My sister’s wedding is two months away and my mother is constantly insisting me to groom up right from today. My mother is a woman who wishes to grab attention for her daughter at gatherings, and after all, I am the only child. Don’t get me wrong, she does not intend to project me as ‘marriage material’, but she definitely wants people to exclaim, “Oh look, Mrs. Reddy’s daughter, she so fair!” She doesn’t admit this in front of me but it is understood.
Not surprisingly, my father too insists on this a lot. Last month, he forced me to see a skin specialist to ask for suggestions on how to get rid of those occasional marks on my face. I was prescribed three face gels in all, one in the morning, one at night, one to reduce darkness in the armpits, and one capsule. I mean, is there anything left to ask for? *eyes rolling*
Honestly, I don’t give a damn about my skin colour and I curse that old aunty at my sister’s engagement who had to comment on my colour right in front my mother! She even called up my grandmother to ask how to prepare the desi bathing powder. The one which is made out of drying and grinding turmeric balls, green gram, Bengal gram, etc. Adding to my woes, they are also after me to shed some weight and mind you, I have only two months’ time.
It has been 18 months since I graduated college and I don’t care much about my looks like I used to in college. I studied in a women’s university and those days, it was more of influence from friends, movies, fashion magazines and this pressure to become the most discussed person in college gatherings that carried me away. I look uglier now (by ‘market standards of beauty’). I put on weight and my skin darkened. After 18 months now, when I posted a picture on Facebook, pat came the comments: “You put on so much weight, oh my god!”, “You are tan, what’s wrong?”, “You look much better than this, please take care!”. Oh, how I wish I were bothered.
Is there a day when you do not finish a conversation without mentioning skin colour? It is so entrenched in our culture. If you cannot remember the name of a person, the next reference you make is colour and figure – “That short, fat, dark-skinned girl.” I know, sometimes we are so helpless that there is no other way to explain. But, what do you call the obsession for a clear face, clean underarms and a slim figure? You can’t wear a sleeveless shirt if you have hairy armpits? Why do you discard something original and natural? Do you need a L’Oréal Paris ad to tell you that you are worth it?
I sometimes wonder what was synonymous with ‘beauty’ when there was no fashion industry, no media, no cosmetics, no Bollywood! Surely, dark skin must have been loved too, fat must have been sexy. Some 5,000 years and even before than, I am sure there were no mirrors too, something without which we cannot imagine a life. I did my bit of research only to discover that racism based on colour first originated in India! Racism originated in India during the early Vedic period, far earlier than it did in the West. In fact, racism was found in the West only after they came in contact with the Eastern part of the world. Of course, we are a living civilization and carry the influence of ancient cultures in our daily lives. There was no caste here, there was only Varna (colour). So, seeking prestige in external features is not a contemporary trend, it was always there.
Well, these are my personal challenges and surely many others share the same woes. Fortunately, there are some feminists who came up with this popular campaign called ‘Dark is Beautiful’. This campaign is gaining ground with many young women expressing their frustration on dealing such stigmas within their social horizons. I wish there were other campaigns which advocate the shunning of zero size obsession.
Discrimination of the dark skinned today cannot be confined to a glamour issue alone. It is a wider concept, rather, a social evil. For instance, Nina Davuluri, is an Indian origin woman who was crowned Miss America. Her triumph was received with surprise and celebrated well in India while she was greeted with racist comments in America, about the colour of her skin. They even called her a terrorist. Only if they could remember that America is an amalgamation of people hailing from different European and African countries. White people aren’t originally American, Red Indians are. And as for Nina, she is a stunning symbol of diversity cutting across colour, religion, culture and nationality.
No matter how vocal I get on worldly matters that share common factors as found in our near society, those challenges will always be there. I cannot escape from giving attention to the marks on my face. I cannot stop using fairness creams to ‘lighten up’ on the day of any function and months before that. I find myself in a social fix with too many people to please and so many expectations to live up to. But at least my mom will be happy when people admire Mr. and Mrs. Reddy’s (beautiful) daughter.