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.
A Philosopher’s View
By Ajoy Varghese | A Dark is Beautiful Supporter
Humans not only perceive beauty, but also have the unique ability to describe it and to judge it.
The “Dark is Beautiful” campaign has an underlying assumption— that Beauty exists! It is a clear reference to the ubiquitous existence of beauty in our world. It is also a bold challenge to social attempts to fracture beauty. One attempt to do so is by pitting one skin colour against another. The campaign asserts that that beauty is not contained in one colour but in many— individually and together. The campaign also asserts that beauty is not skin deep.
Prior to the Dark is Beautiful campaign, when was the last time you actually heard a public debate on beauty? Not likely that you did. Not surprising, either. It’s easier to use a TV ad to assault your senses than to present a logical argument to challenge your reason.
I recently heard a male celebrity protest that he had every right to choose his skin colour. How can you argue with that? Except that when a personal preference is advertised as a public good, it has made itself a subject of public scrutiny and judgment. So, if a celebrity says that endorsing a product is his right, then the public has an equal right (and I think, an obligation) to judge it. Else, his personal preference must be parked within the confines of his own thinking.
It’s a pity that we have allowed the contemporary discourse on beauty to be hijacked by beauty pageants and advertisers. Both groups are in bed together— cultural elite who seek to control and manipulate the minds of the masses by entering the citizen’s mind through the backdoor of the senses and not through the front door of Reason.
|Beauty exists. Science cannot reduce it. Religion cannot deny it. (Photo: western4uk)
How can we begin to think more deeply about beauty? Here are some preliminary considerations.
We don’t all agree on what it means to be beautiful. Some find Madonna beautiful. Others disagree. They find Mother Teresa’s face beautiful. I should not be surprised that not everybody finds babies and sunsets beautiful. We implicitly recognize that beauty defies straightforward objective standardization.
Not surprisingly, all cultures have their own notions of beauty and happily disagree about what it means to be beautiful. The fact of beauty is an objective reality. Our interpretationsof beauty are subjective and culturally influenced.
Beauty stirs us: A blade of grass glistening in the sunlight, a child’s laughter, haunting lyrics, the face of a woman, the integrity of a truth-teller and a graceful prowling tiger. There are moments in life when we encounter beauty and we have a heart-arrest, an out-of-body experience, transportation outside of ourselves. When beauty grips us, we are less preoccupied with ourselves. Sometimes, it makes us blush. At other times, it evokes awe.
It appears that we are the only species that recognizes beauty. This is no mere evolutionary superiority. While animals’ instinctive biological drive is excited by colour, scent, sound, etc., humans’ perception goes beyond the sensory. We have the unique ability to describe beauty and to judge it. We write songs about it or produce pieces of art around it. We even fight over what we consider beautiful. Pascal wryly remarked that “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”
Beauty exists. Science cannot reduce it. Religion cannot deny it.
So, what does this unique ability to discern beauty tell us? Does it say anything at all? Is it simply brute fact or a signifier? Well, that’s a discussion for another day.
By Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder & Director of Women of Worth
Have you ever wondered where skin colour bias originated from? I have. And frankly speaking, there is no simple answer. Skin colour bias is so much a part of our culture that if we tracked it down to see the real enemies it would possibly point to all of us, our families, our extended families, our society, our ancestors etc.
We are all guilty of either propagating or tolerating this age-old bias. Most people are unaware that such a bias can actually affect people in a deep way.
A campaign like, ’Dark is Beautiful’ (by Women of Worth) has as its core mission the task of exposing the issue, educating people on its effects on society and encouraging those who have experienced trauma because of skin colour bias to regain their confidence and self-worth.
Since our petition on Change.org to ‘take down’ Emami’s discriminatory “Fair and Handsome” ad, many have asked us the question: Why not other brands? Why only Emami? Why only Shah Rukh Khan?” Are they the only ones who are guilty of ‘unfair advertising’ or responsible for skin colour discrimination?
Not at all! If we had chosen some other brand’s ad, we still would have faced this question. Change has to begin somewhere.
The word ‘petition’ actually means ‘request’ or ‘appeal’. By posting a petition we are actually requesting Emami and Shah Rukh Khan to ‘lead the change’.
