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Pretty brown girls: Making dark-skinned girls feel as attractive as they are

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama dances with students from the Turnaround Arts program during a talent show at the East Room of the White House May 20, 2014 in Washington, DC.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama dances with students from the Turnaround Arts program during a talent show at the East Room of the White House May 20, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Examiner encourages writers to complete report writing as opposed to first-person blogging, but for the purpose of this particular post, a first-hand account is the best way to get the point across. For that reason, this will be a personal story although I usually refrain from doing these types of entries on their site.

In a 2011 documentary I saw on Netflix called "Dark Girls," noticeably stunning brown women and girls talked about how considering themselves beautiful has been a challenge in a society dominated by ads of white women and lighter-skinned women. And while there are many sistas of various hues who could relate to the documentary, I could not. And I have no shame admitting I cannot.

As a kid, I was told I was cute and complimented for my complexion all the time to the point where I didn't see any difference between light-skinned beauty and dark-skinned beauty. But I realized as an adult that had I not had the role models in my life to make me believe that shades of chocolate skin were attractive, I would've grown up severely insecure. I have a few flaws, but confidence (not arrogance) is an area I've never been lacking in.

For mothers, sisters, cousins, fathers and even friends who want to make sure their children do not grow up with insecurities about complexion, here are a few suggestions.

Surround her with elders who will be encouraging, not discouraging: My great great aunt (who passed two years ago at the age of 100) called me her "cute little chocolate girl" and "my chocolate cake." And this was a woman who -- minus her nose -- could've probably passed for white. Considering the blood line of Creole in her Louisiana upbringing, not too many would question her. But even growing up in a time when Jim Crow was alive and well, she still made a point of making me feel like I was something to look at.

Support products that help with her own self-esteem : My mother, who is also light-skinned and has similar features to my great great aunt, used to always buy me brown-skinned dolls as a kid. "Buy" may be an understatement. She basically hounded toy stores and dug through every shelf until she found pretty brown dolls with various textures of hair and shades. And this was in the '80s without the diverse popularity of today's dolls. So there was never a "white doll looks better" attitude with me. I had both white and black Barbie dolls, as well as Cabbage Patch Kids and those doll heads that are used to comb and style hair. I had approximately 23 Barbie dolls, 3-5 Ken dolls, 2 Skippers, a Barbie mansion and a few Ferraris. My brown Barbies were loaded. Why in the world would I ever think they weren't something special?

Support programs that support diversity: I wanted Claire Huxtable to be my mother almost as much as my own mother. I raced home to see "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World," and as a teen, I couldn't get enough of "Living Single," "Martin" and even reading about Jessica in "The Babysitter's Club." While today's TV programs are severely lacking in diversity (outside of shows like "Scandal"), there's no denying that one of the most important and visible women in the past few years is FLOTUS Michelle Obama. While I may have looked to entertainment and my own family members who looked like me, I can't think of a better outside example than FLOTUS for a brown-skinned women who is ogled by fashion, hair, health and business publications. And her husband POTUS Barack H. Obama gushes over how attractive he thinks she is all of the time.

Encourage her male role models to also be respectfully flattering: Although it's disappointing that all young ladies do not have positive male role models in their lives, I had several -- my father, my older brother, my paternal grandfather and my godfather (my mom's childhood best friend). And every last one of them made sure to make me feel comfortable in my own skin while making sure I respected my own self. Of course (as all siblings do) my brother teased me on occasion, but he was never malicious. Even one of my brother's friends -- who is like a brother to me -- looked out for me once I reached puberty. By the time I reached dating age, I was not only secure but no-nonsense when it came to disrespect from any guy I was dating. I once broke up with a guy for waving at my father from our living room instead of getting up to shake my father's hand. (In retrospect I remember that the guy I was dating did not have an attentive father so he may have not known any better, but it still bugged me because he was quick to shake hands for five minutes with any of his own friends.)

Stop entertaining men who do not find dark-skinned women attractive: There is absolutely no reason to obsess over someone who doesn't like you. It doesn't do you a bit of good and is a waste of energy. Make sure other young women know this. Whatever that man finds attractive is his business as much as who you're giving a double take to. But his opinion only gets you a degree at Who Gives a Damn University. I was brought up to enjoy the pursuing of those who liked me both physically and mentally. Do not let young ladies chase around men who will only make them even less secure than they already are.

Stop instigating the light-skinned/dark-skinned debates to create rivalries: A cousin once told me that the reason her mother and her mother's sister didn't get along was because one was light-skinned and the other was dark-skinned. It's difficult to confirm that theory because the dark-skinned sister has passed on, but I found it bizarre considering they were both raised by my great great aunt. If I was complimented nonstop for my own complexion, I find it hard to believe that her own daughter would be insulted for a similar shade.

The biggest problem with this debate is it pits two groups against each other who can do nothing about their own complexion. Light-skinned people can't suddenly turn dark-skinned or vice versa so it's a pointless grudge. More often than not, those who engage in these debates end up insulting some of their own family members. And I absolutely refuse to insult my mother's side of the family for being lighter anymore than I would insult my father's side of the family for being predominantly darker skinned.

No matter how many rappers and entertainment outlets pit the two groups against each other, I refuse to take it seriously. Kelly Rowland is as pretty to me as Beyonce Knowles Carter. Erika Alexander is as attractive as Lisa Bonet. FLOTUS Michelle Obama is right up there with Jasmine Guy. Lupita Nyong'o is as captivating as Paula Patton. Heather Headley is as jaw-dropping as Rihanna. I was not only raised to believe that women of different shades were pretty, but I heard genuine compliments from those around me. Be aware of your behavior when you think young girls are not listening.

Educate those who are less confident or less informed: As I grew older, I hung out with plenty of people who had completely opposite opinions than my own. My childhood best friend repeatedly informed me that she was only attracted to light-skinned men and dark-skinned men were ugly. Because I'm naturally rebellious, I made a point of eyeing some of the most dark chocolate Hershey men in front of her, and she grudgingly had to admit that they were attractive. Instead of ignoring snide comments, meet them head on.

As an adult, a younger cousin of mine (who is caramel in complexion) told me he only likes light-skinned girls with long hair and hazel eyes. I sat him down at a restaurant and told him the history of how slaveowners pitted us against each other due to complexion. He was shocked. Thanks to the mediocre Board of Education textbooks, he had no idea this even happened. Although I was disappointed that someone else hadn't told him this, at least now he knew. What he did with the information was completely up to him. About a year later he invited me to his high school graduation. While I was snapping photos of him with various family members, he walked up to a Kit Kat complexioned girl, wrapped his arms around her neck and kissed her on the cheek. I was stunned. As soon as I had the opportunity, I pulled him to the side and asked him, "What happened to only dating light-skinned girls with long hair and hazel eyes?" He laughed and said, "I knew you would say something! She's just got a tan." My response, "Yeah right, she got her tan the same place I got mine...birth!" Then off he went chasing after that high school sweetheart. I must admit that I smiled at his change of heart.

And while there will always be a crew who continues to recycle the brainwashing that slaveowners have beaten into some of our family members' heads, it's unacceptable in 2014 for us to keep trying to keep those views alive. So many of those who started this controversy are dead now. How about letting the light-skinned versus dark-skinned rivalry die, too?

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