I have called Spokane “home” for the past 12 years, since my dad retired from the Army. Being in the military and being an Army brat has not been easy, but you are part of a big community and find that everyone is going through the same or at least a similar situation as you. Having a parent (or both) deployed or gone for long periods of time is normal, as is being homeschooled, growing up with a strong emphasis on respecting your elders, good manners and etiquette, knowing different languages at a young age and sharing the same fear of your deployed parent not getting home safely.
I came from a very diverse South where I would see a variety of ethnicities wherever I went, to a not-so-diverse Pacific Northwest, specifically Spokane. Growing up, the kids I played with never saw a difference in how we looked; we just loved being together. When we played at the playground behind our houses, we didn’t discuss our differences, how they defined us, or even how they were viewed as negative to some people. Moving to Spokane was a major culture shock. I went from playing with friends without a care in the world to being told that I’m not like the other kids based on my skin color.
With little diversity in Spokane, I tend to either be the only black person or the only person of color (POC) wherever I go. It’s something I’m used to. During my formative years, there were very few black women that I could look up to. I grew to hate my body, skin, hair and just about everything else about myself because I rarely saw women who looked like me. I was teased for my shape, my skin color, my hair, and just about anything else that you can think of. It has taken years for me to learn to look at myself the way that God sees me.
I grew up with white friends and the only black people around me were my cousins and my sisters. I’ve been told so much “You’d look better if your hair was straight”, so I would beg my mom to straighten it. “Your nose and lips are too big”, so I began pricing plastic surgery so I could look right. “You’d look better if your skin was lighter”, so I tried bleaching my skin. Most of the comments that I got weren’t inherently bad, but they weren’t building me up either. I was told that I would be better if I changed my appearance so I could meet someone else’s standard of beauty.
My parents have always told me how beautiful and perfect I was, but I viewed it as “You’re my parents you HAVE to say this stuff”. It took years of repetition from others of various ethnicities, walks of life and ages reminding me that my differences weren’t bad or make inferior to anyone, and that my race didn’t define who I was. It took reading Bible verses, like Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”, and 1 Samuel 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” constantly to drown out the false and negative feelings, thoughts and comments. I had to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I was beautiful even if I didn’t feel like it. It took asking God to show me how HE sees me. I had to stop looking for the approval of others and look for His approval because it’s the only thing that matters.
God has put women in my life to uplift and encourage me and speak into my life. It took women from every race, age, and walk of life to build me up. Women who looked like me and women who didn’t. Women who told me that I can’t look to the girls in my class as the standard of beauty because I’ll never measure up the way that I wanted to. It took diving into God’s Word and repeating it to myself and having others bring scriptures to me. It took throwing the whole standard of beauty out of the window and looking at myself as my own standard of beauty because everyone’s beauty is different. Seeing confidence in women who look like me has encouraged me.
Because of these women’s influence in my life and knowing that who God says I am is what matters most, I no longer change the way I talk, walk or dress. I no longer try to hide my differences so I can be a carbon copy of other girls. I wasn’t created to do that. I was created with a specific plan and a purpose just like everyone else, and I want to walk in the plan that God has for ME; not someone else. Though I get discouraged at times, I can always fall back on what God has told me. I embrace my differences even when those differences are viewed as negative by others. I embrace my black skin and curly hair and I see them as positives, even on the rough days. God made me different, and that’s okay!