Hoping to boost the self-image of girls, a fledgling group is launching National Pretty Brown Girl Day on Saturday.
Aubriana Jackson will tell anyone that she's a pretty brown girl. She even has a T-shirt that says so.
As a Pretty Brown Girl, she's taken a pledge to "dream big, remember that I am beautiful inside and out, enjoy learning and laughing, always believe in myself and make healthy choices."
The 16-year-old St. Paul Central High School junior will have plenty of company on Saturday, the first National Pretty Brown Girl Day, when girls and women of all shades of brown are encouraged to embrace the beauty of their skin color.
"I thought the pledge was corny at first," said Jackson. "But the more they explained it to me and the founders' inspiration, it became more significant to me."
The movement was launched two years ago by a Michigan couple concerned about the images their daughters were internalizing about their skin color. The organization offers dolls, T-shirts and other merchandise emblazoned with the Pretty Brown Girl (PBG) slogan. But the key is to help brown girls build confidence and leadership skills.
"Women should be taught to appreciate their skin from birth,'' said co-founder Sheri Crawley.
Jackson was introduced to Pretty Brown Girls through her group, Delta GEMS (Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully), a mentoring program run by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. It is the first group locally to use the philosophy to talk about building self-esteem in girls.
"PBG gives them a platform to speak about things they wouldn't normally with their family and friends," said program co-chair Carla Hines.
GEMS wore the T-shirts recently and discussed their experiences and the feedback they received.
Jackson said the discussion of skin color in real-life situations has made her and other girls acknowledge the importance of self-worth.
"I really love wearing my T-shirt because it boosts my self-esteem when I'm wearing it, because people don't normally associate pretty and brown," Jackson said.
Not that Jackson needs a T-shirt to build her self-esteem. A dynamo in her own right, she is a cheerleader for football and girls' and boys' basketball and assistant director for the school's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." Jackson is already planning to take post-secondary classes in her senior year and is working on a cosmetology license. She also has her eye on attending Spelman College in Atlanta.
Hines says positive self-esteem helps young girls reach their goals. "When we females view ourselves as pretty, we are happy with who we are and can be more productive in other areas of our lives."
A 2008 University of Wisconsin-Madison study of 98 black adolescent girls found that ethnic identity and perception of skin tone often predicted self-esteem. The study concluded that ethnic identity and skin tone together have a greater impact on self-esteem than either variable alone. With a variety of social, civic and religious organizations nationwide taking the PBG motto to heart, Crawley said she hopes Pretty Brown Girl Day will help people realize that pretty and brown are not separate. "It's not just an African-American thing. As a nation, we need to pull back and look at the message we're sending to girls about their beauty inside and out."
Crawley and her husband, Corey, first did that for their two daughters, whom they often called "pretty brown girls" as a term of endearment. They decided to begin a business with that idea as the theme, and provide products such as dolls, backpacks, wristbands and other accessories.
Crawley is proud that the movement has spread through word of mouth. She gets requests for products and information from around the country. All it takes is a child having her backpack with her or wearing her T-shirt to school, and the message continues to spread, she said. Recently, Miss Black Minnesota pageant contestants were given the shirts.
Crawley said her family will celebrate PBG Day by premiering the doll at the Magic City Black Expo in Birmingham, Ala. While there isn't specific programming across the country, Crawley encourages community organizations to celebrate in their own way by hosting a Pretty Brown Girl party, taking the self-affirming pledge or finding a girl to mentor -- or all three.
Jackson admits that although she didn't initially take GEMS and the activities seriously, after she started attending, she found it valuable. "I'm very thankful," Jackson says of her PBG experience. "I will take the pledge with me into my future and use it to build the confidence in those around me."