Being Dark in A Fair and Lovely World
“You are South Indian right”, “Why are you so dark”, “You must never get sunburned”
These are just a few of the statements I’ve heard said to me over the past nineteen years. Now let me back up and give you a little bit of background.
I was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, home to silk saris, intricate temples, Marina beach (the world’s second longest beach), and vibrant festivals. A culture filled with laughter, music and love. That is where I was born, BUT the people were close minded. People talked about beauty in regards to light skin shades, perfect bodies and long hair. The judgement of people’s skin shade was more than just skin deep. Perhaps it was due to the insecurities generations had cooped up or maybe it was the fact that North Indians had lighter skin or maybe just maybe it was media’s portrayal of South Indian women.
Growing up watching Tamil movies I would notice that very few actresses in Tamil movies were actual Tamilian, shocking if you ask me. Most actresses were either from the North or other parts of South Indian. The few Tamil actresses that they did cast, didn’t represent what majority of Tamil girls looked like.
If you were to ask me what a Tamil girl looks like I would describe to you someone with beautiful dark chocolate complexion and big curious eyes that were protected by her long eyelashes. Someone with a big wide smile that could light up the world. Someone with long black hair that could probably beat Rapunzel’s in length.
However if you were to ask a non Tamilian they would probably say, very dark skinned, always look tired, frizzy hair, and rarely attractive. It may sound like I’m exaggerating, but these are the things I’ve heard people say. I’ve heard people make comments like “oh she is pretty for a Tamilian” or “she’s pretty for a south indian”. It is as though my prettiness or beauty is defined by where I’m from. My beauty is mine and mine only. It shouldn’t matter where I’m from, it shouldn’t matter what my skin color is or what language I speak, but sadly that’s not how it’s defined.
As many girls in Tamil Nadu feel pressured to get lighter they have turned to Fair and Lovely. Fair and Lovely is India’s most prized skin lightening lotion, almost every girl in India has one in their makeup bag. It is an everyday essential to them. When I would go to India to visit relatives they would ask why are you so dark and then proceed to hand me a Fair and Lovely tube. It was as though being in America changes my ethnicity. As though being in America would magically change my DNA. When I was younger the comments would affect me greatly but I grew up and realized that I love my skin. I love the way it looks and I don’t care what others have to say about it
In fact even in America my skin shade was something I struggled with, when you go to school and all the Indians around you are North Indian, people ask oh so how come you are darker. No matter how many times I told people I’m south Indian, they didn’t understand. They would simply proceed to ask, “but you’re indian right?” Yes, I’m Indian, but in India there is South India and North India and we are nothing alike. We speak different languages, have different media industries; we have different cultures, we eat different kind of foods, we look different, and even our cities look different. The only thing similar is the country we live in ( and our religion, for the most part). It’s hard when you live in a country, like the US, where we are a huge melting pot but in that melting pot you realize that you are different even within your own sub category.
I have talked to so many girls who have felt this same division. Where you feel like you don’t belong in your own subcategory. You walk into a makeup store and you try on every dark shade there is ( which probably totals to about 6 or 7) and none of them match your skin tone. You search “indian makeup look” on youtube and after watching three you realize that all these girls are north indian or they are south indians with really light skin. Where’s the girl with your skin shade? I mean I want to learn how to wear makeup too!
Truth is there are too many skin shades to be all inclusive but why do we talk about skin color as light and dark, why isn’t it a spectrum. I wouldn’t call myself dark skinned, I would say that I’m somewhat a dark hazelnut. I mean I could call myself dark chocolate or Nutella. I mean does it really matter what I look like. Why does the rest of the world feel the need to understand my complexion when it doesn’t tell them a thing about me as a person. A dark skinned person isn’t more funny than a light skinned person or vice versa. It doesn’t tell you a single thing about yourself.
However, see, this isn’t a problem between North and South, this is a problem of growing up dark skinned. How can people be expected to feel beautiful and confident in themselves if they don’t see people who look like them. Much like one of my other posts, I’m starting to realize the impact of media on impressionable young people. It’s hard when you open up Instagram and the models all look a certain type. It’s hard when you go to school and you stand out in a very distinct way. It’s hard when you watch youtube makeup gurus and realize most of the products they are using won’t ever match your skin tone. When the world you live in doesn’t include you, it causes you to be insecure and uncertain of whether you are beautiful or not.
Imagine working on your self confidence and someone comes up to you and says oh I could tell you were south indian because you are darker skinned. Or maybe you hear someone else say wow she’s actually pretty for a South Indian? Let me ask you, is that supposed to be a compliment or an insult? If anything it’s a backhanded compliment. I am beautiful because of who I am, what I believe in, and what I’m passionate about. I’m beautiful because of how I treat people around me and the people I surround myself around. My exterior is only 20% of what constitutes my real beauty yet its what is talked about 80% of the time. Why do we define beauty with certain standards and why is that even in this age and time, when so much has changed, beauty is still only seen skin deep?
So to simply put it, growing up dark skinned in a Fair and Lovely world isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t change my skin tone for anything in the world, because it is a part of who I am. I encourage you to be a little more conscience next time you say a compliment like “you’re pretty for a South Indian” or “you are pretty for a dark skinned girl”, think a little bit more of what that means.