People always ask: if you could go back and tell your younger-self something what would that be?
I would go back and say, “I love your brown skin”.
When I was in middle school, I very vividly remember the girls I used to hang out with getting in a circle and comparing the skin color on their arms. After analyzing everyone’s arms, they decided that my skin color was the darkest. I sat there quietly as they giggled and said things like, “you look dirty.” That night I went home, took a shower and I scrubbed my skin so hard that my body hurt long after the shower. I think about that day every couple of months and it breaks my heart every single time.
I wish I could say that it was an isolated incident but unfortunately, I grew up really struggling with the way that my skin color was often darker than any of my friends’. The media that I was consuming wasn’t much help either, I was watching Telenovelas where the casts were predominantly white-passing or light-skin latinx actors. Brown-skin actors were often cast as the help and the message felt loud and clear. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the world of Telenovelas.
My father wasn’t much help either; every single summer he would say, “don’t be outside too long, you don’t want to get darker”. So you can imagine how hard I scrubbed my skin in the shower during the summer. The wild thing was, my brother and I took after my father in the genes department. My father’s skin is dark brown and he should’ve known better. I think if Mexicans would start unpacking our colorism issues within our community, we would probably save a lot of children from the self-hatred that I struggled with.
I’d love to say that as I got into High School, my perspective on my skin color changed but unfortunately it wasn’t until my 20’s that I finally started to realize the beauty of my brown skin. I remember when I started to fall in love with it and it had everything to do with Representation in the media. I think that’s why I’m so loud about needing brown representation in our TV shows and in our movies. You just never know which little boy or girl is watching something and taking a specific message from it.
Sara Ramirez as Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy was everything to me. Watching her unapologetically dance in her underwear on an episode of Grey’s made me feel alive. There she was, the brown girl magic I’ve been searching for all this time. What a rush!
I’m aware that we have made progress in the way that beauty is portrayed in the media. The range of skin colors on most TV shows and movies has expanded and for that I am grateful. Though, lets not applaud ourselves just yet; it wasn’t until 2017 that we got proper make-up for every skin color. Shoutout to Rihanna!
A lot has changed since my days in middle school. Now, I don’t dare say a disparaging thing about my skin color. I have a niece, who got all of the Perez genes and has a beautiful shade of brown as her skin color. She is why I demand representation in the media. She is why I will openly discuss the colorism issues that plague the Mexican community. She is why I will continue to shout about how damn beautiful my skin color is. She is everything.
So here’s to the little girls that find themselves wishing their skin color was lighter, here’s to them finding the beauty in themselves. Here’s to building communities the will remind them just how beautiful they are, every time that they forget.