Psychologist Dr. Robin Smith says Najee's negative self-image wasn't caused by teasing and name-calling…his mother's self-hatred is actually the root of the problem.
Without realizing it, Tangela allowed the wounds she suffered as a child affect the way she raised her son, Dr. Robin says. Instead, Tangela should have asked God to heal her of her own self-hatred instead of praying for a light-skinned child.
"You love your son. That I know. And he loves you, and I see that," Dr. Robin says. "But his biggest wounder, and lover, has been you. His biggest wounder has been you, because you prayed before he was even outside of your womb, 'God, change him.'"
Dr. Robin cites the fact that when Tangela discusses her son's beauty, she mentions his teeth…not his skin tone. "What you didn't talk about is the beauty of that brown skin," she says. "And I wouldn't expect yet that you could do it because you don't know yourself, in this moment, that you're beautiful."
Although Tangela says her family never made her feel self-conscious about her dark skin, Dr. Robin says someone close to her must have caused the wounds that she carried into adulthood. "Only somebody who's close to you can cause that kind of injury," Oprah says.
Before Tangela can help her son, Dr. Robin says she has to help herself. "The work is to identify where your self-hatred really begins," she says. "You want to communicate something to him? You've got to communicate it to you. You want to educate him about his beauty? You've got to educate yourself."
Most teens recognize SuChin Pak from her glamorous gig as a MTV host and correspondent. She was the first Asian face featured on the hip cable channel, and since her debut in 2001, she's interviewed hundreds of rock stars and tackled some of the toughest issues facing teens today.
In her documentary series, My Life (Translated), SuChin turned the camera on herself to reveal what it's like to be caught between two cultures.
When SuChin was a child, her family immigrated to the United States from Korea. Growing up, she says she never felt like she fit the Korean or the American standard of beauty.
"I didn't feel like I was pretty anywhere," she says. "I didn't fit into my own Korean family's standard of beauty because my parents and my family [think] eyes with creases are prettier. They're bigger. They're more open. … I don't have a crease in my eye. My whole life, all I ever wanted was this stupid centimeter of a freaking fold in my eye."
The crease, SuChin explains, is a fold of skin that some people have on their eyelid (see photo), which makes the eye appear larger. It's such a desirable quality that SuChin says many Asian girls use beauty products—like skin closures, tape, applicators and waterproof eyelash adhesive—to create an artificial crease. Some women even resort to plastic surgery, which can create a permanent crease.
The eyelid crease is so important, SuChin says, that it's now the number one plastic surgery in all of Asia. "I'm not talking about Asians [in America]," she says. "I'm talking about Asians abroad. … You can't even say it's because I've grown up here in America and I've only seen a certain type of beauty. It's everywhere."
In fact, she says the eyes are the most talked about thing, when it comes to body image or beauty, among Asians.
Unlike breast augmentations or face-lifts, the eyelid surgery has a different connotation in the Asian community. "For me and my family, this eyelid surgery wasn't like getting bigger boobs," she says. "It wasn't a vanity thing. It really, really was this belief that if you looked a little more Western [and] a little less Asian, it's like having a great degree from a better school. Or it's like having another skill. It was something to put in your portfolio."
For years, SuChin says she considered getting the surgery. She even went in for preliminary medical consultations.
While filming her documentary series, SuChin saw a woman get the eyelid surgery that she had wanted her entire life. That experience made her have a change of heart.
"Suddenly I saw it, that crease as a scar," she says. "Finally, I could accept the fact that [I] wouldn't be walking into a doctor's office."
SuChin may never have a crease in her eyelid, but she says she still uses tricks to make her eyes look bigger on camera. When she and her mom watch tapes of her MTV gigs, she says they'll make comments like, "Whoa…that was a good eye day!"
"Rather than a good hair day, I have good eye days or bad eye days," she says.
Like many teenagers, SuChin has insecurities about her looks, but she has learned to love herself. "I still feel beautiful without the crease," she says. "Somewhere deep inside, it's struggling free."
Low self-esteem and insecurities have been troubling teens for far too long. Oprah wants young women of all races to begin talking about what makes them beautiful. That's why she's launching the O Girl, O Beautiful campaign!
Oprah is asking teens to commit to this program for one year. To get involved, start by downloading a contract and pledge to write down at least one thing about yourself that makes you special, every day. Print and sign your contract.
"What I know for sure is that you really don't become what you want. You become what you believe," Oprah says. "The real key is focusing on what you really like about yourself. When you focus on what you like, you begin to see that you like even more things."
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