I did not know I was dark-skinned until the age of six, when my little cousin expressed her clear disinterest in playing with me because I was kali (black in Hindi). I still remember being confused, annoyed, agitated and feeling helpless when my baby sister, whom I loved and adored, pointed out something in me which I had no control over and did not even understand at that age. My elder sister, who is 3 years older than me somehow quickly jumped into the situation to do some damage control and made my cousin understand that it was not nice to like or dislike people based on their skin colour. I am not sure if my cousin made anything out of that lecture my sister gave her. Perhaps she was too young to understand.
I remember my first encounter with the famous fairness cream in India. I must have been three or four, when I used to religiously hang around my father every morning while he got ready for work. A part of his daily beauty regime was to apply generous amount of fairness cream on his face. I remember asking him once “Acha, aap ye cream kyun lagate ho?” (Papa why do you apply this every day?) And he replied rather shyly with a smile,”Gora hone ke liye” (to become fair). I immediately asked him “par aap gore kab honge?” (but when will you become fair?) And I don’t think he answered.
We are Malayalis; we hail from Kerala, South India, and it is not very uncommon for people from Southern parts of India to have a darker skin tone. My dad is dark brown and so am I. I never asked my father but it really makes me wonder what made even him feel the need to use a cream that promises fairer skin because irrespective of his skin colour, I have never met a man more beautiful than him. I always wonder at what point it became important for people to look whiter. When, why and how did people reach to the conclusion that fair is beautiful? We are Indians and we have people with skin tones that we perhaps cannot even list, let alone categorizing them into white and black. What is the business of racism here?
I may be too late in speaking up against racism but today or tomorrow, this needs to stop.
I spent most of my childhood secluded, with no friends to play with because I couldn’t overcome the complex of being dark skinned. I was merely 10-years-old when I remember the woman in my neighborhood who told me that I should scrub my skin nicely with pumice stone during shower to attain a fairer skin tone. The next day, I came out of shower with bruises all over my face and neck for I had rubbed the stone on my tender skin so hard, I thought I could rub off all the darkness in just one go.
As a child, I used to think my entire life is going to be a failure because my skin colour was something I clearly couldn’t help, and there seemed no way a dark-skinned girl could do better than a white-skinned one ever. At least that’s what the ads for fairness creams told us! None of the fairness products ever appealed to me or convinced me that they could do anything to my skin tone. Probably it was just some common sense I used to understand it is practically impossible for any cream in this world to change your skin tone!
With more passing years, India’s obsession for whiter skin has only increased insanely. Now, it is not just the face that’s under scrutiny. Men and women need to ensure every single part of their body is white, so that they can find a job, a partner, happiness, among the likes.
I am now 27; I have a well -paying job, a lovely set of friends I can trust and considerable number of people who would vouch for my beauty. And guess what, I never had to touch any kind of fairness product in my life! As I grew up, my immediate and distant relatives started worrying for me and pitied my parents because they felt with my skin colour, I was nothing like an ordinary human being and there was no way I would ever be able to find myself a groom.
I would like to go back and shout out to all those peanut-sized brains that today, I am an independent woman, madly in love with myself and my skin colour. I grew up to realize what a terrible childhood all these people gave me. I grew up to realize how unnecessary were the worries of a little child who thought less of herself for something that was so irrelevant. I grew up to respect people and myself for inner beauty and not for what shows outside.
This write-up of mine does not hope to shut down the business of companies that sell fairness products, simply because that is being a little too wishful. This is for every little girl and boy who are right now suffering from the same complex like me when I was a child. I want to reach out to every teenager and every adult who is perhaps being bullied for their skin colour by somebody they know. It’s not your skin that needs to change, it’s their thinking.
Never was I denied a job because I am brown. The people who truly love me, only want to know who I am inside. They think I look more beautiful when I am myself and have no make-up on. Does this change something in your mind?
Featured Image Credit: Heartranjan’s Blog