“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” ~Coco Chanel
I thought I was ugly, and I blamed my dark skin. I was ashamed of my skin colour. Looking back, I realized it’s because I didn’t fit in with the white kids, nor did I fit in with the black kids.
I am mixed race. My parents are black and my mother is white. Until I started school, I never considered myself different. We were very close and we felt acceptance and love.
My crush was on a boy when I entered second grade. He never saw me, but he fawned about the beautiful blonde girl in my class. With soft, feminine vocals, her beautiful hair was a springy, blonde color. Her beauty was enhanced by her colorful clothes. She was a beautiful woman and I found myself feeling drab and boring next to her. This was the beginning of my disliking for my dark and frizzy hair.
The name-calling began as I grew up. I was called zebra, Oreo, and n*gger. My youth was filled with tears.
It was easier for me to say. I grew envious of the blonde girls, who caught the boys’ attention. I even envied my two sisters. The one with the blonde hair had no problem getting boys to love her. And, the one with curly locks fell naturally down her neck.
I was a seventh-grader and my hatred for my hair color and frizzy skin grew.
As I worked on my homework, I was able to pass notes along to my classmates as they sat at the back of my class. As an act of bravery I wrote Mike a letter. His reply was very pleasing to me.
In one particular note, I asked him why he didn’t like me. As I handed it to him, I hoped with all my might that he’d tell me I was wrong. He smiled at me when he handed it back to him and made me feel hopeful. When I opened the note, tears welled up in my eyes. My stomach sank to its lowest point, and I felt bile rise to my throat. My brain was flooded with his words, as if they were spoken aloud.
“Because you’re ugly.”
Devastation enveloped me. I crumbled up the note, but the words couldn’t be as easily destroyed like the piece of paper. It sat in the back of my mind as an explanation to me why boys didn’t like me.
Nineteen-grade was the worst year of my life. I had to spit on the back of my head and was called a “dog”. Too embarrassed to look through my dense frizzy mess to discover them, I just left them there.
“Why did you let them throw spitballs at you?” the substitute teacher asked me after class, as she removed the wet globs from my hair.
I shrugged and left the room thinking, “Why didn’t you stop them?”
After I finished high school I was done with the idea of finding someone to love me. Although I was able to go out on dates with them, I still had to ask. Even as I went out with them, I could tell that they’d have preferred to be anywhere else but with me.
Although I had low self-esteem, it was not a problem. However, my smile helped me hide the problems. It was time to let go of my self-consciousness, embrace kindness, be friendly and smile. As I wrote stories in journals and journal, I would sometimes cry.
Rick was then a guest in the college computer rooms. I was interested in him and he spoke with me. He asked me to marry him and I agreed. Unfortunately, my life never went like I had hoped. I got pregnant. He left me.
My baby was my decision. I took care of him and my parents, then went to college again to complete my degree. My focus was now on me and my baby boy. There were always obstacles. But I was determined to remain true to me and adopted five strategies that helped me feel more like myself.
1. Self-care was something I did.
Although self-love needs to come from within, I knew I’d feel better about myself if I put more effort into my appearance, so I bought new clothes and changed my hairstyle. It was a positive experience that made me feel worthwhile. I was able to enhance my skin tone with flattering makeup.
Mentally, I took time to read books about personal growth. I followed steps to maintain positive thoughts such as positive affirmations and becoming more aware of negative thoughts in order for me to reframe them.
It was a great way to change my perception of myself by taking good care of my body and mind. My self-confidence increased when I was more relaxed in my skin, and in my mind.
2. I stopped worrying about the opinions of others.
My shyness and introversion were my natural traits. I also feared being judged. I was able to break free of this shell by attending college. In class, I was a vocal student and asked many questions. It was a trap that kept me from moving forward. The only thing that kept me focused was on the things I wanted to do in the classes.
At the time, my best friend told me to keep my head high and walk straight. She taught me that with my shoulders back and my head held high, I’d appear confident, and when I felt confident, no one’s opinions could hurt me. It was a great way to feel confident and have a good posture.
3. Focused on the positive.
It was always difficult to be positive. I would wallow in self-pity and then wonder why I didn’t have many friends or couldn’t get a date. My mindset changed and I began to focus on the good in my life, and the positive changes I desired.
Because I was a great writer, it was something that I treasured. I learned all I could about management, and continued to improve my skills. It was also a great way to meet positive, self-esteeming people and learn from their vivacious and open personalities. Being around positive people with empowering perspectives has made me feel happier about my life and helped to shift my outlook.
4. I started smiling more.
Smile more and I feel happier, more positive. People should see me as friendly and approachable so I tried to smile and show my kindness to others. It’s amazing what a smile can do for yourself as well for others. Smiling at someone in passing could touch that person and ease whatever pain they’re enduring. You could bring a smile to someone’s face and make them happy.
After picking up hot chocolate from a local food court on the way to work, I took a few steps down toward the exit as I went. Untidy man entered the room and opened it for me. I smiled and thanked the man for his kindness. I did a double take and he smiled at me hesitantly. The power of a smile was evident to me then. Because of his courteous gesture, it made me feel great to recognize him.
It felt great to share a few moments with someone new by being kind and thankful.
5. I was able to find the courage and strength to be who I am.
I felt confident being me after following the above steps. My comfort zone was broken and I even gave a speech at church, seminars and other public events. Living in my shell of a teenager, with walls that were built from childhood to protect me, was a way for me not to feel trapped.
My skin color is not an issue anymore. I still hate my hair, but that’s beside the point. The fact is I realized that it wasn’t my skin color that was stopping me from making friends and finding love. I was the problem. Before anyone can love me, I must first love myself and be a good person to take care of.
I now have a wonderful, gorgeous husband who treats me the way I’ve always wanted to be treated by a man. He values me and loves everything about me—flaws and all!
Exercising these five strategies created a life for me that I’m quite proud of. Retrospectively, I wish that I could have told my teenage self: Life will improve, be patient and let your natural tan grow.
I’m proud to be half black and white. This blend is from both my parents whom I love greatly. Without them, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
Jennifer C. Lawrence
Jennifer, a bankruptcy paralegal offers assistance to clients, and a smile, listening ear and comfort. She enjoys helping women find their smile amid a chaotic life through her website https://www.asmileatatime.com. She resides in Utah with her husband, three children, and two Shih Tzu dogs, while she’s working on her first book for A Smile at a Time.
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