When I stepped out in the sun, my skin breathed, long, life giving breaths, as it bathed itself silly in the slanting, loving sunshine. But, I never truly enjoyed the sun, as I should have, for a fear nagged at me. I’ll tan, I’ll become darker and I won’t be beautiful. So, I ran back into the home. From a little girl who was afraid of the sun, yet loved it like something terrible and scary should be loved, to a young woman who calmly tucks her hair behind her ear, exposing herself more to the sun, almost delighted at the browning of her skin, almost able to hear it like the crackling of a fire, I have come a long way.Everything good, beautiful and divine was fair. All the leading ladies in the films were fair, the angels printed in my textbook were fair, the darkest girl in the class was made very aware of her complexion, and even the brides of my family applied foundations that were nowhere near their shade of skin. The wheels of beauty hurled towards one destination, and that was “to be fair.”
To be fair was a prerequisite that few of our genes failed to fulfill, to be considered beautiful. It broke us down on a level that was much deeper than skin. It broke us down in places where we regretted belonging to a community, to a skin colour, to a race and to an ethnicity. We could be bestowed with the most striking eyes, full luscious lips, a shock of lustrous locks and the perfect nose, but we would still be the ones who were “Beautiful, but dark.”
We smiled coldly at these ignorant compliments. The society was apologetic for us. The kindness killed me. When I looked at a girl, dark like me, older than me, approaching the ‘age of marriage’, I sought solace from her. But, I didn’t get any. I got fear, I got an outpour of woes and I got from her an attentive ear to any “homemade fairness packs” that my mother might know. If the societal apology and kindness killed me, the victim’s self-blame scarred me. I knew my pride wouldn’t survive a hit so savage. So I did the only logical thing one does, when threatened, at least the only logical thing that wouldn’t brand me a coward. I fought.
I fought balancing on the strong shoulders of my friends and family and the edge of my pride was sharp. I still stand, poised, clutching my pride, waiting to see if someone would call me “Beautiful, but dark.” In this stance, I chant my prayer.
I am dark, a shade darker, and three tones deeper
I am dark, not wheatish, and not dusky, I am dark
I am dark, as you accused me to be, making generous excuses for me
It’s okay, I am educated
It’s okay, I am rich
It’s okay, I have the hair to make up
It’s okay, I can sew and stitch
Thank you, but no thank you
Why console me for something I am not crying about
Why console me for something I guffaw in pride about
Don’t make excuses for me, for I am perfect as I should be
I am finally dark and anything else, I don’t want to be
So let me be.
I’ll toss my head and walk in arrogance
Arrogance I’ve earned,
I’ve slain your ignorance
I, the collective hurt pride of all the dark skins
My fight is undeserved but fight I will
Because the hurt is undeserved
And I won’t take it.
Zeenath is one of Dark is Beautiful’s ardent supporters who lives in the beautiful city of Hyderabad with her family. She hails from an orthodox Muslim household where her upbringing involved spending a big chunk of her time with books that preached the most unorthodox ideas between their covers. The effect of the reading and writing culture became an evident part of Zeenath’s life which she describes in her own words as, “in an ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ like fashion, I switch between the two throughout my day.” Professionally, she interns at an auditing firm as part of her Chartered Accountancy program and aims to trudge to the other end of the tunnel in a couple of years.
As a lover of Indian cinema, Arabic food, baking, literature and her south Indian lifestyle, Zeenath is a charged up young woman who tries and gives her best in everything she sets her eyes on and doesn’t stop till she emerges successful.
In her account “Do Away with the ‘But’” she bids an adieu to the clichéd “But” that frequently takes a free ride on most of our compliments given to the melanin-rich, hoping that her prayer chant would break the spell and liberate our minds so that the memory of its existence does not haunt anymore.
During the month of March, we celebrated “Fear to Freedom” on our Dark is Beautiful Facebook page. What better way to connect with one another than sharing each other’s experiences eh? WOW applauds each and everyone who chose to change the narrative that typically follows fear. Here are a few stories that we gathered from all over India.
Fear to Freedom #1 This story resonated with many of our followers. A central theme that rose from the discussions highlights the legally banned practice of dowry continuing to mar dark skin complexion.
