"I never really thought of myself as beautiful when I was young," Geena Rocero told Galore

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Transgender model Geena Rocero is proud of her Filipino ethnicity and dark skin, but she didn’t always feel that way.

Rocero, 31, says she used to lighten her skin when participating in transgender beauty pageants in her native country.

“I used to bleach my skin when I was doing pageants because that was the ideal beauty,” she told Galore magazine. But now she embraces her natural tone. “I’m very dark. That is part of my identity and I’m proud of it.”

The model says her participation in the pageants helped her gain self-esteem as a transgender woman.

“I never really thought of myself as beautiful when I was young, but joining the pageants allowed me to express myself and to gain better self confidence,” she told the mag. “I felt so connected by the pageants. I could finally express myself and live as the woman that I am. I was a transgender beauty pageant queen.”

Rocero revealed she was transgender during a TED talk in March of last year, and her bravery captured the attention of Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner invited Rocero to her Malibu home, and the two spent time together during N.Y.C. Pride this summer.

RELATED: Caitlyn Jenner’s Message to Transgender Youth: ‘We Are All Beautiful’

“She was so beautiful when I met her in person,” Rocero told Galore of Jenner. “You could really feel this person is free.”