A New Operating System

By Arpit Jacob | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner

Arpit Jacob says we need to rethink the way we talk with kids about skin colour— at school, at home and in the media.

Photo Credit: Zippora Madhukar Photography

I’m Arpit:

user experience designer
gadget geek
30 years old
and happily married.

During my school days in North India, a few of my classmates gave me other labels: kalia (black) and hapshi (negro).

These nicknames didn’t affect me as much as the preferential treatment that some of the teachers extended to fairer-skinned students for public speaking, plays/musicals and sports/games. This hugely impacted my self-image and self-worth. I retreated into a shell. 

I became reluctant to participate in school events and shy of the stage. Every year, for the parent-teacher meetings, I preferred that my dad— who is fair— come along with me, instead of my mom— who is dark.

Meanwhile, when I used to visit my relatives in Kerala, some of the older folks used to advise me not to play out in the sun, and to watch out lest I become as dark as my brother. 

Because of all the ridicule I faced, I concluded that being fair was superior to being dark. 

I felt I had to prove myself, so I worked extra hard, especially in sports. I became very self-conscious of how I looked and how I dressed at gatherings. I grew wary of people from the north. I guess it also made me very shy in approaching the opposite sex. 

In my late teens I tried using fairness cream, thinking it would make me more acceptable among my peers. 

After high school, I joined a college in South India, where there were more dark-skinned people.

Good friends were instrumental in helping me overcome my lack of self-esteem. The church and campus community where I lived also played a big role. Athletics were an outlet and a way to prove to my peers that I could excel despite the discrimination. 

I came to understand that when we focus on negative things people think or say about us, we can lose confidence and it affects our self-worth. This in turn affects our performance in life, making us feel less confident, which leads to insecurities. We have to break this cycle.

It happened gradually, but now I am totally comfortable with the way I look.

When I heard about the Dark is Beautiful campaign, I could relate to it so much, and I think this is an important issue to address in schools. We need to teach kids media literacy, to recognize how advertisements play on people’s insecurities.

School children need to hear that it doesn’t matter whether you are tall or short, dark or fair. Nothing or no one can put limits on what we can achieve. 

Focus on what you’re good at and don’t let discrimination bring you down. 

Consciously choose to believe and know that God created all people equal. It would be a very boring world if everyone had the same skin colour. Varying skin tones showcase the beauty of God’s creation. 

We all have unique gifts and talents. It is important to believe in yourself, identify what you’re good at, and go for it, irrespective of the colour of your skin!


Surviving Discrimination: The Chandra Vadhana Story

By Chandra Vadhana | An UNfair & Beautiful contributor




Right from childhood I developed a BIG inferiority complex because I was dark. 
I had the privilege of being schooled at one of the best convent schools in my locality, despite being born in a middle class family. In fact, I was one of the darkest in my class and hence the most “un-preferred” for any on-stage events. And that made me shy away from getting on the stage, even when I was sure of my capabilities. 
I used to cry and shout at my mother for giving birth to me dark. She was actually fairer and I used to be jealous of her beauty. But she was a woman of substance. She always motivated me and instilled great strength in me. Her belief in me made me realize that i can achieve anything in life and that my abilities are never connected with my skin colour.
She did two good things after my convent education: first she put me in an aided college, where there were girls I could relate to and shared my dark skin. Secondly, she forced me to join NCC and sent me to all the leadership camps, which helped bring out my capabilities as a speaker, communicator and as a motivated leader. 
The first NCC camp was rough, but I kept with it and went on to become the best cadet in Kerala, got selected for the Republic Day parade, went on a youth exchange program and won many medals. My NCC training also helped build my confidence. 
I went on to do my MBA from CUSAT. I also did my M.Sc. in Psychology and I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in Psychometrics. 
I love my job as an RJ and voice artist, where I get to use my talent to communicate with the community. In spite of my many accomplishments and awards, I do feel sad that I don’t get on-stage work as an anchor due to the colour of my skin.
I went on to marry a man who is fair and handsome, who loves me and my kids more than anything else and skin colour is never an issue in our home.
I can say I’m a successful and accomplished dark skinned woman! I have overcome my inferiority complex of dark skin and in the past many years, I have motivated a lot of youngsters by taking personality development classes.
Finally, I believe that the concept of inferiority complex is a pure business strategy for a billion dollar industry that’s thriving because of the fairness creams. I believe this stigma can be wiped away only when more and more dark skinned women are in media’s limelight!
And, yes, lets Throw Out That Tubeof fairness products right out the windows!