My name is Jyoti and I write this on behalf of all the Jyoti’s out there.I was born into a middle-class Bihari family in Jamshedpur. I am an Engineer by profession. I have skimmed through thousands of profiles in search for a bridegroom, but I didn’t find anyone who shares the same beliefs and values as I do. My parents were worried and feared about my marriage because I am dark and if a girl child is dark, it is completely unacceptable here. But recently, they found someone for me and fixed my marriage. Everything seemed fine in the beginning because my parents had already told them of my complexion and they didn’t say much. But one fine day the grooms family called my parents and stated very indirectly (since they are compromising on a fair daughter-in-law for me),“ We just have one son and after your daughter gets married, everything we have will be hers so pay for our son’s expenses now.” My parents were ready to pay for his expenses because they loved me and wanted me happily married. But when I heard it, I was annoyed. So, I called up the guy and asked him about it. He said,”We shouldn’t get our heads involved in this matter.” I was even more annoyed and said no to the guy. Why should I pay up because I am dark? It doesn’t make me any less of a human. I will certainly marry when I find my right match. A man who looks at my heart and not my outward appearance. Until then I refuse to put a price tag on my skin colour.
Fear to Freedom #2 Savitha received a lot of support from the DISB community spurring her on to break free from fashion norms and experience the joy of colours. We agree.
Model in the pic: Mary Smrutha Paul (DISB Ambassador, Hyderabad)
I do not know why you like to pick on my skin colour all the time. This is how God chose to make me. But you always make a big deal out of it. If I slap some red lipstick on, you say, ” You look ugly….. you think you are a foreigner or something?”. If I choose to wear a yellow heel, you say, ” What are you thinking? Are you out of your mind?” I still remember coming back home one night so excited after getting myself a beautiful lime green Lehenga and you smirked and said, “Give it to your sister, She’s gori hai na?”(Isn’t she fair?) I can’t even begin to explain how I felt that day. I felt so shameful. The fear of approval gripped me. I love fashion, I love dressing up in different colours. I can’t live my whole life wearing just maroons and blue’s can I? I am dark and what’s wrong if I wear bright colours? It’s time this kind of demeaning attitude changes!!! If I don’t even have the basic right to dress the way I want to and express myself sometimes I wonder what am I even doing here!?
– Savitha, The Stressed Out Dresser from Delhi
Fear to Freedom #3 Celestine wrote to us raising this fascinating question:
“Do each and everyone one of us secretly have a colourist inside of us?”
Colourism: A form of discrimination which is based on the individual’s skin colour, with the person who has the lighter skin tone, treated more favourably.
Celestine adds, “Editing pictures became a routine. It’s like I didn’t want to be myself until I realized I was being a colourist myself.”
Do we in our minds often paint ourselves to a skin colour we think we would look perfect at? Is that why filtered images are a huge fad? Has media successfully tapped into all our inferior complexes, flaws and fears, slowly but steadily somehow tricking us to believe that we all to a certain extent have to look like someone else to be accepted?
Celestine says, “Now that I have learned to see beauty in a different light, I feel I look much better without editing my images because that’s me in my authentic self and not a copy.” And we second that Celestine!
Fear to Freedom #4 starts with skin pigmentation, name calling and bullying, but ends with accepting the so-called-imperfections that make us uniquely beautiful.
My name is Natasha and I am from Telangana. You know everyone of us have some form of fear or the other. Mine stared back at me every time I looked at myself in the mirror, more so that the very thought would make me not want to see my reflection (sighs). I had dark pigmentation around my lips and chin so it used to look like I was having a moustache and kids in school started calling me Mushtasa. It used to make me feel like I was never worth it. I always thought how beautiful the fair skinned girls were and how life was easier for them at least in this aspect. As all these feelings grew louder I started disliking myself. Over the years, I have come to realize that the worst form of rejection is not other people rejecting you but you rejecting yourself. So today, I can boldly say, Mushtasha or not, I am proud of my dark skin (and the flaws therein, that makes me human I’d like to think) and I have learned to love (it was hard trust me but not impossible) myself the way I am. A huge shout out to my parents for helping me through this phase.
P.S “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” (And love yourself ) – Harvey Fierstein
Fear to Freedom #5 radiates courage. Many of our readers were inspired and encouraged to follow her example as they face life’s challenges
Hi! This is Shirley from Hyderabad and this is my story.
