It was just another day and with the sun beginning to shine in its full glory, I decided to take a pool ride to office. Until my ride arrived, I kept my fingers crossed, hoping to get the entire cab to myself but to my disappointment, the backseat of the car was already occupied by an old man accompanying his fancily-dressed daughter.
Having forgotten my earphones at home, eavesdropping became my only option. Mid way through the journey, the old man began shouting at his daughter because a rhinestone from her clip was missing. “Fix your clip right away. Why do you want to give them another reason to reject you? You’re already dark skinned,” he uttered.
I was taken aback. He ‘looked’ well educated and so did the daughter but I did not understand why she was taking it from her father and even complying to such beliefs. I kept pondering on this for a long time. The man was concerned that his daughter will be rejected for the colour of her skin and I did not know whom to blame — the father, society or the colour of her skin?
Well this is not the first time we have heard a story like this. We have been bombarded with advertisements that tell us “fair is lovely” and ways to get three shades lighter skin tones with cosmetic products. With Holi round the corner, and ‘colour’ being the buzz word, it got me thinking of the various connotations the word ‘colour’ has, apart from the joyful meaning it gets during Holi.
Black is beautiful
The glamour industry is one such place where, for several years, fairness has been one of the criteria to excel. Ipsita Chowdhury, a Kolkata-based classical dancer and model, says, “I have a tan skin tone and have been ridiculed for it in my industry.” She says that she was tired of listening to her colleagues about the need to lighten her skin tone because of which she decided to get a de-tan done. “I did not like the way I looked and I was not comfortable with the new look,” Chowdhury says, adding that she immediately decided to not let such things affect her and instead carry her skin tone with absolute grace and confidence.
With many fair models making their way into the fashion industry, Chowdhury says that clients prefer them because fair is associated with beauty and superiority. The situation, however, is gradually changing with clients becoming more welcoming of other skin shades. She believes that the fashion industry abroad has already begun embracing darker skin tones and India too will reach there eventually once the stigma related to colourism fades away.
Our colour is NOT our identity
Humans have the tendency to identify characteristics with colour. Red is danger, white is divine and yellow is happy. But when it comes to people, colour is not how people should be identified. Shruti Singh who is from Shillong says, “I have a pale skin and the heat here in Pune makes me go red because of which I am teased.” She says that people call her names such as ‘Chinese momo’ and hurl comments such as ‘go back to your own country’. “They expect me to not consider this as offensive because they say it in a funny manner,” which she believes cannot be any way of justifying.
Many of our North-east Indian friends too face this treatment when they move to metro cities; they are bullied for the way their eyes look, for their skin and so on. Kandarpa Koch who used to study in Pune faced such snarls on various occasions. “Be it in college or even strolling on the streets with friends, we were always addressed as ‘Shabji’ and ‘Nepali’,” he says and he finds it strongly offensive. “Of course they say they don’t mean what they say, so why say it in the first place?” Koch questions.
Two brothers — Patrick and Robert Barbour — who hail from Scotland are backpacking in India. While on their trip, they came across people who addressed them as ‘Gora log’, which Patrick says is certainly part of colourism. “It is a misconception that only anti-black comments are racism,” he says, explaining that being called white all the time and being cheated by locals for money is also racism. “Of course it is not as bad as what the Black community faces on a regular basis, but it is not nice to be addressed as ‘gora’ wherever we go,” Robert adds.
They believe that people belonging to different regions will definitely be of different colours and have different facial characteristics, so why is there a fuss about such things in our society? “We need to look at the wider issue of acceptance instead of bringing down other races according to one’s own liking,” he urges.
THE glamour quotient
In Indian households, dark skin is considered to be unfavourable, unattractive and unmarketable, and light skin is treated more like a trophy. Tanisha Aggarwal, a Delhi-based makeup artist, says, “Sometimes we have brides who come along with their aunts and have weird demands. They tell me to make the bride look fair so that she becomes attractive,” Aggarwal narrates.
This kind of thinking, she says, is deep rooted in our society. “There is a definite need to change this which is why I am doing my bit,” she says, mentioning that she now ensures to not alter the real skin shade of the bride.
Talking about the recent breakthrough in the field of make-up, she says, “Brands such as Fenty by Rihanna and Huda Beauty by Huda Kattan have come up with some path-breaking products.”
Since beauty brands are now coming up with deeper colours in terms of concealers and foundations as well as contours, it has become easy to bring out the best in everyone.
Aliya Hamidi, a make-up artist based in Dubai, says, “As a make-up artist I have always believed that it is tool to enhance beauty and not change it.” Hamidi says that since Dubai is a global city, she now has clients who belong to different ethnicities and have different skin shades. “No matter what the skin shade is, I have always told my clients to embrace theirs,” says Hamidi. She agrees with Aggarwal and adds that with big make-up brands recognising different skin shades across the world, it will become easier to start accepting different shades even in the glamour industry.
Behind the lens
When one looks at the pictures of our deities, one thing that is common is the fair skin that all of them adorn. Pictures of gods and goddesses are born out of human imagination. “A beautiful person is fair and this mindset prevails even when it comes to our gods,” says Naresh Nil, a photographer who recently released a series called ‘Dark is Divine’. Explaining the concept, Nil says that the project ultimately aims to not just usher in acceptance of the idea but to normalise the thought of a ‘dark-skinned’ god.
Nil believes that the stigma has been around for way too long and that people need to break free from the clutches of such vague ideas and step into reality. “It is important for people to accept that no matter what the colour of the skin is, the person is beautiful.”
A Dutch award-winning photographer Marinka Masseus created the photo series ‘Under the Same Sun’ which is a project to raise awareness about Albinism in Tanzania. She says, “My aim is to show their beauty and share the message of acceptance and inclusion.” Albinism is characterised by little or no melanin production leading to a pale skin.
She says that in Tanzania when a person has Albinism, they are thought to be evil, adding that killing a person with Albinism is considered to bring good luck in certain parts. “The fears and superstitions surrounding Albinism run very deep in the Tanzanian society,” she explains.
Nyakim Gatwech is a South Sudanese model who teaches people not to be afraid of the dark. With her super pigmented skin and fierce determination, she is breaking down the barriers of conventional beauty and is encouraging others to do exactly the same. She has been dubbed ‘Queen of the Dark’, a title she has happily accepted. One of her several Instagram post captions reads, “In the coming years, let’s make sure we teach our young ones to know their worth, to know their potential in life, to know that they are loved no matter what, that beauty isn’t everything, that being dark is beautiful, let’s continue breaking down those barriers together, let our melanin keep popping. Being dark is not a trend, it is for life.”
She believes that her skin is a blessing and a bonus to her beauty and she would not trade it for anything in the world.
Marvel’s new movie Black Panther too marks a major milestone, not just because it has a black superhero but it is an all-black superhero movie. The success of this movie has proved that people have finally accepted that a superhero is more than just the fair skin and blue eyes. For long enough, films have depicted a world where fair skin is a default which eventually became a marketing strategy. But with more broad-minded movie makers coming forward, it has now become possible for a ‘fairer’ human representation on screen.