BEB #11: An Open Letter to Brown Girls

by Jocelyn Ortiz

This is an open letter to little brown girls, this is an open letter to every girl who has ever felt ashamed of her body, this is an open letter to every girl who has ever been told that her body is not her own but the object of ridicule and disgust. 

The playground was always a place where your insecurities were flaunted to other 8-year-olds who had no concept of why your skin was darker, why your hair was thicker and more prominent, and why your body was so evidently different from the other girls. They didn’t care to hear the story of your life, but mocked you for the image of your motherland. 

You begged your mom to let you shave/wax/thread/fix it, but she didn’t understand how an 8-year-old could feel so insecure about something as odd as the hair on her arms or the hair between her fine eyebrows. 

She told you that they were jealous of your tan. But you knew deep down they hated you because you were not a carbon copy of them. You were other. 

For the first decade and a half of my life I was fed this narrative that my dark complexion and thick hair were the antitheses of beauty. That even in the eyes of boys as young as 7, I was ugly and masculine looking. 

By the age of 10, I was shaving, picking out my eyebrow hairs one by one in the bathroom for hours, and burning my young skin with hot waxes and cremes hoping to pluck away my own hatred for myself. 

I learned to hate myself at a young age. Probably 7 or 8. 

(Look at me sitting in a crowded Starbucks, writing this blog, and near tears thinking about how I used to wish I was white when I blew out my birthday candles.)

By the time I was 14 I felt unlovable, I was self-conscious, I was unhappy. And on top of it all, I had braces…

15 hit and I was in high school. A cesspool of hormones and horniness and I was still stuck in the shell of an 8-year-old self-loathing Mexican-American girl. 

I hid in books, behind the sleeves of my jacket, behind a layer of glasses and braces and shyness.

And then puberty hit, and God did it HIT. I was a hormonal mess. And for once in my life, so was everyone else. 

But, that didn’t stop boys from making me feel as though I was unlovable and not as soft, and not as traditionally beautiful. Boys still made me feel like shit, just like they did in elementary school. 

Girls, well they made me feel like shit too. I looked at the blonde and light skinned girls with hairless legs and high cheekbones and couldn’t help but want to be like that.  

Because, well, that’s what magazines told me. That’s what TV shows showed. That’s what all of my favorite rom-coms portrayed. The love between two perfect white people with the brown girl in the background. 

I was the brown girl in the background in my own life. I wasn’t even the main character in my own story. 

And nothing had changed in between the ages of 8 and 15. I was wholly unhappy with my external self and decided to delve deeper into what I could control: my mind. 

So I wrote a lot, I developed opinions, I became loud and boisterous.

 I stopped caring about white-washed narratives of love and beauty.

I stopped caring about my hairy legs. I stopped telling the eyebrow lady to wax my eyebrows thinner. I probably took no-shave November a little too far when I refused to shave for a year in protest of all of the hours I spent shaving in secret as a 3rd grader. 

I stopped wanting to be desirable and touchable and lovable. I wanted to be somebody’s boss, somebody’s role model, not someone’s fetishization or object of sexual marvel. 

I didn’t care if a boy with sweaty palms and too much confidence wanted to kiss me in the passenger seat of his mom’s 2005 Toyota Camry in the Whole Foods parking lot. Because years earlier he was the same boy who told me I should shave.

I embraced myself in the same way Frida Kahlo did. She wasn’t afraid to go against Western beauty standards. She wasn’t self-conscious about her unibrow or shadow looming over her upper lip. She painted her portraits with her body as it was, hairy, dark, imperfectly perfect, and Mexican as fuck. 

She didn’t give a fuck if white men wanted to touch her and love her. She loved her goddamn self, and I should too.

And I did, and I still do.

I love myself, and my Frida Kahlo hairs, and my complexion. I love my round little face and almond eyes. And after years of birthday candles wasted wishing I was white, I’ve started wishing for real things like being fulfilled and content, and wishing that society would start praising the beauty of girls like me.

So, little brown girl, the world won’t get any easier on you. But be easier on yourself. No one has to understand your body for you to love it.

Michele Dale