Ever since I was a child, I have been applauded for my fair complexion. Quite frankly it made me uncomfortable then and it still does today – being constantly complimented and envied by middle-aged women and girls of similar age at gatherings and events maybe flattering to others but for me, it’s awkward and doesn’t sit right – it never has. To me, the colour of my skin is insignificant to how I live my life at present and how it effects my future, but to a 40-year-old aunty I’ve met at a wedding it’s a massive blessing because “my parents won’t struggle finding me a husband” (as if that’s the only option – another topic for another day) and “I should be grateful because light skin is a gift.” As a child, although it made me uncomfortable, I never understood the damaging effect this praising of light complexion must have on girls around me with darker skin but, today I can only imagine the impact demeaning comments about something as insignificant and uncontrollable as skin colour could actually have on someone.
Google’s definition of ‘Colourism ’is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Even though colourism is an issue affecting both men and women, in my opinion, it is far more prevalent towards women. Through ‘social law,’ South Asian culture is enforcing disgustingly toxic beauty idealisms on to young girls: as if with today’s beauty standards that the media provokes, young girls aren’t already susceptible to capitulate to society’s pressures and standards but also succumb to the negative, irrelevant and unhealthy idealisms being forced upon them by people (family, friends and acquaintances) around them.
If you’ve ever visited a South Asian country like Bangladesh, India or Pakistan and had the unfortunate experience of sitting through the adverts/commercials on T.V., you would have found skin whitening brands like ‘Cathy Doll’ and ‘Fair and Lovely’ being religiously endorsed during the breaks. These adverts are shamefully explicit in their depiction that dark skin is something you should want to ‘fix’. The unoriginal plotline almost always portrays a woman resenting her appearance, feeling low and lifeless; but as soon as they use the whitening product which is intended to make them ‘beautiful’ and obviously lighter in complexion, they become confident and glowing, ready to conquer the world.
Though many of the South Asian community – if not most – are dark skinned, lighter skin toned people are still popularly sought after for the film, TV and modeling industries. They’re often handed starring and major roles where their ‘beautiful’ complexion will take center stage, whereas darker skinned workers in the trade (who may be much better at the job) are shown the sideline, receiving minor background roles. If you’re an avid fan of the Bollywood movie and Hindi drama scene – like me – you’ll now begin to notice how crystal clearly there is a dishonest and surreal representation within casts and storylines. For example; earlier this year I watched a Hindi drama where there was a character who was portrayed as ugly due to her dark skin and even her mother told her so. Surprise surprise, she’s the villain of the show, unable to find love because of her dark skin so she plots to steal someone else’s husband. I fear to believe that this is what the industry has come to portraying that not only is dark skin ugly and unattractive but it also makes you desperate, mean and raging. Yes, the show is made for entertainment purposes, but the idea that having a dark complexion lessens your likelihood to find a spouse or succeed in life is unfortunately hammered into the young girls of today and tomorrow in my culture so the sensationalizing of this on the big screen surely doesn’t help.
I am proud of the progression being made in the beauty industry with brands like Huda Beauty, Fenty by Rihanna, L’Oréal and many more now catering to a wider range of skin tones especially to those who have darker complexions. But am I right, are we right, to be praising and applauding brands for campaigns that shouldn’t be original and ‘new’ but something that should have been available long ago? It shouldn’t have to be a marketing technique; “Oh, look we’ve finally created a foundation suitable to your skin tone, sorry it took so long;” It should be something that should’ve just been done because it’s what’s right and not because it’s the new, hot way for a brand to make the big bucks. On the other hand, these new launches in the beauty industry have set the bar for other brands; who now get penalized by beauty product buyers when they fail to accommodate many if not all complexions, emphasizing that we as a generation are much better at celebrating diversity, but that’s not enough.
If we want to see a real change in wiping out colourism, in the near future and far, we need to be better at standing up for those around us who get looked down upon for having a darker skin tone; the stigmas around dark complexions will keep growing in the South Asian culture, it’s our job to remind the youth around us and at times even those who are older than they are beautiful whether light toned or dark because beauty comes in all colours, shapes, and sizes but more so that beauty doesn’t just depend on the skin but beauty is about having a pretty mind, pretty heart and pretty soul.