“You are pretty for a dark skin girl” or “you have beautiful features but then you are dark”. The number of times I’ve come across these comments during my 28yrs of existence is limitless and disheartening. And the more depressing fact is there are times when I’ve welcomed these bigoted remarks as a compliment rather than an insult.
I remember when my schoolteacher plastered my face with foundation 10 shades brighter then my original skin tone making me look like a whitewashed ghost before a dance performance. She rationalized her action by saying that if the audience wants to enjoy my facial expressions while I dance then I need to look more brighter (as if I was going to dance on an unlit stage!!). Anyway, the minute she left the room I wiped my face of all the make up with a nearest tissue paper I could get my hands on with tears burning my eyes, cursing God for making me this dark. That night when I reached home, I balled my eyes out and never participated in any future dance programs although I loved dancing. I was just 8yrs old then.
Like any other dark girl in our country, I was handed over my first Fair & Lovely tube at the age of 4 or 5 by my mother. That became my holy grail at one time which I used to apply religiously day and night in the hope that it would make me fairer overnight as the brand claimed, but all in vain. My relatives and family friends were constantly ready with their long list of DIY home remedies like turmeric, curd or gram to attain a fairer skin because as they believed black was ugly. Furthermore, when I was in sixth grade, my classmate told me that I have beautiful features, but those features would have been more appealing on a fairer face. Therefore, one can imagine what I felt about myself since my childhood. The feeling that I was an ugly duckling because of my color, was embedded in every fiber of my body resulting in low to zero self esteem promoting a fragile sense of self. Constantly berating myself for my skin tone became a routine for me. I failed to realize then, that my complexion was not my choice and I had no power whatsoever to change it. Also, the media industry glorifying the lighter skinned models (whom teenagers idolize for their beauty) was not helping my case either. So, readers, I concluded that I was worthless, and I had no value.
The contempt for dark color is vehemently adopted by our Indian society, despite the fact that India is a land of diverse races and culture, thereby naturally have varied degrees of color and facial features depending on the geographical area we belong. Additionally, this illogical concept is reinforced by the beauty magazines and aesthetic industry to promote the sales of skin whitening and bleaching products which in reality does more harm then good. From an early age, we are taught to adhere to meaningless beauty standards where attractiveness is equated to whiteness of our skin. Even in the cartoons, the protagonist exemplifies as an epitome of perfection with their white beauty and flawless skin. Moreover, in books an ideal man is described as dark, tall and handsome while an ideal woman as fair and beautiful. Thus, the conditioning of our minds to such mentality starts from a very tender age, thereby mitigating the growth of our psyche to the societal standards.
These experiences are not my alone. Unfortunately, every South Asian women of color go through this stigma which not only exist but practiced brazenly by our society. The colorism is so internalized by our community that it has desensitized people to human emotions. It devastates me to see the little ones with their frail heart being oppressed in the name of colorism. At the age when they must be carefree and playful, they bear the burden of racist remarks and discriminatory approach. They are traumatized and shamed for their skin tone marking them as a disgrace to the rampant white supremacy. The harmful impact this ideation causes in the mind of the young ones is dreadful.
It took me years to unlearn the color code prejudice ingrained within me by the ignorant society. The pain was real and the low self esteem very transparent. However, I knew until the society’s perceptions does not change, kids and women like me will always feel that our worth is determined by our color. Hence, I knew I must put a stop to this bias and dismantle the problem from the root.
The awareness that I’m not alone in this battle was my armor to fight this warfare. The fire to prove to the world that I’m more then my skin tone kept on burning inside me. Consequently, after a great amount of efforts of practicing selfdiscipline of attracting only positive vibes about self, I’m standing at a point where I’m completely in love with my complexion. The knowledge that I’m more then my shade and my identity is not the least defined by the mocha in my skin but rather my character and the merit of my achievement marked a significant paradigm shift in my self-acceptance paving way for self-love and self-compassion. And let me tell you this people, that there is something inherently revolutionary about loving ourselves. Our skin hue is just one of an exterior feature. In reality, it is what we are in the inside that is radiated outside which is what makes us gorgeous. Yes, self-love does not conjure in a day, it is a lifelong process and believe me when I tell you that I’m still a work in a progress. However, today if some over caring, fair skin obsessed relative of mine comes to me with skin brightening suggestions, I will gracefully smile at her and say ‘Thank you but I’m very much in love with my chocolate color skin’.
In conclusion, what I really want to tell all of my darling women of color is that “we are not beautiful ‘in spite’ of our color’ but “we are beautiful ‘because’ of our color”. It’s time to render voice to those numerous kids who were silenced and whose childhood ruined for their skin tone. Let’s embrace and celebrate the hue we are born with. Moreover, to all my readers, it is time that we educate our kids that all colors are beautiful, and no shade is ugly. And passing comments and calling names because of someone’s skin color, body shape or background is not cool and totally unacceptable.