I have brown skin.
Specifically I’m Hispanic. When I was born, I was dark, hairy, and chubby with dark brown eyes and brown-black hair versus my sister who was light skinned and light haired and who looked almost Asian.
I’ve always been dark. If I’m in the sun for longer than half an hour, I turn 10 shades darker. I tan rather than sun burn and I have jokingly referred to myself as the color of a burnt cookie.
I do not know Spanish and growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of cultural ties. My parents didn’t cook a lot of Mexican food, we didn’t go to church that often, never celebrated Cindo de Mayo or Dia de los Muertos and we only went to Mexico once for like a day and came back.
My grandmothers were the ones that cooked a lot of Mexican food and made fresh tortillas and made me menudo. My parents had us young so my grandma on my dad’s side essentially raised my parents and us and my aunt and uncle all at once on her own. She named me Samantha and taught my parents how to take care of us while working full time and helping my aunt with her kids and my teenage uncle.
All in all, I didn’t realize that being brown was any different than being white when I was young. Until I started consuming media.
I never really had representation in the media growing up. It was hard enough to find women role models much less Latina role models so I grew up with a skewed beauty standard.
I remember seeing all these beautiful women and thinking I wasn’t pretty because I was too dark. Being into the “goth” aesthetic didn’t help that any. Everyone was pale white with sharp black hair and blue eyes. I was a preteen the first time I heard about bleaching cream and wondered if there was a home brew version or if I could sneakily buy some without my mom knowing.
Growing up, I avoided the sun to be pale. When I learned makeup, the first shades I got were too light. I didn’t like the way bright colors looked on me because I was darker than they were and it looked weird to me.
Being curvy and top heavy did not help at all to fit the thin, willowy, pale ideal that had formed in my head.
I was about 20 when I finally gave up and just accepted that this was how I looked, but it’s still stuck in my head. I don’t like the sun and I still don’t wear bright colors. I went “blonde” for a year and hated that the coppery color was the same shade as my skin.
I think about this often, this warped idea of beauty I’ve developed. It’s not my fault and I know it. Years of being shown skinny, pale skinned women with little to no representation have cemented the idea in my head. But instead of discarding it all, I’ve used it to show the problem.
I’ve been arguing and talking about representation in comics and the media for years now and I think it’s because of this brown shame I have. Seeing superheroes like Miss America Chavez, Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes, and characters like Sombra from Overwatch shouldn’t be so rare that it gets made to be a big deal. We should have more than a handful of fictional characters that we claw to our chests because it’s all we have.
If I had had that representation when I was younger, things could have been different. I wouldn’t have had to know what bleaching cream is and worry that I couldn’t dress up as my favorite character because I wouldn’t look right.
But it’s still a problem. I remember hearing Tim Burton’s lame excuse for why he only really casts white people and feeling hurt because my skin color didn’t match his visual aesthetics enough. Then there was Marvel’s excuse that the reason their sales had dropped was because they had too much diversity and female lead titles. Like having a brown character is so distracting to the status quo.
We have work to do. I don’t want a little girl growing up and thinking she doesn’t matter because she doesn’t see herself in the faces on TV or in the comics she reads. This kind of stuff does have lasting effects and even now, I’m fighting to not be ashamed of who I am.
I’m brown. Deal with it.