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Not too long ago, a friend of mine told me that his workout partner thought I was ugly because I was dark-skinned.

At first, I laughed at the absurdity of it all. A bit taken aback by the comment, I realized I hadn’t been called ugly in years. It was a hurtful statement, filled with hatred with the sole intent of penetrating my self-esteem.

Luckily, I knew I wasn’t unattractive, but such an insult took me back. I do remember a time when I didn’t feel as confident in my physical appearance, and the primary reason was because I am darker complected.

Growing up, I remember being taunted and teased for having darker skin. And I wasn’t the only one. Boys on the playground and popular kids in their recess cliques made it clear who and who wasn’t pretty.

Light skin was in. Everyone wanted to be Beyoncé. Nobody wanted to be Kelly.

Throughout elementary and middle school, I thought I was an ugly girl. I already was a weird, awkward kid; stuck in the library or somewhere with my head in a book. So, in my mind, the fact that I was dark chocolate didn’t help my case. All the boys I had crushes on only had eyes for the fair-skinned girls with long hair. I was dark with kinky curls.

I couldn’t win for losing.

I found myself going to great lengths to meet the skewed standards of beauty oppressed upon me. I got a relaxer, eliminating my curly coils and converting to bone-straight hair. I’d beg my mom for the latest shoes and clothes, anything I could use to compete with the light-skinned beauties at school.

But thankfully, over time, I grew out of that mentality. My confidence grew with my age, and I began to find uniqueness in my own beauty. However, as an adult, I found myself faced with a totally different plight.

Suddenly, African-American men and women were telling me “You’re so pretty for a dark-skinned girl.”

What does that mean?

I found this statement to be ludicrous. For years, I’d seen myself and other dark-skinned girls bullied and made to feel less than because of the complexion of our skin. Now, we still weren’t pretty enough. Just cute to be so dark.

I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be considered pretty by some of my own people. All around me, White America was slowly but surely making a statement that dark skin is beautiful. From Gabrielle Union to Viola Davis. America, who for so long reinforced the idea that beauty was only fair skin and long hair, has finally started upholding darker faces as a standard for beauty. And yet, on social media, I’ve still seen comments under photos of Lupita Nyong’o stating how pretty she is to be so dark. And these comments were coming from other African-Americans.

What is the root of this empty compliment? Surely it is self-hate at its finest. After all, I’d never heard someone say, “Wow, she sure is pretty for a light-skinned girl.”

Despite White America’s so-called acceptance of Black as beautiful, all around me I see African-Americans who still aren’t so convinced. Skin bleaching creams are still advertised online to aid in lightening the skin. And people are buying them. I’m seeing more and more fair-skinned Black women representing themselves as “mixed” with something or “foreign,” when they’re not. Some folks want to be anything but Black.

After going back and forth with my friend about the reason for his workout partner’s comment, I wrote it off as just a personal preference of light over dark. But it’s deeper than that.

I question the moral compass of individuals who still choose to categorize beauty on the basis of skin tone. From slavery and segregation all the way to the Willie Lynch Letter, I can think of a million reasons behind this plague of self-hate amongst Black people. But when will it stop? How many more dark-skinned women will have to endure low self-esteem and ridicule? How many more White Barbie dolls have to be chosen over the Black ones before someone acknowledges that there is a serious issue? When will we all get over ourselves?

How much more self-hate must we inflict on ourselves before enough is enough?

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