What is this obsession with fair skin, I wonder. Is it my fault there’s too much melanin in my skin?
If it were the western world taking a jibe at my brownness, I’d call it racism. But how do I describe the people back home? They’re not very different from those whose skin colour reflects light. My fellow browns take the liberty to mock me because their shade of brown is perhaps lighter than mine.
Am I unhappy with my skin colour? Absolutely not! Then why is it such a big deal and why did it warrant a dedicated blog post? Because it took me a long time to be comfortable with the way I look. And not without consequences for my mental health.
The Obsession With Fair Skin
Society’s obsession with fair skin is no secret. As Kathy Russell Cole notes in ‘The colour complex: The politics of skin colour in a new millennium’, lighter skin is perceived as a status symbol and darker skin is usually associated with the labour class that toils away in the sun.
This prejudice against dark skin is not limited to classism. It has been an integral part of the Indian mindset for ages. Nothing exemplifies this bias better than Indian marriages. Indian men have always sought “fair” women as spouses, no matter their own skin colour.
To their eyes, fairness is perceived as beauty. Fair women are also considered to be pure, spiritual, and innocent. It is often remarked, “iska rang saaf hai”, which means that her complexion is clean.
There’s another reason why fair women are preferred as life partners. Light-skinned parents bear light-skinned children. And if the children happen to have two X chromosomes, God help them if they’re dark, right?
It’s not just the men who care about light-skinned offsprings. Pregnant women in Hyderabad in India are so obsessed with having fair babies that they end up consuming limestones. It is believed that limestones are rich in calcium and help lighten the skin.These stones, also known as ‘khadi’ are addictive in nature and leave the women craving for more. The resulting health complications are constipation, dizziness, and intestinal problems.
One of the main reasons why attachment to fairness continues today is the perception of dark women, as shown in fairness cream advertisements.
Fairness Cream Advertisements
The fairness cream business is built upon squashing the self-confidence of dark-skinned girls. Advertisements make them feel ugly and push them into buying fairness creams that would magically make them beautiful by lightening their skin tone. And fairness alone, “obviously” would lead them to success, better job prospects, and a handsome groom.
Not-so-fun fact: According to a study, the fairness cream market is anticipated to reach 5000 crores in revenue by 2023.
This discrimination is no longer limited to the fairer sex. Creams like ‘fair and handsome’ have put men under the same scrutiny that women have always been subjected to. Tall, dark, and handsome is now tall, fair, and handsome. According to matrimonial site Jeevansathi.com, 71% of females prefer to marry men with a fair skin tone.
How The Unfair Obsession Took A Toll On My Mental Health
When my mother tried to lighten my skin by applying ‘uptan’ on my face, I was pissed. When my friends called me ‘kali’, I was pissed. When my ex said that I would have been prettier, had I been fairer, I was pissed. And by pissed, I mean outraged.
It was impressed upon me from a very young age that I was born into this world with a disadvantage. My dark skin was a problem to be reckoned with. The uncountable applications of turmeric, milk, rose water, and fairness creams were in vain. My stubborn skin refused to lighten. My self-confidence took a beating and I felt ugly.
As I grew older, all the boys I knew wanted to date “fair” girls. In my early 20s, family get-togethers almost always turned into lectures about skin-lightening remedies. Going out in the sun was prohibited as it would just make my chocolate brown skin darker. And the direct consequence would be me never finding a suitor and dying alone in an old age home.
As a child, I was anxious about multiple things. The last thing I needed was to obsess about something that was beyond my control. The constant criticism of my skin colour made me insecure, which translated into anxiety and self-doubt.
I started avoiding people. I didn’t want them to see how ugly I was. I had decided on a life of solitude for myself. But man is a social animal. I realized that this was not how I wanted to live my life. I started reading about why I was dark and why my friend Preeti, the class sweetheart, was so fair.
It’s Not Your Fault You Are Dark
The colour of your skin is not yours to determine. That is controlled by the genes you were born with. As Angela Koine Flynn explains in The science of skin colour in her Ted-ed video, “Skin colour may absorb light, but it definitely does not reflect character.”
Tips To Deal With The Obsession With Fair Skin?
When I decided to get out of my head and stop obsessing over my skin colour, I embarked upon the journey of making something of myself. These are the steps that I took to help me overcome my insecurities and I hope they can help you too.
Throw Away All The “Fairness” Products In Your Dresser
I didn’t need any more fairness products and neither should you. The first step to being comfortable in your skin is to stop trying to change it. Unless you stop trying to lighten your skin, you’ll never be happy with the way it looks. Throw away all the products that simply fill the pockets of the giant conglomerates and hypocritic fairness-cream endorsing celebrities at the expense of your self-confidence.
Thank Others For Calling You Dark
When someone would talk about my skin colour, I would instantly be offended. But now I have a different approach. Whenever someone refers to me as being dark, I thank them for reminding me how strong and beautiful I am on the inside. And I pity them for not being able to judge a book by anything but from its cover.
Make Looks Irrelevant Through Your Success
I had to shut people up. Literally. And how did I do that? By being successful in whatever I did. Go be the best possible version of yourself and nail it in whichever field you have chosen for yourself. It’s a funny thing how humans forget everything else when they see someone succeed.
Join An Empowering Movement
Once you’ve made the desired changes in your life, it’s time to help others. Join a campaign that’s empowering by way of fighting against colourism. Help others regain their self-worth the way you did, by joining hands with organizations dedicated to the purpose.
Loving Yourself Just The Way You Are
“Not your appearance, but your humility and power of love define your beauty”- Debashish Mridha.
You are beautiful, irrespective of the colour of your skin. Societal prejudice may never change. But your perception of yourself can.
Never be ashamed of what you were born with. Instead, focus on the kind of person you can become, with all your flaws and all your strengths. Strive to be fair to everyone, whether or not they can look past your skin colour.