I am from India, the country, which among other things, is known for its unvaryingly dark and lovely populace! But we, who dwell in this beautiful sub-continent, know, this is not true (I don’t mean the lovely part, btw! ;)). When you traverse through the North to the Southern-most tip of India, and again, go from the Eastern Ghats to the Western Ghats, you come across a broad range of skin tones. That is cool, right? That adds a feather to our already epically-diverse country’s cap! This diversity, however, has fashioned a hierarchy of beauty, a hierarchy that is the basis of the absurd idea that light-skinned people are the epitome of beauty while dark-skinned folks are undesirable (to put it mildly?!)!
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I, however, was oblivious of this “discrimination” because of the family I was lucky to be born into. My bubble, nonetheless, was burst when I was in Class 4. I found out that because I was dark-skinned, I could not be the lead of a dance performance. Considering how young I was, and my blindness to the prejudice behind this judgement, I confronted my teacher. Now since I was learning Bharat Natyam, I thought I was the best in the group (which may be I was, but that’s not important! :D). Well, she kept saying “Yes, you have good expressions, and your movements are crisp; I know, you won’t chicken-out at the last moment; you are sincere; you have practiced real hard… *and all good things about how well I suited the requirement*” When she finally finished, I looked her in the eye and asked what she was dreading: “Then, bloody hell (I didn’t say that out loud!), why not me??!” She finally mustered her courage and whispered, “But, darling, you are too dark!”
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Now, I cried. Yes. Horribly! Really, really, bitterly, until the point when I realized that my eyes were about to melt out, and that my parents too, had lost interest in ‘my story’. What I didn’t realize then was that this teacher was at least aware of the bigotry she was adhering to (that doesn’t make her less of a sinner, and I still want to rip her ears off!)! But the jaundiced people that I was to face thereon, ridiculed me without even realising that they were making me miserable!
Like, this one time, I was invited at a friend’s place for coffee. We were in the 10th standard, and so you know how we girls wanted guys to like us, and how guys wanted to, I guess, be dumb and play video games, still?! Anyway, so we were there: I, my best friend and my crush. When the Help brought us the beverage, I politely refused, coz I was a tea person (like all cool people!!). That’s when my crush pointed at me, and squealed, in a half-laughing-half-nauseated tone, “Have a cup. You cannot get darker than that!”
More than the fact that he called me dark, I was angry because I had a crush on a dimwit who thought drinking coffee made you dark!
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One day, I was travelling on the subway, when I realized two men were ogling at me, trying to make me feel uncomfortable, and boy, weren’t they successful! As my coach got emptier, their voices grew louder. I heard one of them say, “Ya, but she is not pretty. Bilkul, bhoot dikhti hain!”
Now, it took me quite some time to feel okay again. My self-esteem was shattered, obviously. And I stopped going anywhere for like, may be a week, but it felt like a year!
When I narrated what had happened, to an elder-cousin-cum-friend, staying with us then, she breathed heavily and said, “Age ke saath colour change ho jata hain! You will become fair by 30!”
I knew that a person’s hair turns grey with age, but his or her skin grows fairer, what logic is that?!
The other thing people often said, to make me feel better (but enraged me further) was, “Kajol (the film actress!) was so dark (they meant, dark and ugly) in Baazigar. But now look at her in My Name Is Khan?!”
While I am writing about those who have the kaali-kalooti complex because of the society we live in, I think it feels the same for people who are, “fatsos (been there too!), char footiyas, and flat lcds!”
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So, here’s my message to all of you aforementioned beautiful people:
I now am aware that being dark isn’t inferior or even cooler than being fair, but it is just different! If you have realized that too, then good for you! But if you haven’t, then we need to talk. I can understand that all you want right now is to magically turn light-skinned so that you too would be considered beautiful. I know that, because I have been there myself! But what is more important is to be yourself, and like who you are, instead of becoming someone, others might like! Why would you want to change for the wrong people?
TV commercials have been harping on how their products can help dark-skinned girls get a job or get a guy, or live the lives of their dreams! They do that not because they want you to be happy, but quite the contrary, they want to scare and depress the hell out of you. And the product won’t even make you fair, because then, you won’t be sad anymore, and happiness is bad for any business!
Work on your self-esteem. You have created a space within you, where you’ve locked up the anger and the pain. Clear that space! Whatever the society has to say, shut that out. Just listen to me and the voice within you. Hear it when it says, “You are dark and lovely!”
Not being embarrassed is the first step towards building your confidence about how you look. Be open about how you feel, though. Whenever you feel hurt, talk to your close ones about it. Have a voice, and embrace it!
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After the dance experience in Class 4, I stopped participating in school activities for 2 years. I hid myself in the crowd. I realized, however, that it was a mistake. I was letting “them” win! I started taking part in every single thing, even things that I wasn’t good at! I became the school prefect, and represented my school in inter-school plays, and yes, dance competitions, as the lead!
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You have got to let people see you, that’s the point!
Today, I am 22, and I am not ashamed of how I look! I fear not being seen, rather than being seen! I know I am dark and lovely!
The skin-colour complex that we Indians have (both, superiority and inferiority) does not attract much attention because it doesn’t qualify as racism. Also, all Indian laws (in paper!) provide equal rights to everybody despite race, colour, caste, and sex. For that reason, colour consciousness is not a part of the system, but it is a deeply-rooted part of the Indian mind-set. We need to replace that mentality with the idea that fair and dark aren’t two sides of the coin, named beauty. In its essence, beauty has no standards.
Being dark doesn’t make you ugly. The only thing which is ugly in this world are thoughts and actions that rob people of happiness and peace. Everything other than that is beautiful!
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