I spent 10 years of my life in self-criticism. Like a princess locked up in a tall tower, because I felt like I was cursed for being born dark. Growing up with a complexion like this was not easy. Where do you look for comfort and consolation when your own family thinks you are born with a skin colour different than them? When your own friends start teasing you and name tagging you as “Black”? Not being chosen for anything because people look at your complexion and not your personality? Eventually, you start believing you don’t have the right to feel pretty or beautiful. In a country where it is common to be born in this shade, I was being shamed for the very same. But all this made me step back and look at the sunny side of life. My parents and my close friends helped me believe that I am beautiful inside out. The moment I believed I am beautiful, I saw that life was beautiful and what others thought of me slowly became irrelevant. Like they say, “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger”. So don’t let this(skin colour discrimination) ever stop you. I did not let it stop me.
Fear to Freedom #6 reflects on the attributes of inner beauty while showcasing that beauty is so much a social construct which needs to be redefined by the individual and not a tube of fairness cream.
Hi Facebook, This is Yasha Aluru and I am from Telangana. This story is about a good friend who is worth so much more than she knows. The beautiful lady in the picture is Sai. She joined as a maid about three weeks ago.
I was applying some sunscreen one morning and as she was cleaning she asked me curiously “Amma (Madam), what are you applying?” I told her its sunscreen. She asked me again, “ Is that how you become white? I used to be darker. My brother and sister are fair so how can I become like them?”
I could see that it took her courage to ask me that question and I knew I had one simple responsibility towards her.I had to remind her that it was she (and not her fairer brother or sister) who helped her sick mother, she who stayed by her cousin’s side every day while her kidneys slowly failed, and it is she who takes care of her little one all by herself because she loves him unconditionally. I had to tell her that her beauty cannot be bought in a zillion tubes of fairness creams. Her beauty was a gift that she honed into the worthy human she is.
“Hey, Sai. If you start coming to work this late in the day, it will get very sunny and you will turn darker”, said my mother yesterday. Sai smiled and looked at me….a look that said, “Now is that really so bad?”
Fear to Freedom #7 reminds us that the society continues to struggle with skin colour bias. But are permitted to question, challenge, and ultimately, show by our actions, that skin colour bias can be overcome.
My name is Keerthika Gummadi , I am from Hyderabad. I live in New York at the moment and will be back in India for good. When I think of returning back to India, there’s this one thing that constantly troubles me. Meeting relatives who I know will urge me to try the latest fairness creams and treatments. I often wonder why am I being bullied for something I am born with? Why can’t I be accepted the way I am? I am worshipped for my tan in the foreign land but looked down for the same in my motherland. I have always had people walk up to me and say, “You are beautiful despite being dark”. I don’t get it!!! What does skin colour have to do with being beautiful? Beauty lies on the inside, doesn’t it?
Yash Shankar, the artist.
Dark is beautiful had a splendid opportunity to be a part of a solo exhibition titled “Kaali Kali”, by Yash Shankar that celebrated body positivity and diversity among women with the theme majorly focusing on skin colour discrimination. We love supporting and encouraging young artists like Yash who beautifully express their thoughts through their artwork. DISB has stood for celebrating diversity of all skin shades and body types ever since our inception and partnering with a like minded artist was refreshing. We leave you with a small excerpt on the young artist and what kindled her to do an exhibition that had been brewing in her mind for a long time.
Yash Shankar, is an undergraduate student of Applied Psychology and Global Public Health at NYU. She grew up travelling and moving from country to country with her family, and as she learned more about each culture, the one thing that stood out for her was the discrimination minority groups faced. Having faced discrimination based on her skin colour from a very young age; from kindergarten to be precise and as she grew a little older it slowly became slut shaming and sexism. Talking about this she said, “I can’t remember a time at which I have been treated fairly for who I am. What was once blatantly offensive, became subtler and more widely accepted in society every day. By the time I got to college, I realized that the society that I was now a part of, was built on discrimination; as was the society I came from. Everywhere I turned, I saw my culture being appropriated, and before I had the words to describe this, all I had was a feeling of discomfort at people manipulating a culture they didn’t fully understand. I had always known double standards to be a part of my life, but as I grew and further understood this, I started to realize I didn’t have to be okay with it. I could see my culture everywhere, but I could never see my people. India got independence from Britain, almost 70 years ago, but people of colour to this day remain trapped inside a system that constantly benefits from them but never works to benefit them.”
