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My daughter was excluded from the Oppana school dance because she wasn’t ‘fair.’ As a dark-skinned person myself, I’ve faced very low self-esteem, which I don’t want for my daughter. But is our country ready for change?
My daughter jolted me out of my philosophical voyage and told me about her dance practice at school for some competition. She was participating in Oppana. Oppana is a traditional dance of Kerala. It is performed in a Muslim bride’s home as a part of her pre-wedding celebration where the bride in all her finery is seated center stage. A very excited child, she told me “when the teacher goes out during the practice we all fight to be the bride.” The first thought that came to me was, was she already nurturing thoughts of being a bride? No matter how much we talk about empowering women, some instincts are so natural; all little and big girls play the bride game in childhood.. Then she said “fairest and most beautiful girls become the bride. That’s why I was not taken as a bride. I am not so fair and not so beautiful.” . The ‘Fair & Lovely’ syndrome had entered my life and invaded our family.
She told me that the teacher first selected a few girls from the class and took them to a room. There she first selected five fair girls and then called in two other teachers to select the fairest to be the bride. She, my daughter, was qualified only for the first round, where girls were called in without complexion as a decisive factor. The next two rounds she was not a participant. This is a prevalent factor right across the schools; the bride for Oppana would only be the fairest girl in the group. Right there, we have a terrible bias.
My daughter told me that the teacher first selected a few girls from the class and took them to a room. There she first selected five fair girls and then called in two other teachers to select the fairest to be the bride. She, my daughter, was qualified only for the first round, where girls were called in without complexion as a decisive factor. The next two rounds she was not a participant.
I have always wondered if the Oppama team would be disqualified during a competition if the bride wasn’t fair. I had asked this question while I was in college and I got scorned in reply because I was also not qualified to be in the bridal category. So if we have to work towards an inclusive society, we need to work on every corner of the country. There are so many hidden biases.
The entire episode can be summed up in 4 words “Been there, done that”. I had been through a similar situation in my childhood and after decades history repeats itself. My daughter was only 7 years old and how much it must have hurt her to know that she is not considered for the post of the bride only because she doesn’t fulfill the society’s benchmark for fairness. I know this as I had endured the same feelings at her age.
I was the only person in the family who was not so fair or rather ‘dark,’ as people prefer to say. My maid used to make me upset over various things. One of her major amusements was playing with my emotions I guess. She used to tease me about my complexion. One day she even dared to tell me that I was the daughter of a fisherman and my parents took me off the fisherman’s basket after paying him. Then she had burst into explosive laughter. She had failed to notice my tears.
All through my childhood I suffered each time I heard of my complexion; not because I was not fair but because that one thing seemed to appear to people that I did not belong to my parents. And it went unnoticed in my family because I was never verbal about my feelings. Now I do not wish for my daughter to inherit the same anguish and same misery. I want her to be verbal about her feelings and not succumb to the complexion bias.
By now she loves to dance so I took advantage of that interest and told her that Oppana was a dance; therefore it was necessary that she dances and not sit center stage and do nothing. In a dance the main role is for the dancers and it’s the dancers who have talents and the ones who would win the competition. Only if she danced this time she would be selected next time also for dance. She was convinced by that response but I thought of how much a small child of that age probably wanted to be beautiful and be considered a bride. I don’t give her the education that fair is lovely. The environment she is growing up in is giving her enough of that. We truly have a colour focused society. We have done away with apartheid after several battles against it. Who says so? Just come to the marriage market and it’s so prevalent there.
I don’t give her the education that fair is lovely. The environment she is growing up in is giving her enough of that. We truly have a colour focused society. We have done away with apartheid after several battles against it. Who says so? Just come to the marriage market and it’s so prevalent there.
When I started my writing career in 2006, I wrote an article on the criteria for brides that appear in the matrimony pages. Nothing significantly changed since the past several years. Only progress has been the emphasis on professional qualifications of the bride.
Pick up a matrimonial page of any leading newspaper and you will get a proof of what I am saying. Fair and educated, fair and home loving, fair and cultured, fair and from an affluent family, fair and tall, fair and working, fair and slim. Fair and fair and fair. Fairness is a common feature, the rest being the variables. If fair is the only way to be fairly considered for matrimony then why do we have a world of diverse complexions? Is it so that we fulfill the criteria for rejection or depression in the name of complexion?
Most cosmetics have fairness as their USP, be it talcum powder, soaps, creams, face packs, deodorants and if these weren’t enough we have facial bleaches too for instant effect. Celebrity lifestyles that seems to me the main inspiration in the beauty area, are filled with fair beauties. The cosmetic business world has capitalised on women’s insecurity and men’s obsession for fairness. There has been a subtle shift in the marketing stunt by moving from mainstream complexion into smartness but the underlying message still remains the same, that to be smart you need to have the confidence of the complexion.
The cosmetic business world has capitalised on women’s insecurity and men’s obsession for fairness. There has been a subtle shift in the marketing stunt by moving from mainstream complexion into smartness but the underlying message still remains the same, that to be smart you need to have the confidence of the complexion.
I have had one ocean of a mindset change but the ocean around me hasn’t changed. When we talk of mindset change, this is one place where there is a resistance to change. Girls are brought up with fairness fixation to face this day, to be the answer to such matrimonial advertisements. We are a highly Fair &b Lovely country without a doubt. There has been a subtle change towards accepting not-so-dark girls (now they are wheatish) in the newspapers. Even the advertisements are attracting the wheat complexion. When they aren’t fair they are sure to be pronounced as ‘black beauty’, ‘dark but good hearted’… “ Hum kale hai to kya hua dilwalle hai”.
The entertainment industry has pushed women to undergo cosmetic procedures to boost skin tones to match the requirements of the fairness fixation of the audience. This works wonderfully for marketing of fairness cosmetics too. Nandita Das came out with the online campaign against fairness creams “Dark is Beautiful”; which pronounced it loud and clear. “Stay unfair, stay beautiful.” Then again this is by a woman who isn’t fair. For the campaign to have more meaning it should be said by all, fair women, men at large. Most of all the conversation around complexion shouldn’t be a part of female description; don’t we have plenty beyond and above the skin tone?
As much as a girl feels happy on being declared fair and beautiful; a girl feels disappointed and heartbreaking on being called dark or dusky.
If the mind set has to change we have to drop the ‘fairness’ condition from matrimonial columns. There are more noteworthy qualities to be considered. This means we have to work from the end to the beginning alongside working on the children. To be fair to a woman, please don’t give much importance to her fairness. Why is there a gender bias in complexion too? While men are preferred ‘ TDH- tall dark and handsome’, women have to be ‘ Fair, slim and beautiful’.
Why is there a gender bias in complexion too? While men are preferred ‘ TDH- tall dark and handsome’, women have to be ‘ Fair, slim and beautiful’.
Much has been written about fairness and its unfairness to the girls and yet nothing has changed. Change is the only answer.
Jaseena Backer is a Psychologist. The world knows her as a Parenting Strategist and Gender
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