that it was. I am an African Queen, a dark-skinned goddess, a melanin princess. My Black is beautiful.

Whenever I feel down about my dark skin, I think back to a moment in second grade. My teacher, who was was fair-skinned with blonde hair, sat down next to me and placed one of her milky white hands next to mine. I cringed in nerves as I wondered what she thought of my skin tone. At the time, I played with white Barbie dolls and watched white Disney princess movies—I didn't know my Black was beautiful yet. "Your skin is just gorgeous," she said with a sweet smile on her face. "Absolutely rich and just beautiful. I wish my skin was just like yours." I remember being happily shocked. This striking woman who I admired wanted my skin while I had been busy being envious of hers.

That moment has stuck with me for years. I learned that my dark Black skin is gorgeous, being envious of others is fruitless, and being comfortable in my own skin is worth it. I look at my mother, the most beautiful woman I know, and she is dark-skinned. Many of my stunning Black female friends are dark-skinned. I am dark-skinned, and I feel in every fiber of my body that my Black is beyond beautiful.