When we quizzed her about the exhibition she said, “I have been learning about race and feminism, I have realized that though I cannot be happy about my position in the world today, I don’t have to be sad like I once was. I can get angry. I can get angry for myself, and I can get angry for my people. But I also know anger is not the solution. I would rather steer all that anger positively and bring about a change in my own way. Doing this exhibition –an exhibition that celebrates the everyday dark Indian woman- has allowed me to take a small step in fixing an impossibly large problem. Working on these paintings has inspired me to fight for the freedom and opportunities that I deserve, and I hope that in the future women of colour can come together and support each other to do the same.
When I was 5 years old, I lived in Bangkok and had no friends. When my teacher asked me what I would like the most, I innocently told her that I would, for one day, like everyone to ignore the fact that I had dark skin. Now that I’ve grown up, I don’t want to ignore that part of me anymore at all. I want to celebrate it and embrace it; one of the ways I achieved this is when I hosted an art exhibition in Chennai at Lakshana Art Gallery.I thank Dark is Beautiful for their support towards my cause and for readily partnering with me.”
From left Nimisha Philip, Preethi Kitchapan, Sahil Jain
Preethi Kitchapan DISB show-stopper
WOW as a movement has been voicing out the need to break beauty stereotypes of shape, size and skin colour. We have always been open to partnerships that will help take the message of the equality and dignity of all skin shades ever since the Dark is Beautiful campaign was launched in 2009. Recently, WOW was honoured to have been able to partner with corporate lawyer and designer Nimisha Philip at the Madras Fashion Week to celebrate the beauty of dark skin through her Be Audacious line of stunning women’s attire. Her flair for combining elegance with bold designs artfully and her passion for the cause made this a very unique and meaningful show. Let us take you backstage and into the heart of what makes Be Audacious a clothing line with a difference.
What’s your definition of fashion?
Fashion is an inspiration of identity, commodity and art, intertwined intangible material. It is an expression of your inner being, making your body a platform for display.Fashion has the function of culture, modesty, necessity and art to inspire emotion in its viewers. This is the reason I love setting and following new trends in fashion as it has a capacity to inspire a sense of audacity, fearlessness and a spirit of awe!
What’s unique about your fashion?
I believe my designs are very personal to me and my clients. I cannot design if I don’t find inspiration from the client or if I am not helping them stand for something that is important to them. Every time I design for my clients, I write a personal message for them in the “Be Audacious” box, to inspire them to value that moment and aspire for greater heights. Each of my garments when sold will also give my clients the opportunity to contribute to the child’s life, as 10% of the profit will go to helping a disadvantaged child.
Why showcase women’s issues through your clothes?
I am a practicing lawyer by profession and women’s rights issues is something very close to my heart since my 9th grade dream to be a lawyer, something for which I have voiced my opinion on several platforms. When the idea of “Audacious” was born, I knew that using fashion& design to drive home the message of women empowerment would be an interesting and fun platform.
What are the challenges you face?
I am still rather new to the industry, but have followed since I was a young girl. Since my childhood, I never liked being told what I can and cannot wear, and that’s also one of the challenges I will face in this industry.The Madras Couture Fashion week (Season 3) was my very first platform for me to display my designs on a public ramp; little did I know I would get this kind of fabulous response. It has really encouraged and also shown me that the fashion industry is no trivial game. They do what they do with tremendous effort, inspiration, investment and risk.
How do you juggle both roles of Lawyer and Fashion Designer?
It’s been quite an amazing journey so far, but with crazy amount of hard work and very late sleepless nights. I love both the fields so much and I wouldn’t want to leave either of them. Being a lawyer at one of India’s top law firm, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is no piece of cake; it has long nights of due diligence and client expectations to be met. Adaptation and promptness play very key roles in balancing both. It also helps to have an amazing Partner as your boss, who gives you space, but expects work to be done when needed. I like to believe I get by with a lot of grace from God and a supporting family and friends who get on my bandwagon of craziness at any point in time. I really do believe when you value every person that helps you in your journey in life, anything can become possible.
