In pursuit of fair

2012-10-18 21:55

I am Indian – a dark skinned Indian. My mum and dad are both lighter skinned than I am and most of my extended family is naturally fair given our North Indian heritage. I also grew up in a predominantly Indian suburb.  I can tell you firsthand how it feels to dislike the colour of your skin due to the Indian ingrained ideal that fair skin is equated to beauty.

Light skin has been favoured on women across many different cultures and ethnicities so this isn’t just an Indian phenomenon. During the Victorian era, European women protected their delicate complexions by covering up when going out in the sun as pale skin was a sign of a higher social standing in comparison to the working class whose skin became darker in the sun. The European women even used foundation-type products for their skin to have a milky white tone.

I suppose colonisation can easily be blamed for India’s infatuation with fair skin. During British rule, the genetically brown-skinned inhabitants were subordinates to the white race and were treated as inferior. Over time, Indians came to believe that the fairer race was worthy of respect because that was just how it was. The colonialists also came to favour those Indians who looked most like them – the lighter skinned ones. Fair Indians were given better opportunities and chosen when less laborious tasks arose. The comparatively darker inhabitants, on the other hand, were still treated as inferior – inferior to the white race and further inferior within their own nationality and thus began the association of fair skin with beauty, intelligence and success whilst dark skin was only seen with detest and ugliness. After 300 years of British rule, India celebrated her independence while Indians were still mentally enslaved from the by-products of colonialism.

It’s easy to point a finger at colonialism. Not many are aware of a story in Hindu Mythology where the Goddess Parvati prayed to the supreme diety, Brahma, asking for golden skin because she was ashamed of her dark skin. Parvati’s wish was granted and the God Shiva, who had previously rejected her, realised how beautiful she had become and married her and they lived happily ever after. Even the Gods had a preference for light skin. It is no wonder then that dark skinned people view their skin colour as a curse.

Lighter skinned girls are automatically seen as prettier despite their features. This may not be true but there is some truth that fair women are noticed a great deal more than their counterparts. Introduce a dark girl and a fair girl into a room at the same time and your eyes will probably be drawn towards the lighter skinned girl first. The lightness of her complexion makes her features more noticeable than that of a tanned girl. The dark girl is only glanced at after the light girl.

Gone are the days of the pale European look; white girls now prefer a bronzed complexion. It’s today’s look of high social standing that says, “I’m not part of the pale indoor working class.” White people don’t mind that pale skin gets you noticed first but they also appreciate the benefit that darker skin covers up many flaws so your features don’t stand out. It also doesn’t hurt that tanning helps reduce the visibility of cellulite.

Despite white girls sun-bedding for the sun-kissed look, they’ll never choose to go as dark as the Indian girls that are looked down upon for the colour of their skin. Dark girls are constantly reminded of the tragedy of their skin colour whether it’s over a silly discussion of how the lighter skinned girls complain about getting darker in the sun; or friends always talking about light skin as a preference in a mate; or laughing about an Indian so dark that his skin was almost black; or your parents encouraging you to stay out of the sun to prevent further darkening.

Product marketing tailgates on these insecurities that dark girls are brought up with to sell their make-up – they’re selling you a promise of beauty. The media doesn’t do enough to dispel the dark-is-ugly ideology and perpetuates the belief that white-is-right by constantly promoting the casting of fair actresses and models. Make-up and lighting is also used to make characters appear lighter than they are.

It comes as no surprise that skin lightening is a huge trend amongst the Indian population with South Africa producing her own poster child, Sorisha Naidoo. Starting out as a beauty queen, Sorisha worked her way into the limelight with her gorgeous albeit dark looks. Despite being crowned Miss India South Africa, she tells her own tale of her unhappiness with her skin tone which led to her lightening her skin to the extreme. In a world where light skin is adored and dark skin is insulted, no one understands her “plight” as much as a dark skinned person would. Despite her success, it’s tough living in a world that excludes you. She’s now happy with what she sees in the mirror.

Sorisha has received a myriad of accusations from the Indian community. By perpetuating the notion that looking white is the prettiest look to aspire to, she really shouldn’t be a representative of the Indian race when her very actions indicate that she’s ashamed of her natural brown skin. We’re quick to judge that she should have more self respect and accept herself as God made her. A rather condescending remark when most humans aren’t accepting of their natural self.

We are seldom happy with what we’re born with. There are bigger breasts to be had, curly hair that needs taming, a change of hair colour to better suit our complexion, cosmetic contact lenses and the list goes on. The point is very few people ever accept the looks they were born with so so there is a very thin line between using beauty and other products to enhance one’s features to simply look prettier; and when doing so because they’re ashamed of their natural looks?

It all boils down to intent. I believe there’s nothing wrong with lightening your skin if you feel that you’ll look prettier – the same way that the world doesn’t have a problem when the pale citizens of the world tan themselves because they think they look better darker. The moment you choose to lighten your skin because of pressures of society, then that’s a clear indication that you’re ashamed of your heritage. Given our centuries of brainwashing how do we even tell which is which?

For more of my thoughts, visit my blog:


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