By: Beata F. Snelling
I am 20 years old and until this past summer, I didn’t think that my Black was beautiful because it seemed like I was always told the complete opposite. Growing up half Dominican and half Black, I was always praised for being able to speak Spanish fluently and essentially just for being Dominican. I struggled with feeling “not Spanish enough” for the Hispanic side of my family and “not Black” enough for the Black side. I never felt that I fit in culturally, even in my group of friends I was the only black girl until high school.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a city that was a melting pot of cultures but the elementary school that I went to was predominantly Hispanic. Being Hispanic, I never felt out of place there but at the same time, having all Hispanic friends, jokes were never scarce. Let’s add in the fact that I’m two-toned so the way my pigmentation is set up, my arms and legs are darker than my face, neck, and torso area. And as you would have it, being the only black friend, of course I was darker than everybody else.
When my best friend’s little sister was 3, she asked me if I was chocolate because I drank chocolate milk; everyone laughed and it was cute because she clearly didn’t mean any harm but it became an on-going joke that essentially wasn’t that funny. I laughed, tried not to get offended because she was a baby but I remember wishing I was lighter because of it. Hearing comments on my skin color was never a rarity, and they weren’t said offensively but when you grow up feeling so out of place, it just resonates in a different way.
I can recall visiting Dominican Republic when I was 12 with my mom, visiting family and the amount of times I heard “wow! You’re such a pretty morenita!” was just one too many. It feels like this crazy surprise that you’re a pretty girl because you’re black. When I was younger, I loved being in swimming pools during the summer time; you would’ve thought I was part-fish! Until one year, a family vacation in Mexico turned me a very dark shade of brown and my uncle called me “Blacky” when we got back home.
It was all fun and games until I decided that I never wanted to be that dark again so I refused to tan if I could help it. Which meant that on vacations, I no longer hung out in the pool, I refused to lay out unless there was an umbrella covering every inch of me. The sun became a sort of enemy.
That way of thinking carried on as I got older and I would secretly obsess over whether or not I was getting darker during the summer and essentially just wished I wasn’t my complexion. It wasn’t until high school where I remember looking at a friend’s complexion and saying to her “You have such a nice color, I wish I was like that!” and she looked at me a little puzzled and said “We’re almost the same color?!”
I had never felt so confused. The fun thing about being two-toned is, I don’t actually know what color I am. I kind of think I’m a Gabrielle Union, Kerry Washington shade but I can never really tell. I’ve always known of these actresses but the way that I looked at their beauty was just different because I didn’t seen my own beauty.
How crazy is it that it wasn’t until a friend of mine told me that I was beautiful, and she loved my complexion which reminded her of Gabrielle Union that I started to think maybe I wasn’t as bad as I had thought? I remember thinking that this girl was absolutely nuts! That comment sparked a curiosity within me which made me look her up on Google Images and something changed. I scrolled and scrolled and thought, “Wow, she’s gorgeous! Why does it feel like I’ve never really seen her like this before?” As it seemed, I was searching for my own self-acceptance and love through her and little by little, I found it.
I’ve come to the realization that it wasn’t until I learned to love my complexion that I then began to love every other feature that I had. When I got to college, everything just changed. I decided to go natural and began the transitioning process (against my mother’s wishes).While I was growing up, she owned a salon so “natural” wasn’t a concept she was fond of. To her, my natural roots were dying to be blown-out because this wild untamed hair just wasn’t what she considered presentable.
When I was younger, I literally got blow-outs weekly and I never went too long without a relaxer so she wasn’t a fan of my decision. I met some girls though who educated me in so many ways on natural hair and the beauty of it. I learned all about protective styling, deep-conditioning, and my faithful bantu-knots which have become my signature hairstyle. It felt like a whole new world that for some reason I had been so blind to.
Slowly but surely, I began looking at skin complexions differently, no longer did I think the European beauty standard was something to aspire to. I started to see the beauty in what I had always known and it changed the way I looked at EVERYTHING. My taste in men, how I viewed Black women, hairstyles, the culture, how ignorant those around me had been and how I simply let them get away with it. That was no longer an option now and this summer, I did something completely outside of my comfort zone and I got Havana Twists put into my head.
The ignorance that I dealt with was astounding but aside from that, I had never felt so beautiful. There was something about them that made me feel extraordinary and dare I say it, like royalty. I suddenly had this carefree attitude towards things that I used to obsess over. For the first time in years, I laid out in the sun and tanned and let me tell you, my glow was on level 1000. I’m even dating a black guy and if you’d known me growing up, it’s a funny thought because I was faithfully attracted to white boys. But I’m happier than I’ve been in a while, and well, point blank I don’t think I’m “ever going back”.
When I sit back and look at how far I’ve come, it’s crazy to me to think of how much love I denied myself. I put everyone around me on a pedestal, constantly wishing that I was less like myself and more like them. There is something so beautiful about a carefree black girl and although it’s an on-going process, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. My black is so beautiful and I only wish that I could’ve learned that a little earlier on in life, I definitely would’ve been happier.
I’m so thankful for this new generation of young girls like Zendaya Coleman, Amandla Stenberg, Solange, Willow Smith, Zoe Kravitz and the so many others who have helped me get to my new found acceptance. I can only hope that these younger girls don’t take as long as I did to love the skin I’m in. It’s a long road but the pot of gold at the end is so worth it, I promise.