By Fatima Lodhi:
Dark — a word that brings a tingle to the spine, especially in those countries where the blight of colorism exists.
Colorism is a global form of discrimination, an attitude that prefers lighter skin tones to darker ones, and considers those with naturally darker skin less desirable.
In Asia, and particularly in South Asian societies those with dark complexions — especially girls —have lived much more difficult lives due to colorism. Women with dark complexions feel alienated from their societies, which provide a healthy market for beauty products that promise to lighten skin tone overnight. These “fairness creams” are advertised widely in the media. From a young age, girls are taught that if they are fair-skinned, they are confident and beautiful; if they are dark, they have no social life.
Well, every person has a story to share. We are the protagonists of our lives. The hero or heroine dealing with circumstances, unwanted situations and realities of this world. Whether you agree or not, but we are living in a world where women are unfortunately judged by the clothes they wear, the structure of their bodies and most importantly by the colour of their skin.
Being a dark-skinned myself, it didn’t take long for me to fall victim to my own skin colour. Everything was normal till the day I started school to witness the first ugliest reality: discrimination on the basis of complexion. In my art class, my teacher asked me to use peach crayon, calling it a skin colour crayon, and not any darker shades like brown or black to colour the face I drew, while I chose dark brown colour.
Everything around was so white, was so fair, be it the cartoon characters I used to watch on TV, be it the fairy tales or the bedtime stories I used to read or listen to, or the Barbie dolls I used to play with, even the Disney princesses all girls start their childhood with.
As time passed, I began to realise that despite all my capabilities, I was always judged on the basis of my skin colour by those around me. I had no friends because nobody wanted to play or be seen with me. I never got a chance to become a fairy in my school plays because fairies are supposed to be fair skinned!
Like many other dark girls in my school, I suffered and faced a lot of criticism by my school fellows with terms like ‘ugly duckling, blackie’ and even different songs were sung just to mock at me.
I also remember once being nominated in my high school awards ceremony for the category called “Makeover Required” and the way my school fellows started clapping and hooting when my name was announced was not actually humorous but hurting.
As I entered teenage life, aunties and those older to me would recommend fairness creams. Beauty creams aside, I was told about all the possible desi remedies to turn myself into a white girl with the fear of ‘who will marry you?’, ‘how will you get a good job?’, ‘one needs to look presentable to move in the society’. Oh yes, being presentable in my society was linked with being fair skinned.
I spent my childhood and teenage life having zero confidence and low self-esteem thanks to the incidents I faced. A time even came when I had had enough and didn’t want to live anymore. I suppose it wasn’t my fault, because it’s actually how we have been brought up and taught at schools and even via media that the fairer the better. It’s how our minds have been polluted by unfair advertisings that are shown 24/7 on our television screens as well as the cultural misunderstanding that being beautiful is about having a fair complexion.
These incidents had a huge psychological impact on me and made a dent on my self-esteem. But then I finally decided to join the world of activism to overcome my fears and with the passage of time I became an active social worker trying to bolster up women in the country. I had been working for the basic social rights and inclusion of women with disabilities. I also started lobbying for women leadership legislations by arranging consultancy services. By being part of these and other such national and international organizations, I was striving to bridge up the gap between socioeconomic and political fortification of women. Gradually I gained more confidence as I continued my efforts for women empowerment and finally grew out of all the fears that I have had.
But soon I realised that I was living in a fool’s paradise because, despite of all my efforts and achievements in the world of activism, the skin colour stratification would not leave me and still, I was being mocked with statements like “Oh let’s paint her white!”
Sometimes I tried raising a voice against colorism, but my voice for help about something that affects millions of women everyday was met with a resonating silence.
This is how Dark Is Divine came into being. The first anti-colorism campaign from Pakistan, working globally through local action.
A campaign that aims to transform Asia, Africa and other such regions (where the germs of colorism exists) into a region where dark skin colour is embraced, to the point where the skin colour, body shape and body size of a woman ultimately has no importance. The campaign envisions a society in which equal treatment is given to everyone irrespective of the colour of their skin, size and shape of their bodies, by redefining the so called beauty standards and the “perfect body image” that have been propagated by the media for the various money minting avenues it creates.
We speak against racism, rape, gender inequality, but we keep ignoring the most ingrained issues, we never stop comparing one woman from another on the basis of her looks and these biases curtail us from moving forward in life. We speak of religious equality and human rights and the first right is respect each other for who we are and not how we look. However our society has failed to provide this respect, biased towards our own and we have dual and superficial standards for everything around us. Dark Is Divine aims to rid the society of this mindset and to prove that respect for all is important. I believe to break down the unrealistic standards of beauty and work for a society that is inclusive and accommodating. A society where beauty comes in all shades, shapes and sizes.
It wasn’t really a piece of cake to come up with an idea of an anti-colorism campaign and going against the tide by challenging the mindsets and biased attitudes of the people. At the beginning nobody was even ready to accept the concept of “Dark is Divine”, the local newspaper that I contacted to get my article published said a big NO. I was told that colorism is not a big issue and that my article cannot be published. But I didn’t give up and after a lot of perserverance my articles got published and through my articles I got a chance to reach out to the masses and convey the message of “Dark Is Divine”.
Meanwhile, I also started conducting sessions at different schools and universities which have generated awareness regarding colour stratification, and also got a chance to deliver sessions on confidence building and suicide prevention to about 200,000 students from Tamil Nadu, India, recently; however what I have started is just the tip of the ice-berg. Everyone from this new generation needs to take a stand against society’s unpractical standards of beauty.
I have also raised my voice at different public forums against colorism and the unrealistic standards of beauty, and I will keep raising it to give confidence to those who are victims of this disease.