Growing up in a Bengali community, I realised how highly regarded skin colour is.
In particular, I am now clear of fair skin’s status as a pinnacle beauty feature in my culture.
My social anxiety stems from the regular comments targeting my skin tone at family and friends’ gatherings. I have struggled with acne and scarring since a teenager. Attacks about my looks have severely impacted my self-esteem. It has become such a major cause of trauma in my life.
My skin colour plays a significant role when defining my worth in these social settings. I am judged by one element of my appearance; not my character or rich thoughts and ambitions.
I recall occasions where I have been pushed to buy ludicrous products claiming to whiten skin. I even went as far as bleaching my skin to look “acceptable” to others. To this day, I am still caught in the middle of “aunties” giving me natural tips and remedies to gain fair skin. I get singled out for having darker skin.
The way these discussions arise make me feel as if there is something wrong with me. I am reduced to believe that I do not fit in with the idea of traditional beauty in my culture.
Fair skin is considered to be the most desired aspect of a woman.
Whitening creams and trips to the beauty salon for treatments such as skin bleaching are the norms. Traditional home remedies using turmeric, milk or yoghurt with chickpea flour encourage brightening of the skin to achieve fairness. The use of harsh ingredients such as lemon juice and bicarbonate soda on the face is also encouraged, because of the assumption it will lighten dark skin.
A bride’s skin colour is an important factor when looking to get married. It is a major talking point between potential in-laws. Skin tone is also a criterion in matchmaking services and is used by similar websites to narrow down searches for clients.
The ever so popular “Fair & Lovely” cream advertises itself as achieving whiter skin with regular use. Their video campaigns showed that using it will lead to a successful life. Some examples from adverts include women attracting male attention and leaving a good impression at job interviews purely based on a cream that whitened their skin.
I watched numerous of these adverts growing up because they were on prime-time television. It still haunts me how women in these videos looked happier and content with themselves and their life, only after achieving fairness. Their past darker skin tone was portrayed as undesirable and unattractive.
I was astounded to realise just how culturally ingrained this concept has been for generations.
This viewpoint has led to so many low points for me. My confidence has been knocked down completely regardless of how hard I try to overcome these opinions. I fear for future events where I will be confronted by harsh criticisms and corner myself to prevent any further upsetting experiences.
Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement initiated wider discussions on colourism in the South Asian culture. Fair & Lovely was pinpointed on social media platforms for portraying unhealthy standards, and ultimately, discriminatory messages. Unilever has now renamed it to “Glow & Lovely.”
I heavily followed this progress because of my personal experiences of using the cream. It has always been a highly regarded product to achieve white skin, and I was often pressured to use. Although the name has changed, its contents remain the same. Moreover, the messages it set to this day are still accountable for so much damage. This cream used to leave a white cast on my face. It reminds me of how my real skin colour is so undesirable, that I had to cover it up with something artificial.
The belief that beauty is determined by fairness is deeply rooted in our society.
This one-dimensional view is extremely problematic. The negative stereotype that dark skin is undesirable, and can even lead to failures in life, is horrifying to say the least. It encourages discrimination within communities and alienates those that do not fit the mould. Dark skin colour seems to be considered an abomination.
The phrase Dark & Lovely has grown popular online. It actively opposes the beliefs and messages Fair & Lovely (in particular) set over the years. Rightfully, it encourages discussions around dark skin tones being “lovely” too. A prime example of the current generation reversing toxic viewpoints.
It is disturbing how this beauty standard has been the cause of anxiety, low self-worth and sheer embarrassment for so many. We should not be feeling ashamed to wear lighter clothing because it does not suit our darker complexion. We should not be forced to undergo numerous cosmetic procedures to gain whiter skin colour. And we should not be labelled as undesirable and considered to be the unattractive option for potential partners.
All skin colours are beautiful and should be celebrated. Most importantly, there is so much character and life in each one of us to be reduced to just our skin colour.
This movement made me feel appreciated. Finally, a notion was rising that I could fully comprehend and relate to. This phrase made me realise I can embrace my skin colour with all my qualities.
Overcoming centuries of twisted beauty standards is difficult. Much more needs to be done to reverse generations of colourism and entrenched views. However, each day I am more hopeful to see the current generation’s stance on change. It is down to all of us to make changes in our attitudes.
I wish that one day I can feel fully confident about my skin. This will be a long journey. Learning how to love myself again is proving to be challenging, because of previous and ongoing experiences.
However, now I believe that contrary to what I was told throughout my life, I am not the problem. My skin colour is not, and should not, be the reason for so much discussion. It is just a component of who I am.
The moment we actively oppose these ideas is the time we can move forward with more inclusive approaches. No one should still have to suffer due to their skin colour. We must speak up against these ideas and encourage celebration of all colours.