Celebrating the Sun, Celebrating Me
by Jamila of CollegeCurlies
After watching the Dark Girls (Preview) video, I felt compelled to share a personal experience. I don’t usually get this personal, but I felt it on my spirit to share. If you take the time to read it, thank you.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have friends with significant financial resources—significant meaning enough to take me along on family vacations and outings that I, otherwise, would have never been able to experience. These friends (all white) took me on all-expense paid vacations to ski resorts, Disney World, the mountains, and of course, the most daunting of them all: the beach. I learned to swim when I was three, I didn’t mind the sand, and I loved the ocean…but my biggest fear in going to the beach was being out in the sun for too long. I prepared for these trips for days. I lathered myself in the highest SPF sunscreen, wore long-sleeved t-shirts over my bathing suit and covered my legs in towels during any out-of-water moment, no matter how brief. I sat in agony, greasy and melting, watching my complexionally blessed friends tan in the sun– horrified at the fact that, despite my efforts, I was getting darker by the second. For my white friends, bronzing in the sun with no worries but the occasional freckle was a privilege, one that I simultaneously wanted and despised. This went on for years. When I got to college, I started learning more about my connection to the African diaspora and began to really discovering the truth of my ancestry. (My parents made sure that my sister and I knew from where we came, but it wasn’t until I explored it for myself that I really started to understand what my ancestry really meant.)
I look back on those days now with a heavy heart. I wish I knew then what I knew now: that my skin is a reflection of my connection to a powerful and unchanging past, that my beautiful brown is nothing to be ashamed of, and that my skin is perfectly fine the way it is, even (and especially) in the sun, when I turn a ripe shade of mahogany brown. Back then, I didn’t fully understand the implications of what I was doing. I didn’t see that hiding from the sun was really just a way of hiding from myself, and that covering up my body to avoid getting darker was masking something much, much deeper inside of myself. It was an act of self-hate, one that was fueled and driven by a force too big for me to conceptualize at the time.
Today when I go to the beach, I lay out just as long as I please, admiring my sun-kissed skin and letting the warmth of the sun fill me whole. My skin is a reminder of resilience, of strength, of freedom, of legacy, of something much bigger than myself…something I hope to pass on to my daughters, no matter what color they are. My younger me asks my current me for forgiveness, and I wish myself upon the sands of my childhood– as bare as public law will allow, soaking up every glorious ray of light the world has to offer.