Fighting Against the Obsession for Light Skin
It starts when children are young. The moment a child is born, relatives start comparing siblings’ skin colour. It starts in your own family. But people don’t want to talk about it openly.
Shaadi.com revealed that skin tone was considered the most important criteria when choosing a partner
I refuse to let this be an issue that can be brushed to the side anymore because it’s impacting the confidence of so many women every day. Statistics show that almost 90% of Indian girls cite skin lightening as a “high need” (1). As if this wasn't bad enough, another poll of nearly 12,000 people by the online dating site Shaadi.com, revealed that skin tone was considered the most important criteria when choosing a partner (2). Not only is it dictating how some women feel about themselves but also how they interact with people of different shades of skin. How have we become more obsessed with the fairness of our skin, than the fairness of how people are treated?
Here’s a little story I would like to share. I was 14 years old, playing with makeup at a sleep over with my best friend, as girls do. Generally speaking she wasn’t very confident in her appearance. I mean what girl is, growing up in a generation where girls are constantly bombarded by the pressures of adverts and campaigns that seem to find a solution to every part of our body (that we didn’t even see as problems in the first place, may I add). Anyway, excited to show her my new buy, I unveiled my first foundation (them cheapy ones Superdrug’s haha) and was ready to be smothered in it! But what happened after broke my heart.
Almost instantly she broke down in tears, 'you're so lucky you have light skin, you don't have to listen to people tell you that your skin needs to be lighter'. This really crushed me, and to be honest I felt guilty even though I didn’t see why she preferred a lighter skin tone. She had radiant skin.
There was something very frightening about the way she talked about herself. She didn’t flinch or second guess her disgust for her dark skin.
But that didn’t matter to her. She told me how she was looking at bleaching creams to correct her skin, so she could be the same skin colour as me. CORRECT HER SKIN (yes, she used this word)? She was 14?! There was something very frightening about the way she talked about herself. She didn’t flinch or second guess her disgust for her dark skin. The option to lighten was so obvious. After a big hug and 3 packs of oreos (solution to the most of my problems) ... She then went on to tell me how her Grandmother had told her that her skin was too dark and that she should try scrubbing her face with lemon and sugar to help her skin. According to her Grandmother, fair skin correlated with appeal and success. A fair skinned woman was a desirable woman.
There are two components to this story that I want to highlight.
Firstly, woman to woman, her Grandmother a female figure she looked up to, confirmed her insecurities that her skin was not something she should wear proudly. This warped the girl’s perception of reality, the reality that dark skin could not be beautiful. The fact that this comment came from another woman, was significant. It wasn’t a stranger, it was a person she deeply respected and looked up to. Our families are usually our first point of call, which is why it is so important that empower the next generation. If not, there attitudes can quickly become our attitudes without even realising. Although her Grandmother didn’t say this directly, she implied that how someone perceived her was more important than how she perceived herself. Ignorant comments like this, not only tapping into our insecurities about our skin, but a whole range of attributes that are unique to us. We start questioning every small detail of our appearance. Such as our weight, the length of our nose, the size of our waist, the colour of our hair etc. The list could go on. But the point is, girls are being fed a false reality on how they ought to perceive beauty.
Secondly, the invisible hand of society was always there to re-confirm what this girl had been told. Her Grandmother planted the seed, but her environment watered her insecurities. Make-up adverts and fashion campaigns rarely use models with a variety of skin tones. White, yes. Tanned, yes. Beige (but not too beige), YES! But nothing darker. Even when we look at Bollywood, I rarely watch a woman any darker than magnolia. It’s no wonder our girls are developing insecurities with the colour of their skin, when women portrayed in positions of power don’t flipping look like them!
Quite frankly, stories like this have been breeding a generation of insecure, unrepresented, and disempowered females. Unknowingly our relatives, and friends can often be the source of reinforcing this ignorance. The obsession with becoming fairer, is not a superficial fashion, it’s a strategy of assimilating a superior identity that reflects a deep-set belief that fair skin is better, more powerful, prettier.
It’s time we scrap this narrative that fairer is more powerful and start empowering ourselves and others no matter what shade of skin. All of this is just one big fat construction of beauty to make girls feels inadequate. We can’t change the media, but we can change how we interact with and reinforce these images of beauty. The only reason why these bleaching and whitening products sells are because people have bought into this distorted narrative of beauty, but we have the power to fight the stigma.
We can change the narrative if we start with how we perceive our own beauty. We can do this by refusing to be the girl that's enslaved to other people's warped perceptions of beauty. Let’s learn to value our hearts and our minds rather than our exteriors that will one day become old and wrinkly anyway! Our skin might sag, our hair might fall out, alongside our teeth. But our soul, is something that is untouchable and where our deepest treasures lie.