After Tika Sumpter watched Sunday night's Dark Girls documentary on OWN, the actress penned a personal essay for the Daily Beast about her own experiences growing up with a dark complexion. And if you think there was self-hatred involved, think again. Sumpter describes a childhood where she was accepted and loved for her darker skin even though her siblings have lighter tones than she does.
"It's important to understand that I was born into a family with seven children, each of us equipped with varying personalities, dispositions, and, yes, skin tones as well," Sumpter writes. "My mom has the most beautiful café au lait complexion, which she shares with my two older sisters and older brother. My three younger siblings have skin tones that range from caramel to a golden bronze.
"And then there's me."
Sumpter goes on to describe the thrill her father felt when he saw that his little girl had dark skin just like him.
"My mother says that when my father, a striking man with kind eyes, broad shoulders, and deep ebony-brown skin, first saw me in the hospital that day, his eyes lit up brightly as he promptly proclaimed, 'She has my color. She looks like me!'"
Still, she acknowledges that a strong sense of self-worth and confidence are things many other women didn't collect as they were growing up. Sumpter has received her share of mean comments and back-handed compliments (some from men with her own skin tone, she says), but recognized that for every ignorant person who criticized her looks, there were many others who love her just as she is. She felt the positive impact she was making after her role on CW's Gossip Girl resulted in letters of gratitude "for simply existing" and portraying a smart and graceful character that actually looked like them.
"It hurts me to know that so many young girls today are growing up without that same realization and reassurance. I also regret that so many are forced to seek their self-worth between the pages of mainstream magazines or in the background of a rap music video. I'd like to think that seeing someone like me on their televisions every week gives them some hope that things are changing slowly but surely. Finally, every day I'm thankful that I didn't have to endure the pain that I know so many women do on a regular basis as a result of the color of their skin. My heart goes out to them all. And every day I'm even more thankful for a mother who was always there for me and a father (now deceased) whose first reaction to me on the day I was born paved my path to real self-love."
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(Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for TRESemme)