Isn’t it funny that people always want something they can’t have? Brunettes want to be blonde, girls with straight hair want curly but girls with curly hair want straight. Those who are short want a bit more height whereas the tall ones want to be slightly more average. Heavier people want to lose their weight and then there are those crazy girls who think they’re too skinny (she know’s who she is!) want a little more meat. Anyways, what I’m going to focus on is this fascination we all have with skin colour.
Now I’m not talking about racism per se, I’m just talking about an obsession we have with achieving a perfect skin tone, as if there is such a thing. In the western world I see girls (and guys for that matter) going to the tanning salon so they can come out a Golden Greek God(ess), however here in India everyone is obsessed with becoming fair. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with either scenario, but there is something wrong with being told in a wily way that who you are or what you look like is not good enough. Sure in Canada I see commercials about lotions that have some tanning agents in them that give you a soft shimmering glow or something along those lines, but it has never stood out to me that media outlets are specifically telling people that going tanning is the “right thing” to do. India on the other hand is…slightly different.
This entry isn’t based just on my experience this trip, but I noticed it first last year when I was here on holiday to see my family. I would watch T.V and every single commercial that was geared towards women, may it have been about soap, face wash, face cream, body lotion or powder all advertised that the beauty of the product was that it would make you fairer! One particular ad that really stood out to me was about this girl who is sitting at home with no make up on or anything and her boyfriend shows up unexpectedly and she’s completely horrified because she doesn’t want him to see her the way she is. So she goes into her bathroom, grabs her powder (the product being advertised) and brushes it all over her face and neck and instantly she’s fair and “radiant”. It then gives her the confidence to open up the door for him and he says something like “wow you look amazing”. I had no words. I think I just laughed out loud at how ridiculous it all was! But the hidden message in that ad and all the other similar ads are what is crucial to the mindset here in India. It’s what makes some girls feel beautiful and others unworthy.
In Canada I would be considered dark skinned, in India I’m considered to be fairly light skinned, and to me personally it no longer matters. There was a time when I was younger and played outside all day long I would get darker than normal. It was at that time when I didn’t feel myself. I didn’t feel like I was as pretty, just less than in general I guess. It was just something I knew inside me; that I looked better when my skin was fairer. I always wanted my skin to be as light as my mother’s and at that age it just never happened. I never thought that there was anything with having darker skin. I never thought other girls who did have darker skin were any less beautiful than girls with lighter skin. It was just a personal thing. Like I wasn’t my best. Regardless, no one should feel that way. I do remember being told “oh, you’ve been out in the sun too long, you’re getting really dark, you should put on some sun screen” or “this person (relative) is so light, I wonder how they’re able to stay that way”. Those types of statements and comparisons should never be made of a child…of anyone for that matter. Now I’m not placing blame here nor there, it’s just something that has been ingrained within our culture.
Last year when I came to visit, one of the renters on my grandma’s property had recently had a baby. A baby girl who was about a year old and she was beautiful. Her mother once said to me “she’s light now, I really hope she will grow up and be as fair and beautiful as you are when she grows up”. When she said it I did feel flattered at first, until it dawned on me that “fair” and “beautiful” were being used synonymously. As if you cannot have one without the other. As if being fair is what qualifies beauty. I have been able to see her again this year. She has grown up quite a bit and is able to run amuck and disrupt all the tenants from their work. She has lost some of her “fairness” but is still just as lovely as she was last year and I know will continue to be.
The ad that really stood out to me this year was one with an actress named Priyanka Chopra who is not particularly the fairest actress nor is she that dark. A medium brown skin tone, a coffee with 2 creams? I don’t know how to describe it all that well! Anyways, the point is that she’s darker skinned and for the commercial the make up artists have really done a number on her. Her skin seems almost porcelain! I don’t know what they’ve used, but her face, neck, and arms have all been covered in a layer of white and though she looks beautiful, it’s not really her that is being portrayed! I don’t understand why such a beautiful woman would want to hide herself for anything. I don’t understand why a woman would allow herself to be covered up in a way to please someone else. I don’t understand why she would imitate someone she is not. This idolization of “white” is perplexing in every way.
We are a people made to be brown. Our skin was made to handle the conditions around us, and I think that we are able to cope accordingly. At one point in our history, we were made prisoners in our own country by foreigners. We were told that our way of living was wrong. We were to be “civilized” by these outsiders. During the british rule I understand how ideas and concepts could have slowly seeped and mixed into the culture. I don’t know whether this was the time where the obsession of being white started, but it seems a likely possibility. Years and years of being told “you’re not good enough”, or “not as good as”, or “you need to be better” can definitely impact how someone or even an entire nation thinks. You can see this on t.v and in everyday interactions between people. You can see how lighter skinned people walk around with pride and a self confidence that borders on the lines of ego as opposed to the darker skinned people who lack that self confidence and pride. Sometimes when I see girls who have fair skin here, I can feel their slight narcissism and egotism in the way they carry themselves. It’s as if what they have is better than everyone else. It’s as if God (if there is indeed a God) has made them that much more special or with more love. People in regular conversation will use the colour of someone’s skin as an insult: “Hey kala/kali” the prior referring to a black boy and the latter to a black girl. Some of the things people say to their friends sound so insulting and I don’t know whether they’re joking or being serious, but either way it isn’t a healthy way of expressing any type of emotion. I’ve also seen the look on the other person’s face, trying hard to brush off the insult by laughing, but I know that no matter how thick a person’s skin is, eventually, with a constant string of insults like that, it will begin to chip away at any built up armour. I know how that feels, referring to a different matter, but it still applies. If you keep picking and nagging at a “flaw” someone may have, may not be able to help, or is trying to change, it will eventually be rooted so deep in that person, that the person him/herself will start believing it.
I feel like I might have gotten off of topic again (it tends to happen when I start ranting about things that don’t make sense to me in the world).
Getting back to the way being white is idolized here in India. You would think that we as Indians would have more pride in what makes us different from the people who invaded our country. You would think that after being pushed down and degraded, we would do anything in our power to highlight those differences and relish in them. We as a country withstood the British Rule and forced them out of our country. We didn’t allow them to take over the country our ancestors built. What if we had let them take over? We wouldn’t be India anymore. Would India look more like the States or Canada? What would have happened to our culture? Our languages? Our people? So why is it after all these years, after our Independence, we still desire traits of those who made us dependent? Why do we want to be like the people who made us feel inferior? (I’m really not trying to be a Brit basher or anything, so to any of you reading, I’m sorry if that’s what it sounds like. You have awesome accents!) What I’m trying to say is why aren’t we proud of who we are? Why aren’t we proud of something that we cannot help? Why are our media sources telling us that who we are isn’t good enough? Why are people listening to bull shit like that? India has about twenty eight states, and 1681 languages (among them different dialects), so it only makes sense that our skin colour varies based on where we are located geographically. In the North Indians can get very light, some even white with blonde hair, whereas in the South the citizens are quite dark. So why is it the common mindset that skin colour determines that someone is “better” than another? It’s a travesty to think that there is just so much hatred and animosity amongst the same people? If we can feel that way towards our own brothers and sisters, what’s to stop other countries from using that against us? How can we rise and become superior if we make our own people feel inferior? We can’t. See how her face begins by being shy and embarrassed even, and slowly turns into being happy and proud? Ridiculous!