”When I was little, I loved Bollywood movies, I would sing and dance along to them hoping to one day become a Bollywood actress. As I got older, I noticed that every Bollywood actress had light skin and I could never meet that requirement.
When I was 8yrs old my mom entered me into a Bollywood themed beauty pageant, I was the only Indian entrant. After losing other pageants, I was convinced that I’d win this one for sure-even if by default. I lost to a white girl who didn’t even have Indian attire or a Bollywood themed dance.
I constantly felt like I wasn’t Indian enough and started to disassociate from my culture. My dark skin, curly hair and curvy body never felt Indian enough. Instead, many people assumed I was mixed. I was once called a Somalian as a joke in college and other students thought it true. In fact, many people insisted there is no way I am fully Indian. I now know that my ancestors were dark-skinned, curly haired, strong people who bear no resemblance to the white-washed images I saw as a child. ”
‘’I am fair skinned and I didn’t think I actually had a right to speak out about colourism. Being light skinned in our society I feel I have benefitted from it for the most part. But now looking back with the bias towards light skin in mind, I can see how it has had an impact on my life, albeit a different one. I was always cautioned to stay out of the sun, to avoid getting “Dark” especially by my grandmother. She was dark skinned and in her experience “Fair” was beautiful, she didn’t want me to feel the backlash of not being fair.
My grandfather was “fair”, he placed value in that. He seemed to infer that he brought light skinned genes to the table and that was more than what my gran had to offer. Unfortunately that was verbalized more than necessary.
Growing up in a community that emphasized the value of being fair gives one a complex over complexion. As a child I would weigh up the calendar : playing outside extra today vs. when the next family event was or school photos etc. I needed enough time to ” recoup”. Would I have enough time to stay inside, to let the extra melanin settle again? Was that time indoors worth the extra few hours at a swimming gala?
The crazy thing is all this is seen as normal: the trade off between living your life and worrying about your skin colour.
As a teen I was obsessed with complexion and my weight, until someone in passing( as teens cruelly do) told me I looked sick. His words were “Go stand outside and eat something”. Until then I never really questioned the beauty standards I thought were normal. I chased after them even if it made me unhealthy.
My husband is white and while I was pregnant with our child, people around us would often comment on how cute our kids would be, because they’re mixed. Beautiful caramel/milk tea/fair babies. It worries me deeply that my child will hear these voices shaping her view on colour and complexion.’’
”In primary school we had to draw a self-portrait. I chose the darkest brown crayon and pressed so hard to make myself as dark as possible, because that’s how I saw myself from years of family and friends telling me I’m dark. The teacher questioned why I made myself so dark because I wasn’t really that shade. It was the first time I realized I had been seeing myself through other people’s judgment and had made it my own. I couldn’t see myself as I really was only as what I was told.”
” I was born the colour of a cup of very milky tea. Most of my cousins were boys who shared this ice cream cone complexion so I never gave it much thought, until I turned 11 or 12 and I was officially not seen as a child anymore. At this point my fair skin was something that became somewhat of a burden. While my boy cousins and my brother were allowed to go out and play on the road in the sun I had to stay indoors. I wasn’t allowed to go outside and get burnt in the sun and I wasn’t allowed to get hurt in case a bruise or scratch caused marks on my skin.
When I got a little older I started noting the snide remarks from other girls. If someone had a problem with my attitude, if someone had a problem with my words or thoughts, if someone had a problem would anything, I’d always hear the same thing – “Oh she’s so ugly. Fair for nothing.” As if my fairness was a gift that was wasted on me. As if attacking my fairness was a way to break me down because I was supposed to hold it in such high regard.
I was a little bit older when I began noticing boys. And then once again, if a tall dark handsome stranger tried to chat me up and ask for my number, I’d always get the same response from friends or family. “Don’t you want to have pretty babies?”. So at 16 the responsibility of my future children fell squarely on me while this dark man bore none of that weight. Once again my fairness was a gift that I was squandering by not wanting to pass it on down to my children.
Of all of these, the thing I still find the most insulting is when people tell me that I’m lucky I’m so fair because I can wear bright colours and dye my hair blonde. Because every time I’ve ever tried to do these things those same people tell me that I’m trying to be white. I’ve always felt that being fair is only considered lovely because it fits in to the idealised white beauty standard. That’s why Indian girls want to be fair and have blonde streaks and get coloured contact lenses. We’ve always wanted to look like the white woman on the TV and the magazine covers and we just can’t do that with our darker complexion. I find it so insulting that the generation of Indian elders we have now have such internalized racism that they see us at out most beautiful when we have pin straight hair and fair skin.
So for years now I’ve been questioning whether my fairness is more of a burden than it is a gift. ”