A Love Letter to Who I Am Now and the Brown Skin Girl I Once Was
by Mia Dunlap



July 9, 2020


7 Minute Read


A Love Letter to Who I Am Now and the Brown Skin Girl I Once Was

Mia Dunlap (Photo courtesy of Philemon Makini)
Mia Dunlap (Photo courtesy of Philemon Makini)

Dear Little Mia,

When you were younger, you would look in the mirror and whisper, “God, if you love me, why didn’t you make me pretty?” You would look deeply, turning left and right and twisting your face to see yourself from different angles, and you were met with the same conclusion, “I’m not beautiful just like everyone says.” You would squint and flip your bangs from side to side. You would also take off your glasses and put them back on in hopes that you’d look better this time.

I saw you comparing yourself to the other girls in your school, especially ones with a hue as dark as yours wondering why they were “pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” but you were, instead, teased. The world was your reflection. The mirror showed you what the world wanted you to see. A filter. You looked at yourself through a filter of standards that showed you all of your “imperfections:”

  • A nose wide, round and large — an offensive feature.
  • A hue of skin so deep and so dark leading you to believe that you were less than.
  • A face smeared with large and small pimples — puberty was insufferable.
  • Your hair — tightly coiled and unmanageable, nothing ever looked good.

But what if I told you, little Mia, it would get better? What if I told you that you won’t always see yourself through that mirror? Or that the filter fades? It will take years, but you will come to know, see, and understand yourself differently. If I could do it all over again I would show 8-year-old Mia, and 12-year-old Mia….16, 22, and 28-year-old Mia:

  • The richness of your dark glow and chocolate skin fills a room with light before you say a word. It’s like soil is being poured from heaven into you like cement onto the ground, you are the earth. 
  • The kinks in your hair are versatile and lovable. They accentuate your personality and your depth. 
  • I would show you how your nose has a generational imprint and connects you to your warrior ancestors.  
  • I would show you the spark in your walk and the shine in your smile. How radiant a being you are. 
  • I would show you all the best parts of you at every single stage of your life. 

The mirror was your first childhood bully. It projected a definition marred in whiteness. You, beautiful girl, are everything divinely Black and gorgeous. A goddess of sorts! I don’t want to spoil the ending, baby girl – but you will see this truth for yourself.

You’ll go to Spelman, and the first two years, you’ll compare yourself to other brown girls using the same measuring stick from your childhood. By your junior year, summer 2008, you’ll do the big chop, cutting all the relaxed and damaged parts of your hair that you’d permed into obedience. You’ll hate the new look. 

You will vomit your truth and release the need to overcompensate because you rarely felt that you were enough.

Mia Dunlap (Photo courtesy of Philemon Makini)
Mia Dunlap (Photo courtesy of Philemon Makini)

You’ll cry and question your decision for at least three months. Then you’ll begin therapy at Spelman and make space for your shame. Newsflash: it’s deeper than the big chop. On the other side of that experience though, you’ll catch a glimpse of other sisters admiring you; you’ll rock your fro with confidence, and light the room with your smile. Slowly embracing parts of yourself that you once resented.    

My favorite part of this journey is your six-year weekly therapy sessions in New York. You will allow yourself to crumble, to fall apart. To suspend the weight of the messages about being a “strong black woman.” You will vomit your truth and release the need to overcompensate because you rarely felt that you were enough. Your therapist will be exactly what you need as you unpack and unlearn everything you understood about yourself through the lens of, “I may not be pretty, but I am…”  

 Little Mia, my promise to you is that you will live from a place of “I am beautiful, and I do not need to qualify that truth.” You’ll have nothing to prove. When that happens, you will be knocking on 30’s door — clearer, more sure, and more ready than you’ve been before. 

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This letter is a reminder that the part of the journey you’re on now takes a turn. It gets better. After those six years, you continue therapy as needed, and you’ll need it when you hear Ariyonna say, “I’m so ugly.” She’s a four-year-old girl getting her hair done, and when she saw her reflection, she uttered those words confidently. Her resolve will trigger painful memories. You’ll be reminded that the work to undo the structures that have little Black girls and women-hating ourselves is still presen t— triggering you into both agony and action. 

You’ll have everything you need to rise. But first, let yourself feel the pain. Then do the necessary work to lift as you climb by sharing the hard truths of your journey to light the path for the Ariyonnas and little Mias of the world. Afterwards, spring forward and be part of the reason every dark-hued girl unborn and every dark-hued sister on the journey experiences their melanin as golden. 

This is love. This is Black Love.
Adult Mia