Several well-wishers of Mr. Khan are worried whether the campaign is aimed against him. I wish to reiterate that the campaign is against skin colour bias and not against Mr. Khan as any individual.
We do want to see Emami’s discriminatory ad taken down. We do want King Khan to stop endorsing products that promote skin colour discrimination. Those are our requests.
People often argue that products are manufactured to meet a demand among the masses. The demand-and-supply model cannot be an excuse to override responsible business ethics. An issue as serious as skin-colour discrimination cannot be ignored. A healthy society will be on the look out to sort out its discriminatory practices.
Today we are proud of having moved ahead in our perceptions of dowry, our society’s preference for male offspring and various other practices that reflect gender bias or discrimination. Why have we ignored skin-colour bias? The demand-and-supply model cannot be the easy answer to playing on the existing bias or insecurities of an entire group of people. We are and should be more responsible than that!
The Dark is Beautiful campaign seeks to address this complex issue in various ways.
At the launch of the campaign in 2009, we hosted contests in painting, photography, short stories and poetry on the theme “Dark is Beautiful’ to give people a chance to express their views through art. We held a Dark is Beautiful Concert, Book Reading, and Art Gallery in collaboration with British Council, Chennai premises.
|DisB Launch Concert Emceed by VJ Paloma Rao
Our media literacy module spreads awareness among school and college students that ‘beauty is beyond colour.’
|Media Literacy Workshops for High School Students
Our blog series called SURVIVING DISCRIMINATION showcases stories of men and women who have overcome the discriminating effects of skin colour bias or of those who are still trying to figure a way out.
Our social media platforms gives people a place to share their thoughts on the issue vent, find support and feel understood.
In March 2012, the campaign organized our first flash mob at Elliot’s Beach, Chennai and released a TVC featuring one of our brand ambassadors Anu Hasan. The event was chaired by Mr. Pratip Philip, Inspector General, Chennai Police. The flash mob’s slogan was “Why this colour-veri?” chosen after the famous Tamil hit song “Why this Kola-veri di?”
|Anu Hasan was the first celebrity endorsement the campaign received
|Why this Colour Veri? Expression Board
Over the past two years, celebrities like Anu Hasan, Nandita Das, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Vishaka Singh have lent their support. Their participation in the campaign has gained us visibility and media attention.
|Nandita Das challenges skin colour bias
The petition, as you can see, is one among the various initiatives of the campaign. We are well aware that skin colour bias is so deep rooted in our society and that it has to be seen and addressed from different angles.
Media Literacy and Responsible Advertising
However, having said all of the above we acknowledge the need for responsible advertising which, whether we like it or not, plays a huge role in shaping and influencing the way people think and act. If this were not true why would brands want to use stars to sell their products?
From rural India to the most educated in urban India people look up to icons like Shah Rukh Khan. We celebrate and esteem stars as role models. Therefore, it is only right that we require them to exercise a certain sense of responsibility towards their countrymen. They are not just entertainers. They are prominent voices in the nation that people from all walks of life stop and listen to. Our petition is simply this: Please say ‘no’ to skin colour bias!
Show us that you care!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kavitha is passionate about campaigning for issues concerning women, children and the underprivileged. She finds great fulfillment in helping women realize their dreams and live up to their full potential. She founded Women of Worth (WOW) with a vision to empower, train and motivate women to ‘Be the Best They can Be’. She is always looking for opportunities to create avenues for change that will make the world a better place for women.
By Pamposh Dhar | Dark is Beautiful campaigner
We are bombarded by print ads and TV commercials all day long. So much so that we hardly pay heed to them any more. But when “King Khan” himself shows up on the TV screen in our home, we sit up and take notice. He is India’s most popular star, the heart-throb of millions. In TV interviews, and even in most of his films, he comes across as a down-to-earth, sensitive man. We love him for that.
But now, with the Fair and Handsome commercial he is making some of us very uncomfortable. A few friends find my views objectionable. Mostly this seems to stem from the feeling that SRK is a superstar, someone we adore, and therefore someone we cannot possibly find fault with or give advice to. Our love for SRK inhibits us from criticizing him, but let’s face it – the Fair and Handsome commercial sends a clear message that to be handsome or successful you must be fair.
He is a superstar, true. But we are the people who have made him a superstar and we are the people who keep him at the top. We are the consumers of his films. Of course, we do that because of his considerable talents and the hard work he puts into his films. But we are the ones who decide if we like what we see and hear.
