What Every Dark-Complexioned Girl Must Know

Have you noticed how often the terms “wheatish complexioned” and “dusky” are used to soften this deep-rooted prejudice, esp in India?


“She’s pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” “She has good features… if only she had been fair.”

Haven’t we heard these comments often, even today? How does this impact the self-confidence of our daughters? And, what can we, as parents, do about this?

Much has been written about the roots of colourism – the prejudiced attitude or discrimination based on the tone or shade of one’s skin complexion – in India. Have you noticed how often the terms “wheatish complexioned” and “dusky” are used to soften this deep-rooted prejudice? But I am not going there. The focus of this article is to build the self-esteem of our daughters – whatever the colour of their skin.

Akin to fat-shaming, children can experience prejudice against their skin colour from peers, family members, and even their parents. Girls are more likely to be the victims. They could be subjected to bullying – cruel comments and jokes – at school or in their peer circle. Some children tend to associate dark skin with being dirty. They may call a dark-skinned girl: “gandi ladki” (dirty girl) and not be friends with her.

Bullying and bias can make a dark-complexioned girl feel under-confident. She may avoid dressing up and attending social functions and shy away from being photographed.


Dark-complexioned girls face a huge challenge in building their self-esteem in the face of societal attitudes. It is up to parents to help their daughters fight this prejudice and boost their self-worth from a young age. Here are some ways to do this:

Teach her that beauty is not skin deep: Emphasise the importance of a person’s inner beauty that lies in her qualities and character. Tell her stories that reinforce this belief.

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Watch what you say: Whether you are making a comment about yourself while looking at the mirror or commenting on the appearance of someone else, be careful you never reinforce harmful stereotypes inadvertently.

Tell her there is beauty in diversity: From a young age tell her that physical beauty comes in a range of colours, sizes, and shapes. Tell her how fair people in other countries crave for a tan. And, those dark-skinned models are increasingly becoming popular on the ramp and as brand ambassadors of beauty products.

Tell your daughter about 18-year-old Aranya Johar whose poem ‘Brown Girl’s Guide to Beauty on YouTube went viral with 1.5 million viewers the world over on the first day! Impactful lines from the poem go: “Forget snow-white/say hello to chocolate brown/I’ll write my own fairy-tale”.

Talk science: Show her a map (https://www.earthlymission.com/world-skin-color-map-reveals-truth-about-races/) that shows complexion getting darker as one gets close to the equator as a result of sun exposure and skin darkening. Tell her how the pigment melanin is responsible for skin colour and how dark-skinned people are less likely to suffer from sunburn, wrinkles, and skin cancer.

Expose her to the right books: Do not expose children to storybooks where the demons or villains are dark-skinned and the divine entities and heroes/heroines are all fair.

Encourage her to read books like Brown like dosas, samosas & sticky chikki. This Indian book written by Rebecca Manari tells children that it is thoughts and actions that define one and not skin colour. It teaches children to love their bodies as they are. Another children’s book about body image and self-esteem is Lisa Dias Noronha’s Gatila. In this book Gatila, a cow is not happy with her looks and experiments with using a range of colours on her body. Finally, she finds that the right colour is her original colour.

Buy appropriate toys: Similarly, do not buy toys – especially dolls – that reinforce the bias against dark-skinned girls/women. If your daughter is interested in dolls, get her dolls of diverse skin tones and ethnicities.

Help your daughter develop her personality: Instead of focusing on your daughter’s looks, especially the colour of her skin, help her do well academically and shine in other fields to enrich her personality. Encourage her to take up music, dance, theatre, art, or sports. These activities will uncover her hidden talents and also help her develop social skills.

Teach her to identify stereotypes in the media: Depictions of beauty in advertisements, TV shows, and movies are usually focused on thin and fair-skinned women. You can help your pre-teen or teen daughter identify the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media including that fairer skin is desirable. Of course, strongly discourage the use of fairness creams.

Expose her to strong and diverse role models: Talk to your pre-teen or teen daughter about women achievers across fields and ethnic groups. Also, introduce her to friends and family members who can serve as strong role models.

Discuss the societal bias with her: Since it is a reality she needs to face, once she is old enough to understand, discuss the societal bias with her. Explain to her the historical and cultural roots of the bias. At the same time, your daughter needs to know that what needs to change is not her skin colour but people’s attitudes. Teach her how to respond to people who make comments on her skin colour.

And, give her your unconditional love. Tell your daughter you love her deeply and would like her to love herself too. Urge her to seek out friends who don’t just accept her, but value her. This will go a long way in her accepting and loving herself as she is.

Image Source: Abhishek Vyas from Getty Images, Canva Pro



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About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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