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My Skin Colour Around the World

My Skin Colour Around the World

March 31, 2012

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then through whose eyes do you choose to look at yourself?

This past year in India I have been told more than once that I am 'fair'. I wouldn't have thought so much of it except that I know what 'fair' means in India. It means that it's more important than your educational or professional qualifications, more important than your ethic, more important than every time you failed but had the inner steel to get back up for another blow. It means that you are somehow better and more deserving. Especially if you are a girl. That wouldn't be so bad except it also means that the struggles and dreams of the other darker people around you are worth less. That someone who is even lighter skinned than you is better than you just because of that. That who you are doesn't really matter. Even when you know that everyone is better than you in some way, that some people live lives that would have extinguished you a long time ago. It means that a lot of good, honest, decent people - the kind that humanity continues to survive because of - are told in so many ways that they would be better if only they were more 'fair'. That that's more important than being good, honest, and decent.

I had spent all my life hearing I was 'fair' in the Middle East and in India, and suddenly in America, I was not 'fair' anymore. America relegated me to a new position on the colour spectrum, somewhere in the middle. I was now olive-skinned. I was exotic. I was brown sugar. Brown, brown, brown. Then bronzers came into fashion. You were beautiful if you were brown. 'Fair' is losery, 'fair' is pasty. Ew. You got more sexual attention (often times unwanted) if you were brown, but that also meant that that's all you got. After ten years of Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce and Shakira, I accepted it. It took me 10 years, but now I was brown, and I was proud.

It's not like I did that all on my own. I got a lot of input over the years. It made me realise that the way I saw myself was a lot different from how other people saw me. That I couldn't do anything about it. That I was imprisoned in my skin. I specifically remember a very white coworker coming up to me at work once and telling me that the skin colour of my Yahoo! Avatar was too light. He didn't mean it in a bad way, but I was surprised. I had set it to a light brown. I thought it over and changed it to a darker brown shade, even though, all ego set aside, I was sure that's not how I looked. I didn't like how it made me feel. I felt like I was being forced to change my basic understanding of my own skin even though I was the one in control of the computer mouse.

I don't think too much of skin colour anymore. I find it irrelevant. I usually base how attractive I find another person on how healthy and open they seem. I think I am colourblind, even when it comes to myself. It took a lot for me to get to this point. Maybe that's why I react badly when I am now included in various 'Fair & Lovely' references or asked with movie star wonder and fascination if I'm Kashmiri. That kind of attention makes me cringe. This has happened too many times. And it's always unwanted. I am more than my skin colour. My beauty is because of my ferocity and my vulnerabilities. Everyone's beauty is because of that. I have lived and contributed to other people's lives. I have meant something to people along the way. Other people have meant something to me. Those people were good, honest, and decent. They were more than their skin colour. I am more than mine. And I'll be damned if I let anyone change the way I look at myself again. 


  • A Singh
    A Singh
    05.04.12 04:56 PM
    Atheist Indian has hit the nail on the head. I have read countless articles bemoaning the prejudice Indians have against those with dark skin. Like most people I find this bias as unacceptable. However, as has been pointed out it is just a variation of a discrimination that is in built in all of us. Attractive people are treated more favourably all over the world. Whether attractiveness is defined by skin tone, body shape, colour of hair, etc is just semantics.
  • Atheist Indian
    Atheist Indian
    05.04.12 02:01 PM
    Human beings are cognitively biased towards better looking people - that people get rated more for their looks instead of their 'inner qualities' is a fact that cannot be wished away or socially engineered into oblivion. It takes a lot of cognitive effort to overlook lookism and most humans, being lazy as they are, don't want to commit to that kind of mental effort.

    How many women, for example, would be willing to overlook their height preference? How many people are able to overcome their aversion to dating a handicapped person? Fat people?

    The Indian obsession with fairness in women is just an expression of this 'lookism' - since a lighter skin is associated with feminine attractiveness, it gets heavily rated, over personality traits.
  • just another wakeup call
    just another wakeup call
    01.04.12 11:25 PM
    I know what you mean.. . and its weird how early the fixation starts. my daughter's friend told her when she was 5, that she was "dirty" cause she is dark... Seriously! how does one begin to address this deeply rooted bias. nicely written post. and yes, everyone is more than their skin colour!
  • sush
    01.04.12 06:16 PM
    A very fair post
  • sandy
    01.04.12 03:58 PM
    i know what u mean. I am ultra fair-by indian standards. Even the goras thought i was a foreignor. and all i have heeard all my life in india is 'u are so fair' in awe. As if that was all that defined me.But the fairness fixation is there all over asia-even the fair japanese use fairness creams. India with its new dusky models is better. can u imagine that?
  • Aditi
    01.04.12 01:13 PM
    lovely write-up...can totally relate to it dear!!
  • Prassoon Suryadas
    Prassoon Suryadas
    31.03.12 07:13 PM
    Good Catch Sonal Mehta - Thanks for pointing it out... Hope you got the point though :)
  • Sonal Mehta
    Sonal Mehta
    31.03.12 06:23 PM
    Prassoon, before you start calling someone a "looser" you might want to learn how to spell it correctly. Add that to your list of burning issues.
  • Shil
    31.03.12 09:46 AM
    Wow !! Beautifully written. I hope that at-least in India, that is changing. You are more than your skin color.
  • Prassoon Suryadas
    Prassoon Suryadas
    31.03.12 07:54 AM
    What a looser. World is full of burning issues... and see this... BS lol

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