My skin colour has always been an extremely sensitive subject to me, especially since I grew up with the same, threatening idea drilled into my conscience: having lighter-coloured skin was good and made you more prettier and better, while dark skin was undesirable and ugly.
This is a false truth that I have carried with me right up to my first year of university, and one which often haunts me now too.
But first, let’s rewind a little.
During my time at school, I always felt inferior to other Indian girls because of my dark skin. I felt like it was a stigma and something I’d always have to battle in the years ahead. I wanted to have light skin and wanted to rub away at the darkness all over me. I was afraid to make friends because I thought they wouldn’t like my skin colour, and I always felt like I was being stared at for being darker than other girls. I even thought silly things about teachers not liking me because I was dark, so I strived to be the most sensible student in the class and the most intelligent – this rewarded me the ‘boffin’ and ‘teacher’s pet’ label, but I took pride in that.
As I made my way into secondary school, I soon realised that skin colour did matter, especially as I could see that other Indian girls didn’t want to be my friend because of how I looked. I simply couldn’t be pretty because I was darker than them. Naturally, I was name-called and bullied, and one of my best friends told me that her friend didn’t like me because I was kaali, meaning ‘black’ in Punjabi. I was also called kaali mata by a few girls in the year above me, a reference to an extremely dark-skinned Hindu goddess. Ironically, one of the girls who bullied me also had dark skin, but calling me ‘black’ didn’t phase her at all. As long as I was reminded that I wasn’t fair-skinned, all was well.
In hindsight, I find it rather hilarious that the girls (and boys!) who bullied and name-called me about my dark skin were – on occasion – the same skin colour as me too. Not only this, but they paraded around being proud of their fair-skinned, Indian descent, yet could not step into the country of their ethnic origins, i.e India, and take a look at what people actually looked like there: the majority are dark-skinned.
Step into India and you will instantly see it. Most Indian people are dark, and I mean really dark. However, despite such a huge majority of the Indian populace being so dark, there is a constant inclination to promote light skin as the way forward in India too. Take the advertisement above for example, which states ‘Fair and Lovely’ isn’t just a cream but a ‘treatment’.
Treatment. As if dark skin needs to be cured. As if it’s an illness – a disease which must be destroyed for the better and replaced with lighter skin.
To this day, my cousins in India (who like me are, have dark skin) feel the need to buy products such as ‘Fair and Lovely’ in the hopes that they’ll start shedding their dark skin and will magically sprout newer, more flawless and fairer skin. Two of my cousins were so obsessed with the lighter skin phenomenon that they broke out with spots all over their face, simply because they used a variety of different skin-lightening creams in the hopes that they’d look lighter and so more attractive. They now look a lot worse than they did before they started applying these transformative creams.
Another little story: my parents recently returned from a holiday in India and a dark-skinned cousin in England asked her mum back home to send the best skin-lightening cream she could find. In bold print across the packaging read a label explicitly stating that the cream was potentially dangerous and damaging to the skin. My cousin happily uses it.
This is all just to be fairer-skinned, and it’s all absolutely ridiculous. The issue of skin colour isn’t just about colour anymore, but a need for people to feel ‘beautiful’ and ‘desirable’ by changing their appearance in worryingly drastic ways. This is not okay.
India is the hub for suggesting that people need to be fairer-skinned, and once you visit the country, you will see billboards and posters almost everywhere trying to entice people to buy such creams and begin their journey to becoming fairer. Once you see these, as well as the TV adverts with digitally manipulated Bollywood actresses posing with fairer skin, you’ll realise how big the issue of skin colour is in India.
In some way, I want to start tackling the ‘dark skin is ugly’ stereotype, and my first step is by writing this post and getting people in the know about it. Don’t be someone who makes a judgment on someone or treats someone differently because they’re of a darker skin colour. It’s really, really saddening.
For those people reading this who are dark-skinned and who have felt the same inferiority and shame that I have felt, just consider that beauty isn’t limited to what your skin colour is: it’s so much more than that, and so much more meaningful. Be proud of your dark skin colour, just as I have grown to be. Surround yourselves with friends who clearly look beyond it, and ignore family members who comment about it. It’s not your only defining trait – there is so much more to who you are.