What does the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign mean to you?
Vivienne Westwood said, “Art gives Culture.” I believe in clothing creating culture; clothing finds resolve in developing culture, modesty, simplicity, elegance, style, life – especially in glorious works of Indian colour and design. But when it comes to the beauty of your own skin colour, our definitions single out “fair” as the option.
As a girl whose mother is gorgeously fair skinned and Dad handsomely Dark skinned, I always received different views on this topic. Luckily, both my amazing parents are broad minded when it comes to their daughters having their own opinion.When I came across the words “Darkisbeautiful,” my heart immediately drew my feet towards it. That’s when I met Kavitha and her team and put my name down to volunteer for both their campaigns: “Girl Arise” and “Darkisbeautiful”. After that day, it has been a series of amazing events.
What was your experience and how did the Madras Couture Week show champion the “Dark is Beautiful” Campaign?
I knew The Madras Couture Week would be a great platform to drive home to the fashion industry the message of Beauty Beyond Colour, especially when I saw that there wasn’t a single dark skinned model in my three weeks of searching. That’s when I knew my show-stopper had to be a strong, independent dark skinned model, PreethiKitchapaan, a gorgeous fawn skinned model and a mother to a lovely young girl.
Every quote and song I picked for each of the models was about women empowerment intertwined with the message “DarkisBeautiful”. I also had the opportunity to bring on board the powerhouse of a voice, Kavita Thomas, and amazing dancers of Aparna Nagesh’s “High Kicks- All Girls Dance Ensemble”. When they heard about the campaign they got on board in a heartbeat, without whom the ending of my show would not have been such a grand success. I was also helped by Sunil Menon, who was the show’s choreographer. Preethi’s attire was inspired by the fusion of Indian designs and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, who was a dark skinned powerful queen of her time.
It was important to me to end of the show by stressing that “we have to rid ourselves with the pathological obsession of associating beauty to fair skin; [How] in a country with so many different skin colours we have to appreciate the beauty in each colour.” So all that said, all you lovely readers please go and “Be Audacious” in your lovely skins.
Dark is Beautiful launched in 2009, has had a cascading effect since its inception. It has stimulated and inspired the birth of many other campaigns which advocates against skin colour discrimination. As we (Women of Worth), were inaugurating our Dark is Beautiful Hyderabad Chapter, on the title “Beauty Beyond Colour”on 5th March 2016, at the InOrbit Mall, “Dark on Fleek” was brought to our attention. Smarna Ravela and Kollipara proud students of the Oakridge International School, Hyderabad, started this campaign as a part of their school community project. We invited the girls to come share their experiences and inspire the students present at the launch. We celebrate and encourage young girls like Shreya and Smarna who want to make a difference in the society by addressing sensitive issues like ‘colour discrimination’. We are proud to collaborate with them and here’s a small excerpt on what Dark on Fleek is all about.
“Dark on Fleek”, is directed towards the precious women of tomorrow, (girls of various schools) aiming to show them that it isn’t just looks that determine beauty. The slang “fleek”, is popular amongst the students and means perfection or “is awesome”. They aim to convey to the students that they don’t need to go by society’s ideals of perfection, but just need to be their own unique and amazing selves by embracing their colour with pride and confidence and showcase their real worth by showing others who they are in personality, talent and abilities.
This project also hopes to give students a voice. A voice to express themselves and also educate them on this issue. Having undergone discrimination on this front themselves, they understand that an abyss of damage has been done by the oodles of fairness cream commercials and movies that regularly bombard our television screens. Their primary goal is to address the damage and educate students on how to overcome the episodes of discrimination that they have encountered.
Dark on Fleek as of now is a small community and under the guidance of Women of Worth, they are hoping to encourage and bring along many other girls, who would like to volunteer and help raise a stronger voice against skin colour discrimination and harbour a colour bias free environment on school campuses in the future.
Shreya Kollipara on the right: I’m passionate about writing, and I write to promote equality in all spheres of our society by bringing awareness and change in the attitudes of people, wherein, we learn to break free from all the boundaries set by men in terms of caste, creed, religion and colour.
