I remember back in high school there was a boy who sat behind me who had a big crush on me. I know, he wrote it in my yearbook to be immortalized in writing forever. Not that I had a problem with it, but I just was never interested. But of course, I was still flattered. He was from my own community, the Pakistani community, and knew several of my very close friends. We stopped keeping touch after high school but ran into each other at a graduation event, where both of our sisters were graduating from the same university. I said my hellos and gave the boy no more thought. The next day, my bestie called me to tell me that the boy had called her and said that he had bumped into me at this event. We were talking and she told me that he had said that I “looked darker, as if I had gotten a tan since high school.” To all those who don't know, being “dark” or having “brown skin” is mostly considered unattractive in the brown community. Yes, the very same community that has *drum roll please* BROWN skin!
I think the greatest insult was not that he called me “darker”, but that he meant the term darker as an insult. Darker compared to what, and to whom? My bestie being south Indian herself felt the sting of the words. Never did I think that a university educated, Canadian born and raised boy would ever have such narrow minded conceptions of beauty. But unfortunately, a part of me did know, as there are millions of South Asians here that think the same way. They will dismiss a girl for being “lovely, but with dark skin”.
I was lucky to grow up in a household where the emphasis was not on skin colour. But I know that this was because my mom is incredibly fair skinned and passed this on to all of us. It was never spoken of until I got to high school, when people would comment not on my mind or even my features, but on the colour of my skin; I was fair, and therefore, lovely. This whole thing baffled me and to this day continues. I have no idea why lighter skinned models are given a preference in photo shoots and catwalks, or why Beyonce was lightened in her L’oreal ads. I know that this obsession with whiter skin is not just situated in my own community, but within practically all ethnicities that are non-white. I just don't understand; after decades of fighting oppression for several races and ethnicities, why would any ethnic group oppress their own members to conforming to “whiter skin?” It is as if we have not moved past colonization in our minds and in our ideals.
image source: http://kristenlock.com/2008/08/29/does-beyonce-have-digital-vertiligo/
Of course there is the billion dollar business of skin lightening creams in India, bigger than coca-cola. What infuriates me more are magazines who promote this horrendous business. I recently picked up Asian Woman magazine at Walmart. This magazine is specifically designed for Canadian readers of the South Asian community, and lo and behold there was an article about the “dangers” of skin lightening with gems such as “whiter babies do look cuter”. The very same article that was meant to discourage women from engaging in such retarded practices which completely disregard heritage and culture tell us that if you are to procreate with a darker looking boy or girl, your baby will not be cute. I’m sorry, but if you are brown or any other skin colour, that is who you are. Erasing that with potentially lethal and skin degenerating chemicals will not make you more attractive, it is only erasing your identity, your culture and your ancestry. It is so ironic that in the recent decades there has been a movement for everyone to wear sunscreen because of melanoma. In the South Asian community the emphasis should also be on wearing sunscreen and stopping the usage of chemicals that are carcinogenic and have unknown side effects.
It disturbs me that a Woman’s magazine produced in Canada would contain articles that are completely contradictory in nature and serve to perpetuate a beauty ideal that should have been dead a long time ago. Oh yes, and this magazine goes on to make women feel even worse about themselves with a dear abbey type section filled with “advice” like this:
Q: I am completely happy with my body and I love the way I look and feel but my husband wants me to lose weight, what should I do?
A: Even though you like how you look, you should really just listen to your husband because you’re probably not healthy if your husband doesn’t agree with your weight.
...Am I the only one who finds it embarrassing that a modern day magazine would give such horrendous advice that a woman must obey her husband’s image of a perfect body? I truly hope that the readers of this magazine bear no thought to any of the articles within it.
What are your thoughts on skin whitening? Have you ever been pressured to do this? Do you do it? What are your experiences?