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?
By Natasha Sharma | Model & Social Activist
Colour complex affects people worldwide.
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.
By Rebekah Paul | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner
If only life were as easy as Jimmy Kimmel’s “Meet My Best Unfriend” Facebook Challenge:
“You are dark but photogenic.” – Unfriend
“Your sister is lighter skinned than you, no?” – Unfriend
“You’d have been a great looking guy. Tall, dark and handsome.” – Seriously? Unfriend
“Karuppi” – Unfriend AND Report Abuse
“We’ve written wheat-ish as your complexion on the marriage bureau form” – UNFRIEND… wait… what? I can’t really unfriend my parents now, can I?
I’ve been called it all.
From being verbally assaulted by random strangers to compliments packaged badly by well meaning friends and family.
I’ve heard it all.
From arguments on colonialism and the perpetuation of their ideologies to how racism is worldwide.
After years of playing the shepherd or the Orient king bearing gold in school and church nativity plays, after too many years of hoping that I’d get picked to be an angel instead, I guess I figured out, even as a child, that sports might be my way out.
I believe I was fortunate to have studied in a school where the teacher’s discrimination started and ended at choosing the angels in the nativity play. I believe I was fortunate to have close friends who couldn’t think along the lines of skin colour, at least not in derogatory terms. I believe I was fortunate enough to be averagely good in sports and couldn’t find time for much else.
I also believe I was extremely fortunate to have parents who made light of my skin colour apprehensions if any and edged me on to give my best in whatever I did. My parents taught me to take life with a pinch of salt. “Be a cheerful child!” my father tells me to this day, despite me being a grown woman.
Life changed as I grew. I wasn’t so safe anymore from rude, brash comments and discrimination. I grew more resilient and learnt the art of ‘ignoring’.
I grew up seldom allowing the opinion and biases of others get in the way of my own expectations.
And then on occasion I’d decide to put up a fight at the cost of being called ridiculous and irrational. During final year at college, for our hostel’s nativity play, we fought it out and said ‘include dark angels’. And there we were, a bunch of us who had seldom got an opportunity before, all dressed up as angels.
I doubt we inspired our warden and staff to continue opening up all roles to girls of all skin tones. And I doubt we even enjoyed it amidst all the glares and sarcasm. But I think we did something about our situation on that dark, freezing cold December night
On a good day I’d like to think that we were not just being overly-sensitive kids. Instead I’d like to think that that night we inspired our juniors to not be limited by people’s biases.
On a not so good day, I am reminded of all my lost opportunities and the times I have chosen to keep quiet. Times I have been over-looked ever so subtly that to call it unfair would seem criminal.
If I had ever cared to count, I’m certain that in my lifetime, I’d have heard ‘you’re so talented!’ so many more times than ‘you’re beautiful!’ And many times, being called talented was not for actual talent itself but rather as a compensation for my misfortune of dark skin.
Marriage seemed to be a daunting task for even my otherwise level-headed parents. But they were spared the agony of having to hear people ask them “exactly how wheat-ish is she?” (True story! -happened to a cousin).
My husband makes me feel beautiful every day. Not because my self-worth depends on it or because he feels the need to pay penance for all the bad things people have said/say about my dark skin.
But he genuinely, honestly, sees me as beautiful just as my parents and so many of my friends and family do.
I’m glad I did not let skin colour define me. And I’m glad that we have finally come to a time when people are not disregarding this as an issue too trivial for discussion, but are instead speaking up about the unseen and untold damages it causes in children and adults.
I look forward to a time when the word ‘beautiful’ is all encompassing – all skin tones, body types, inside and out.
In the meanwhile you can count on me to celebrate my shade of beautiful!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebekah lives and works in Chennai. She enjoys baking, paper crafting and blogs at goldfieldandsunshine.blogspot.in
By Sreeja Raveendran | An UNfair & Beautiful contributor
Yes, I have been called mean names in school on account of being dark.
Yes, I have been rejected in the matrimonial space by parents of several non-eligible bachelors.