The Chandra Vadhana Story is the first of the Surviving Discrimination posts. If you have overcome skin colour bias and would like to share your story to inspire change among young men and women, drop us a line at darkisbeautiful@gmail.com

Chandra Vadhana is a Voice artist, Radio Jockey and a Trainer based at Cochin. She is also a blogger and publishes at www.ceeveescorner.blogspot.com or http://www.facebook.com/pages/RJ-Chandra/425925877501447

Not Fair!

By Kavita Emmanuel | Founder Director, WOW

Each year on Independence Day I get to recite our National Pledge: ‘India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it…”

Are we really proud of our varied heritage? Do we accept each other as fellow citizens on the same level barring differences over caste, creed, and particularly, colour? Is skin colour bias an issue in our country?

The answer is obviously ‘yes’! And I would not be completely wrong to assume that skin colour bias is more pronounced among the educated and the most forward sections of society.

I often wonder where we inherited such blatant ‘wanted: fair brides’ sort of racism. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of the Indian people have darker skin tones. That the Dravidians are dark skinned people is an obvious fact. How they got to buy into the notion that “fair alone” is beautiful is unsolvable. Why haven’t we opened our eyes to see beauty that is evident in our own people?

Many trivialize the issue saying that in a country that is battling graver issues like poverty, terrorism, crime and abuse, an issue like skin colour bias is of no importance. But why should we wait till we eradicate these graver issues to address an issue that exposes our primitive prejudices? I often wonder if the issue of skin colour is deeper that what we think it is.

As a mature society, 65 years into “Free” India, we should have moved on to much greater heights of showing the world how people from such varied cultures and skin colours can actually live together as one nation in harmony.

Let’s face it, says the author, ‘skin colour bias’ is an issue in our country
(All Photos by Zippora Madhukar Photography) 

People often ask me what prompted me to initiate this campaign. If you take a look at those widely circulated fairness shade cards, I am an ‘inch’ above what people might call ‘dark’ (Yes, they have invented a measuring scale for skin tones!) I belong to the category of lighter brown-skinned people.

I have to admit I haven’t been the victim of any life-changing discrimination from my fairer counterparts. But I have often felt the pressure to preserve or save the colour of my skin from the sun so I don’t get darker. I still hear comments like, “You were a fair baby, but now you have become so dark. Have you been roaming in the sun?”

However, the reasons that propelled me to initiate the campaign were the real life stories of my friends and women I have counseled. I know girls who have been rejected by potential marriage partners, subtly denied jobs and abused by husbands and in-laws because of their skin colour. I have seen children face rude remarks and given nick-names for being dark skinned. I have felt like crying alongside a mom who couldn’t hold back her tears as she talked about how people differentiate between her two children and show preference for the fairer one.

One story that stands out is of a friend who was willing to marry a man in a wheel chair. She chose to see the person beyond the handicap he suffered. To her surprise his family rejected her because, as they say, “she lacked colour.” I know girls who carry the scars of rejection for years and find it difficult to believe that they are of value.

I was not born a Dark is Beautiful campaigner. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the Change that you want to see.” Any change that I want to see has to begin with me. Campaigns bring awareness. Campaigns are not to judge people. I chose to become a campaigner against skin colour bias because I want to create a world free of skin colour bias for our children.

The Dark is Beautiful campaign is an awareness initiative that is trying to wake people up to the reality of beauty in all skin tones. John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” For us today, a thing of beauty is work forever! It’s the ‘get fairer’, ‘get slimmer’, ‘get younger’ kind of syndrome that is driving people crazy – leaving them feeling tired, unloved and unlovely.

What makes a person truly beautiful is more than just what is seen on the outside. We need to let values like kindness, acceptance, helpfulness, tolerance, integrity and honesty regain their rightful status in our world.

Let’s together pave the way for a new wave of Independence that helps people truly celebrate who they are no matter what their skin colour!

Be Colour Blind & End Prejudice

This article first appeared in theweekendleader.com: http://www.theweekendleader.com/Causes/1318/It%E2%80%99s-not-fair.html

For more pictures visit http://zipporaphotography.blogspot.in/2012/09/beauty-beyond-colour.html

Brown Girl In The Ring

By Zippora Madhukar | Photographer and WOW CORE Member

Vivacious, animated, a go-getter, vibrant – all these words came to mind when I first met Aparna – a professional dancer who challenges the norms of what a dancer should look like in our country.

