I don’t remember what age I discovered I was “dark” but I remember I was still a child and in Pakistan at the time. Two relatives were having a conversation right in front of me. One said “Poor thing, she’s so dark” and the other one shook her head and looked down sadly, like I’d been diagnosed with some horrible chronic illness.
In Victorian England, paleness was a sign of the upper classes as you hadn’t been out in the fields working in the sunshine all day. While those in the West now seek out the sun for that all important glow of a tan, many from my background cower in the shade to avoid darkening their skin. Those of us from the subcontinent and other parts of Asia and Africa know only too well the stigma around dark skin and how intrinsically beauty and white skin is linked there. Who hasn’t been to a wedding where the bride resembles the Ghost of Boyfriends Past because her makeup artist used Tippex instead of foundation? It’s 2018 and we’re still battling ‘celebrities’ ridiculing dark skin. Whether it’s a “harmless” joke about a darker friend or a passing comment about how “fair” your baby is, it shows that this mentality is far from dying out.
So where did this notion of “white=beauty” come from? It’s complex but in many countries it’s a colonial hangup from the British Empire when whiteness meant power. In India, there’s also the added layer of the caste system where historically, people in the higher castes were lighter skinned.
Not only is this way of thinking inherintly racist and classist, it’s dangerous too. Skin lightening creams are a multi billion dollar industry globally, with the likes of L’Oreal and Unilever cutting themselves a slice of that pie. Many of these products are unregulated and contain dangerous products which can cause even darker patches on the skin or remove melanin altogether making the user susceptible to skin cancer. But many people feel the need to use these products to achieve a standard of beauty that is linked to success in all parts of their lives. Advertising campaigns for the famous Fair and Lovely cream show sad and depressed darker people turn into whiter versions of themselves after using the cream and get the job/husband/life of their dreams.
Thankfully, there are signs of the tides turning on this ridiculous prejudice. There’s a backlash against companies advertising skin lightening products and social media campaigns celebrating dark skin and we can do our part too within the community. We can check the language we use around skin tone and ensure we’re not perpetuating these antiquated ideals of beauty. As much as I’d like to dropkick anyone who exhibits such negativity around my kids, it may just be easier if they grow up in a world where we celebrate beauty in all shades of skin. So, let’s go out, enjoy the sunshine and get some of that much needed Vitamin D that we’re all so deficient in. (Please practice safe sun.)
Image source: Flickr