Yes, I have not been chosen to occupy the front line of dancers for a show.
Yes, I have been reminded of my colour several times at my workplace.
Yes, I have been asked at beauty product stores if I needed a fairness cream.
Yes, I was asked to cut a cake during my farewell at work which said, ‘Goodbye Blacky.’
Yes, I have created content for a fairness cream.
Dark, darker, darkest. Once you have been identified with a shade of dark, you are doomed to face one or all of those incidents stated above. With all the incidents mentioned above, I was surrounded by educated civilised humans who knew what they were doing.
Blatant taunts are many. But I can also go on and on about subtle references to my colour made by friends, relatives and colleagues at office, parties, or social gatherings. I have chosen to ignore these comments or appear unaffected by them. But deep down inside, as all of who have been in this situation know, I feel the sting.
I used to read and re-read the promises of fairness products. I would smear them all over myself and wait for the promised magical change. I hoped, in vain, to change something I had been born with. It was my desperate attempt to be wanted, to be accepted in the ‘fair world’. And then, something happened.
I was asked to create content for a leading fairness product. I experienced a stab of guilt. I had fallen prey to those false promises, and now I was being asked to convince others. I decided to research the fairness product—I was appalled at what I discovered.
Research reveals that, ‘No cream which promises fairness really does so. Creams have ingredients which improve your complexion and fairness is only a figment of your imagination. In other words, commercials play games with the insecure figment of your imagination.’
Research also shows that that sales of a category of fairness creams has increased/ doubled post the continuous screening of a commercial or a promising print ad. Brands take their cue from this pattern and pool in a massive budget to promote their products. In short, it is the consumers who are the creators of this colossal demand in the market.
Life is not fair, and I know it. We all know it. But when faced with staunch prejudice, we do have a choice. We can choose to seek refuge in products that promise us conventional fairness or we can choose to be different from the rest.
Forget the colour you were born with and focus on attaining a healthy and supple skin. Having a great complexion regardless of colour boosts your confidence.
This has been my learning: Stand apart, create a niche and make yourself heard through your actions. All you needs is confidence and attitude! Face every taunt with a smile. Be unnerved and harbour that fierceness in you. Look into the eyes of those who taunt you and say, “Yes! I am dark, and I am beautiful.”
Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer, either past or present or anyone else that I’m affiliated with.
The Sreeja Raveendran Story is a part 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sreeja Raveendran is a Mar-com professional and a freelance consultant. She is also an art enthusiast. Check out her craft and art blog at http://craftmelange.blogspot.com
By Kavitha Emmanuel | Director, WOW
The issue of skin colour goes deeper than we would like to admit. It is actually more than just ‘skin’ deep; it is in our hearts. How does this bias against people of a darker skin colour, really affect the way we live and relate to others?
I have a daughter who is 5 years old. I would like to describe her skin colour as ‘golden brown’. She is my honey bunch. My hope and dream for her is that she will grow up believing that she is beautiful just the way she is. In South India, she probably does not fall in the category of being dark-skinned, but neither is she really fair.
I am, at the moment, considering adopting a child. I have asked myself this question, “What is my preference, in terms of skin colour, for the child I would like to adopt?”
My first thoughts were that he or she should be of a similar skin tone to that of our daughter. I couldn’t bear the thought of one of them being darker than the other and have people make comparisons or comments that would be hurtful to them. I would not want them, in turn, to compare themselves to each other and, perhaps, echo the unfortunate but common opinion that the lighter one is better. I do empathize with parents who are faced with this situation. As parents we want the best for our children.
We live in a world where we suffer discrimination in various aspects of life – rich against the poor, upper caste against the lower caste, men against women. We discriminate on the basis of religion, profession, designation, status and SKIN COLOUR! Let’s wake up to a new world where we spread love and acceptance rather than prejudice or bias.
If I adopt a child and he or she is dark-skinned, I will do all I can to let my children know how beautiful they are. I will teach both my children to rise above the limitations that the world might try to place on thembecause of skin colour. We need to teach our children to soar!