One of the most popular stories about beauty is The Ugly Duckling. It’s meant to push us all embrace being different with the hope that we will all one day grow into a majestic and beautiful swan.
But there’s a problem with that. What happens if we grow into a swan but we still only see the ugly duckling when we look in the mirror?
There’s no easy transformation when it comes to beauty because no matter what we tell ourselves, it’s both physical and mental. And as Jemille reveals, sometimes it’s just complicated.
I never felt the representations of men of color, besides people like LL Cool J and Will Smith, pushed people of color to be considered beautiful or celebrated. And when it came to me, it just made me feel like I had to be and look as close to white because I was so far from the beauty of those men.
As a society, we don’t realize it, but we train children subconsciously to look at being black or a person of color as highly undesirable or ugly. As a child, I lost sight of the pride of my roots and denied part of who I was for those very reasons. For example, in high school, I would perm and bleach my hair blonde, and even wore blue contacts, not realizing that I was crying tears under my very own skin.
I denied my own ancestry, thinking I should “pass” by only focusing on my mixed heritage and light skin. To me, being able to do so meant I was powerful, loved, and good. But eventually I was able to see the beauty in my own history and the color of my skin, which changed my life. The closer I get to adulthood, I’ve realized that who I am is beautiful. Now, I can grow my hair out and appreciate it; I can look in the mirror and enjoy what I see versus only seeing everything I wish I could change. And this didn’t just apply to me, but to how I saw other men of color as well.
In high school, I would perm and bleach my hair blonde, and even wore blue contacts, not realizing that I was crying tears under my very own skin.
More recently, I’ve had a lot of artists express interest in me being a part of their projects because they see something beautiful in me. It’s funny because growing up, I always felt like the ugly duckling. I was always the lonely, overweight, weird, artsy kid trying to figure out who I was and my identity within all of that.
My awkward high school self, the cute friend who always got hugs because I was sweet, was far from being the hot boy in school. I was reminded of this over and over when I would muster enough courage to tell people I had crushes on them, but they would only want to be friends. In college, I experienced that as well. But suddenly when one particular person finally saw me as beautiful, then it was almost as if everyone else caught on, even before I did. So, in college and beyond was when things really began to change.
When I finally began living and working in New York City, people saw the beauty that it took so long for me to embrace, which allowed me to connect with others in a way that I haven’t always been able to.
Eventually I was able to see the beauty in my own history and the color of my skin, which changed my life. The closer I get to adulthood, I’ve realized that who I am is beautiful.
Of course, that is a blessing and a curse. For example, the curse is that I have encountered a lot of people who are attracted to me sexually, which means they want to help me, but at a cost. They expect more to happen than what was agreed upon. And because I was once naive to all of that, I would end up having to cancel a lot of things when I realized they were trying to take advantage of me. But I’ve gotten a lot better at choosing the people I work with and being a part of projects with artists that really want to collaborate on exciting things together.
For as long as I can remember, beauty meant perfection and looked a certain way. And everyone seems to recognize that particular type of beauty when they see it. But I struggle with that. And when I don’t feel like I have the beauty that people see in others or it isn’t recognized by others, it gives me anxiety. I then go back to feeling like the ugly duckling I was growing up or worse–the ugly duckling who never actually grew into a swan. But I’m getting better every day that goes by and I’m working toward the day that I can see the beauty that everyone else sees.