Smarna Ravela on the left: As a State-level footballer, many people have expressed their concerns over my increasing tan and have asked me to consider giving up my passion and also recommend an array of whitening cosmetics. That’s why we felt the need to start Dark on Fleek, which will help and educate students on skin colour discrimination and excel beyond it.
By Sharon Muthu
The Sunshine Paradox
It was a beautiful, sunny, typical Southern California day. After a couple weeks of cold and rainy weather, it was a joy to see Los Angeles back to its usual balmy splendor: Flowers blooming, the sweet scent of summer in the air, and Californians overjoyed to be outside, wearing their light breezy attire, adorned in sunglasses, and sipping iced coffees.
Stand Proudly in the Sunshine
I had been craving the sunshine for many days now, and couldn’t wait to get outside. I hurried to throw on a loose-fitting t-shirt and workout pants, and practically ran to the front door, my little doggy trailing close behind me, his tail wagging uncontrollably. With child-like joy, the two of us headed outside. That first breath of summer-like air was heaven, perfumed with jasmine and fresh-cut grass. The glorious California sun hit my face for the first time in days; warm, bright, soul-soothing. I smiled, breathing deeply, and shut my eyes to soak it all in.
Suddenly I heard a nagging voice echo from somewhere deep inside me, full of fear as it abruptly eclipsed my happiness: I better put a hat on & stay in the shade, or my skin might get too dark.
Using Positive Self Talk
“Whoa! What was that?!,” I thought, alarmed as my eyes sprung open. Immediately, a stronger inner-voice overtook the nagging one: “STOP! Sharon Muthu, you get that negative, old, toxic, incorrect thought out of your mind now. You know that it has no validity. You are smarter than that. You are braver than that.”
Whew. I stood for a moment truly shocked, because thoughts like that are very rare for me these days. I’ve come to embrace and love my dark skin over the years. Yet there it was; The horrible result of old-world conditioning that was somehow still lingering in the back of my mind, sneaking up on me like a knee-jerk reaction at the very mention of the word “sunshine.”
I was grateful for the voice of truth had come to my rescue. I had to tell myself, “These negative thoughts are toxic and false. I will not perpetuate such nonsense for myself or anyone else. I am smarter than that. I am braver than that. I will enjoy this long-awaited sunshine because it is natural and beautiful. And, whether or not my skin turns darker remains irrelevant, for I will still be beautiful, regardless.”
And once more, grounded in this absolute truth, my little dog and I set off for a long morning walk, happily drenched in the Southern California sunlight.
Colourism Buried Deep Inside Me
As I walked on, I reflected on the momentary inner-conflict that had just occurred. What was that voice of doubt and shame? When did it begin? Why does it sometimes rear its ugly head even when I’m feeling so happy and confident about myself? Why do I continue to face the demons and battle the ghosts of my childhood?
I am still my six-year-old self hearing my South Asian community elders telling me to, “Always keep out of the sun if you don’t want to be dark.” I am still the twelve-year-old adolescent girl being bombarded by ads for creams and scrubs, promising beauty (and ultimately, validation) by virtue of lighter skin. I am still the twenty-year-old young woman who hears others saying condescendingly, “Sharon, you’re very dark, but still pretty enough.” And, today, I am a grown woman who is deeply affected by the constant battles of racism & skin-colour bias that plague every culture, at every level of society.
A Little Sunshine On Your Face
My friends, change begins with us: It begins within our own families, within our communities, with how we teach our children. But, most importantly, it begins within our individual minds.
I can tell you from experience, it does get easier. The more I reaffirm these truths for myself each day, the more it becomes effortless to do so. The more I help to spread awareness, the more awareness I receive in my own journey. The more I see beauty in others, no matter our similarities or differences, the more beautiful I feel within myself. And, suddenly, those negative thoughts fade from my mind more quickly than ever before.
So, raise your voices loudly and proudly: We are ALL beautiful, just the way we are. And, I promise you – A little sunshine on your face won’t ever change that.
About the Author:
Sharon Muthu is an actress, voiceover artist, and singer, based out of Los Angeles, CA. She serves as the “Ambassador to Hollywood” for the international awareness campaign, Dark is Beautiful. She strongly supports and encourages the rise of ethnic diversity in Hollywood, and she hopes to be a prominent part of the next chapter of South Asian talents being featured in mainstream American entertainment.