Aparna Nagesh is the founder of Showstoppers INC, an arts promotion and event concept brand and the founder of High-Kicks, Chennai’s first and only all-girls performance crew.

Aparna spent 12 years building her foundation with John Britto’s Dance Company (Photos by Zippora Madhukar)

She has now been in the dance and entertainment industry for over 14 years and she loves it to the core.

However, Aparna knows that it is not easy to hold your own when performing in a field where what you look like determines how far you will succeed – especially when you are not fair, tall, slim and therefore not ‘beautiful’.

Having gone through self-esteem issues raised by the notion that only fair is lovely, and having had her clashes with the image of the stereotypical dancer, Aparna was more than ready to share her story to help put a stop to this myth.

From back during her school days, she was always cast as the villain in school plays because of her dark skin, in spite of her talent.

To this day she can still re¬member the names she was called in school because of her dark skin. The colour of her skin was not something that she could change, so she had to put up with all the name-calling.

It was not easy for her to find a confident, dark-skinned woman role model in this day and in this country, which, for the most part, stereotypes beauty as someone with fair skin.

She tells of the many times she would run to her mother, who was a constant source of strength and comfort. Her mother would always reassure her that her skin colour did not matter, and that she was beautiful just as she is.

Another outlet for her feelings of rejection and low self-esteem was the therapy of dance. Dancing allowed her to vent all of her frustration and boost her self-worth.

This realization of empowerment by dancing helped her determine her future. She knew that she could teach many others that dance was not just an art form, but a therapeutic form of self expression – especially for the youngsters of today who are under so much pressure to look a certain way.

Aparna spent 12 years building her foundation with John Britto’s Dance Company where she wore many hats: dancer, assistant, instructor and choreographer.

She even played the roles of an official stylist, costume designer, manager of the training and performance division and Chief dance instructor. Suffice to say, she had a lot of experience as a dancer and as a performer.

In spite of her seniority and dancing ability, clients would often ask her to move from center stage to the sidelines because she didn’t fit the mould of the typical performance artist.

While fuming inwardly, Aparna learnt to keep a calm exterior. She dreamed of a day where dancers would be judged by how they danced and not by the colour of their skin.

She was one of four individuals from South India selected for full scholarship by the U.S. State Department to participate in a Culture Connect programme, organised by the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Washington DC.

She was the recipient of the Certificate of Excellence, International Student Program in Dance Performance and Vocal technique, Broadway Dance Center, New York.

These experiences compelled her to start something with her stamp on it, and something that would address issues that affected her. That was how Showstoppers INC. and High-Kicks were born.

Her desire is to change the way people look at and treat performers, and through her experiences and her dances prove that the medium of dance can be a source of help to young children and adults going through life’s struggles.

She wants to address social issues through her dances and is hoping to make a difference in the world around her by doing what she does best – dancing her way through life.

This journey eventually drew Aparna to a new campaign in the city to fight skin colour bias, called Dark is Beautiful, initiated by Women of Worth.

Photo by Zippora Madhukar Photography

Being involved in the Dark is Beautiful campaign is one way Aparna hopes to make a difference. She is currently developing dance and movement activities for the DisB workshops aimed at helping children build their self esteem.

“Dark is Beautiful is a campaign that is obviously very close to my heart because I have been the butt of many jokes,” says Aparna, adding, “The campaign is aimed at creating awareness amongst all strata of people to remove the stigma of skin colour especially amongst young impressionable children. Hopefully we can change mindsets at least one at a time!”

You may recognize the title of this article “There’s a brown girl in the ring” as the song made famous by Boney M. It seemed particularly apt for Aparna – a confident, dark-skinned woman who dances like a dream.

What you may not know was this song is a traditional song in the West Indies, sung while children play a ring game/dance, viewed as a source of pride about their brown coloured skin.

Aparna’s story challenges us to do the same – as a nation, to be proud of ALL the varying skin tones– white, ‘wheatish’ (whatever that is), brown, yellow and black. We don’t have to write a song about this, but we should be proud of who we are and how diverse we are.

Celebrate Beauty Beyond Colour!

This article first appeared in theweekendleader.com: http://www.theweekendleader.com/Causes/1144/Brown-girl.html
For more pictures visit http://zipporaphotography.blogspot.in/2012/06/aparna.html