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Fair skin is an obsession. How about being unfair? Let's welcome the beauty of 'mocha' skin, as the author puts it and let's witness a new dimension to beauty.
Fair skin is an obsession. How about being unfair? Let’s welcome the beauty of ‘mocha’ skin, as the author puts it and let’s witness a new dimension to beauty.
‘Oh, your children haven’t turned out like you, have they?’ a common remark I have heard over the years on each of our annual trips to India with my mother.
My mother, a pale woman, white as milk and a hairless body. Days when opulent silk sarees would adorn her hairless body, the pale glimpse of her porcelain waist was enough to make anyone envious. And for the longest time, even me, her only daughter.
My father is a chocolate contrast to her. A very handsome couple they made, like vanilla-chocolate swirl ice-cream. Of course, it was no surprise and hardly a botheration to them that their daughter and son took shades of their father. However, society didn’t let us feel comfortable with that.
While my parents said “Alhamdulilah, we are blessed with healthy children”, everyone else would crowd around us and croon, “ So dark, like their father. May be the girl, when she grows up, will become fair.”
May be not. And that’s exactly what happened.
Imagine being constantly compared with your mother and her evergreen beauty. We are two extremely different people, yet this difference was not welcomed politely. Growing up carefree in a vain world can hit your self-esteem like a tuning fork on a rubber pad. Always unsettled. You scrutinize the shade of your exposed arm to the parts covered by your school uniform.
Of course, I did what every tongue-clicking relative suggested in my teen years; drown myself in an ocean of lotions and whitening potions. I tried everything under the sun. Besan, lime juice, turmeric, tube creams and even bleached my tender skin. Could you blame me? Paranoia had seeped in from before I could even understand what fairness meant.
Thankfully, good sense prevailed soon after I turned 20. This crucial age where everyone was scurrying to get their skin lightened for prospects of suitors, I realized that being anything but myself was making me unhappy. Accepting myself for exactly the way I am meant that people would see me for who I was and trust me when I say, it felt very liberating. Most of this new found confidence came from knowing that as pretentious as the beauty industry was, a good amount of top models are actually women of colour. Naomi Campbell, Lisa Haydon, Padma Lakshmi, Ujjwala Raut, Lakshmi Menon and many more made it their identity. Breaking the ‘fair is beautiful’ barrier, furthermore, proving it completely unnecessary.
Now that I’ve established myself as ‘mocha’ since that is what my colleagues describe me as, you would think my scouting for my monthly beauty supplies would be easy, right? Wrong.
It completely slipped out of my mind that the spectrum of colours in foundations and concealers can be limited. I asked the lady to match me and she swatches me shades much lighter to what I am. I stare at the back of my hand thinking, is this hint being given or is it just the forced limitation in variety? When I look around it doesn’t surprise me to see an array of women with miss-matched foundation caked on their faces. The demand for paleness that had leaked into the beauty industry is no secret, but I didn’t realize that all my options had now been narrowed down for me. I ponder again, that what if I was a woman of an intense chocolate shade? Would I still be offered a shade of ‘true beige’ that would leave a white cast on my face or would I honestly be told “No ma’am, we don’t have anything that would suit you.” Either way, there’s no way of putting it nicely.
The sales representative tries her best to get me on board with this unnerving shade saying things like it’s long lasting, you’ll be glowing all day and what not. I smile meekly, decline and walk away. I don’t blame her, I assume scores of women have requested for this as a reference. However, it’s not for me.
For a while, I’ve been very proud of my mocha skin that now I eagerly await for opportunities to show it off a bit. I love how I can play with colours and enhance it further. That’s all I want! Something that will compliment me as I am, not completely alter it.
I know there are women out there, just like me who don’t want to change a thing about themselves. Don’t you think that once the variety offered to us is considerable genuine or a little more extensive, it could bring about a much needed slack in the paleness obsession? Aren’t we all beautiful?
Image of a woman via Shutterstock
A rebellious 20-something Indian girl living in the Middle East, documenting my experiences and observations growing up in a patriarchal society, hoping to strike a cord with women who have experienced similarly.
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My house-help asked excitedly, “I am going for wedding. Can you let me wear your red & black saree? To be honest I was stumped for a moment; I didn’t know what to say but I still said yes.
I lent a gorgeous saree to my house-help for a wedding in her family. Soon I stated getting questions if I would wear that saree again or if I was okay to be seen wearing the same saree my house-help was wearing?
We are all so conditioned to give our used clothes to our house-helps but are we okay to wear the clothes they were wearing?
A few days ago she came excitedly to me, “I am going for a family wedding. I want to wear your red & black saree, Ill wash and give it to you after the function. Please can you let me wear it?”
Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (SISP) is an ode to all of the lost women, who could have been sports stars, singers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, just... happy, if they hadn't been enslaved in matrimony, and then forgotten all about.
One of the cool things about my mother was that she was an ace athlete and a champion sculler as a young woman in the 1950s and 60s. I only found out about this side of her a few years ago. I imagine her in a paavaadai dhaavani, taking on the mighty Kaveri river so many decades ago.
I recently watched a Tamil film anthology on SonyLiv that she would have liked to watch – Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum, (SISP) that has 3 stories of 3 different women – Saraswathi, Devaki, and Shivaranjini.
Like all the heroines in the anthology, my mother’s talents were sacrificed at the altar of matrimony. She pawned her gold medals and silver cups one by one to pay for expensive textbooks for us or a gift for a niece on her wedding, money for which she didn’t dare ask my father, because it was her niece… I remember how she caressed the cups and how her face hardened as she shoved them into her bag to take to the jewellers.
A few days back, my friend shared a “We Waxed Our Legs” video our WhatsApp group. That is when a debate 'to wax or not' broke out over frantic texts!
A few days back, my friend shared a “We Waxed Our Legs” video our WhatsApp group. That is when a debate ‘to wax or not’ broke out over frantic texts!
To wax or not to wax has been an age-old dilemma for women. Everything a woman does has social repercussions. If she waxes, she is not supporting feminism and adhering to societal beauty standards. If she does not, she is defying them.
Small-town high-school girls with limited means, agency, circumstances remain what our parents think best. We get some freedom only when we can set out for college (or so we hope.) So, our bodies continue to be largely unexplored territories even to ourselves. Hence the sense of wonder and fascination towards wax strips.
The Barbie effect on young children can be quite damaging. The concept of being fair and perfect is all Barbie teaches that finally leads to self violence.
The Barbie effect on young children can be quite damaging. The concept of being fair and perfect is all Barbie teaches that finally leads to self-violence.
“Mom, I don’t have a Barbie pink skin tone. Am I not pretty?”
It was alarming. My daughter is ‘fairly fair’, even though I have more of an Asian brown hue. While we have never discussed anything even remotely related to skin tones, it looked like the subject of colourism had finally found its way into the mother-daughter conversation.