By Natasha Sharma | Model & Social Activist
For a long time, I was under the impression that a “fair and lovely” complexion was only desired by South Asians. My research and life experiences have opened my eyes to the fact that many communities around the world are impacted by this issue.
The belief that light skin is superior and will bring a person happiness, love, and success is deeply rooted in Eurocentricism. Societies which were colonized by Europeans for centuries began to associate “whiteness” with power. In the present, we see countless manifestations of this mindset, at both micro and macro levels.
My first brushes with “dark skin vs light skin” were at a young age. As a first generation Indian-American, I am very proud of my culture and heritage, however, the colour complex is one aspect that has always disturbed me. Many Indians are so quick to accuse “foreigners” of racism while there is so much racism within the Indian culture itself.
Like many other dark-skinned Indian girls, I received slights and jabs from other Indians. Comments like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so dark!” (with a tone of disgust) , “you would be prettier if you were lighter,” and “guys like girls that are light-skinned,” were extremely hurtful to hear. It didn’t help to constantly see ads for “Fair and Lovely” on the Indian channels, see only light-skinned heroines in Bollywood films, and to see the dark-skinned actresses cast as dowdy, unattractive sisters.
Fortunately for me, I grew up in a household where my parents emphasized that people who are dark-skinned are equally deserving of success, happiness, love and acceptance. Their positive attitudes helped offset some of the negativity.
Around the age of 18, friends, acquaintances, and strangers encouraged me to take up modeling. I began to realize that my dark-skin is striking and attractive. As a university senior studying International Relations and Social Work, I decided to combine my passion for social justice with modeling.
I’ve also had to take a stand against promoting dark-skin as something exotic. I have come across people that want to only work with me for the “exotic” factor. I have come across photographers that are interested in shooting with me because I have a “rare” skin tone and could supposedly pass as a person from a mixed race background. I have made it a point to stay away from photographers and designers who play into the “dark skin fetish” as well. I want to show the world that dark-skinned people can be beautiful without being exoticized.
I want to use my personal experiences to uplift and relate to other people of colour. Over the course of the past two years, I have modeled for local fashion designers, photographers, salons, and even a few online magazines. On my modeling page, I frequently write posts, provide commentary, and share articles about the devastating impact of colour discrimination. I hope to achieve a global presence and reach many people with the message of accepting and celebrating all skin colours.
I encourage everyone to speak out against colour complex when the opportunity presents itself. Whether it’s at the dinner table, in a classroom, or at a rally, remember that your voice counts. Knowledge is power–the more we inform others about the deep roots and lingering impact of colourism, the closer we come to creating a world that celebrates beauty in all forms.
This is the very reason I was so thrilled when I came across the Dark is Beautiful Facebook page last year. It is extremely refreshing to see a campaign which celebrates the beauty of all skin tones.
No one deserves to have their self-esteem corroded by skin colour bias. By promoting skin colour diversity in the media I am taking on Mahatma Gandhi’s challenge to me: Be the change I wish to see in the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Natasha Sharma is an International Relations and Social Work graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. She is very passionate about addressing social inequities. She has worked extensively with youth, immigrants, refugees, and survivors of domestic violence. She has also helped facilitate sustainable projects benefiting communities in India and Ghana. She ultimately hopes to pursue a career in the field of international human rights. Additionally, she does some free-lance modeling on the side. For the past two years, she has participated in local fashion shows, hair shows, photoshoots, and showcases. She hopes to increase the presence of women of colour in the media and to use her modeling career to combat skin colour bias.