So, when he acts – with his usual elan – in a commercial that enhances a mindset that makes little children feel unloved and young men feel inadequate, then we can tell him that we do not like what he is doing. We can ask him to stop lending his megastar status to keep alive an essentially racist attitude. We can tell him we do not love his doing this, even if we still love him in his films.
We do not want him to waste our love, the fan following that keeps him at the top, on strengthening an attitude that is clearly wrong and does so much damage to the self-esteem of men and women. Worse, it is part of the mindset that makes us cruel to little children, making them feel unloved and insecure. (You can find some heart-rending stories in this blog and on the campaigns Facebook.)
I’d like to invite you to join me and the thousands of people who have already signed a petition asking Fair & Handsome and Shah Rukh Khan to take down this commercial. Let’s tell our hero to practice what he recently preached on his own Facebook page. I quote a post from 22 July: “You were born to be real, not to be perfect. You are here to be you, not to be what someone else wants you to be”…Gurumantra i was taught
Quite right, SRK! We are here to be ourselves, and we are perfect just the way the Maker made us. Please don’t try to improve on His handiwork!
Click here to say YES to responsible advertising
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pamposh Dhar is a counsellor, personal development coach, meditation teacher and energy healer based in Singapore. A former journalist, she is also a consultant writer and editor. She has previously worked as a gender specialist and trainer, and gender issues remain close to her heart. Pamposh is a fair Kashmiri in a long-lasting and extremely happy marriage with a dark Tamilian.
A chat with David Livingstone
Sales pitches for fairness products suggest that a man needs to lighten up to get the job, to get the girl, to get more out of life. Twenty-nine year-old David Livingstone says that’s “hideous,” and in this interview with Dark is Beautiful, he offers his own take on what it means to be fair.
DisB: Have you ever tried fairness products?
David: I have never tried them or wanted to try them. I always felt fairness creams make you look unnaturally a shade whiter. I have seen it on other people and have not liked it. They look like they are painted white. I just use cologne and shave cream. That’s it.
DisB: What do you think about ads that promote fairness creams?
David: I find the whole concept of people wanting to be fair and the cosmetic industry promoting that idea quite hideous. Advertisements promoting fair skin always bothered me. I kept asking myself, “Why do they do this? What’s wrong with them?” Thankfully, I never thought that something was wrong with me
DisB: Have you been passed up for opportunities in jobs, marriage/dating (or anything), because of skin colour?
David: I am not aware even if I was.
DisB: Tell us about your childhood; how did you feel about your skin colour growing up?
David: My siblings are coloured lighter than I am. My parents never mentioned anything about my colour or made me feel less than my siblings. In fact, they helped me accept myself the way I am.
In school, we all had nicknames. In my case, being nicknamed because of my colour was part of it. I had other nicknames, too. I just took it in stride. I didn’t let it affect me in any deep way.
Over the years I have learned to accept myself the way God made me— in His image. I have confidence in who I am, just the way I am. I don’t feel the need to change my skin colour.
DisB: You travel a lot for your job. Is there a difference in how people treat you in North India vs. South India?
David: Yes, definitely. In the North, some people try and stay away from you and make you feel different because you are dark. They may call you “Madrasi” if they think you come from Chennai/Tamil Nadu.
But I don’t care. I reach out to them and let them see me for who I am. I am not so bothered by how they treat me, but rather by how they perceive another human being based on their skin colour. I used to think, “They know no better.” I felt sad for them.
DisB: What are your observations about the proportions of fair and dark skin in India?
David: If I walked into a room full of people here in India, definitely the ones who are fair-skinned would catch my attention. But only initially. It is probably because the others are darker and the ones with fair skin stand out. Eventually I’d look beyond that. If I walked into a room filled with fair-skinned people, the ones that are dark would catch my attention. Why make such a big deal about colour?
DisB: Any final comments?
David: Stop worrying about skin colour. Beauty is about character. To me, the word “fair” isn’t about skin tones; it’s about who you are and what you do.
That’s why I think the Fair and Handsome ad is unfair, and I support the petition to take it down. Why demean people who are dark? We need more responsible advertising.
Click here to say NO to unfair advertising and YES to take down the Fair and Handsome advertisement