How My Daughter Is Teaching Me To Love My Skin Colour

My mother grew up with no love for her skin colour and internalized the message that the world around her was screaming in her ears.

It must have been the summer of 1993-94 when my mother scolded me for going out in the sun for too long. She wasn’t worried about a heatstroke. She was worried that I would get too tanned. Even back then, I remember wondering what she meant by “too” tanned.

Anyway, I ended up sneaking out every afternoon that summer when my mom would take her much-needed nap and lock the door from the inside. I would find something to use as a stool and unlock it to earn my freedom. Then, I would quietly walk down the stairs to join my cousins and their friends to play cricket at the peak of the Delhi heat.

My mom ended up scrubbing me that summer a little “too” hard. I would sometime even be in tears for the sheer torture of staying still for so long and let her scrub me wherever I was too tanned.

Cut to summer of 2023, being nature lovers, my 6-year-old daughter and I go out almost everyday to soak in the sun and for her to spend time outdoors. Now, tanning is a natural consequence of that, despite us using hats and sunscreen. Two weeks back, while Face Timing my mom, she commented on my daughter’s tanning and suggested some home remedies.

I dismissed her then, but the next morning, I found myself ready to use a mix of gram flour and curd, to scrub off the tanning. In my head, I convinced myself that I wasn’t really doing it for the tanning but to make her skin softer (my mom’ words.) As I sat in the tub with my daughter, she looked at the bowl of the yellow mix and asked me, “What is this Mamma?”

I tried to manipulate. I told her it was nature’s soap and that it will make her skin smoother. She didn’t look convinced. So, I pointed at her arm and said, “See this? Right now, your arm’s colour is different than the other body parts. This mix will help make it all the same.”

Mamma I love this colour!

She looked at me, touched her arm and answered, “But Mamma I love this colour. Look at it. It’s so beautiful.” I sat there, wondering to myself, how and when did I teach her that? This love for her skin. This pride I see in eyes for accepting herself for who she is. Because I am still unlearning so much from my patriarchal upbringing and our post-colonial hangover.

It took me a while to come to the conclusion that I didn’t have to teach her anything. Loving her skin comes naturally to her. The way it should to all of us. Society is what teaches us to look down upon ourselves just because we are brown.

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Years of colonial rule, combined with our low self-confidence, has led us to believe that lighter is better. I mean, my mother, who has faced so much colourism all her life, was bound to be low on confidence and try her best to not let it happen to her child.

Maybe that’s why she breathed a sigh of relief at my birth when someone pointed out that my skin wasn’t like hers but lighter. (They also added “Thank God for that!”)

My mother was raised by a single father who himself grew up in a boarding school with “gore” (white) kids before Independence. Until the day he suffered from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 89, he wore a shirt, tie and formal pants every single day of his life. He was a hard-working man who raised 5 kids after his wife passed away at the young age of 36. But why am I talking about him?

Well, my maternal grandfather was a great man, a great father, and yet he failed to teach his daughter that her colour didn’t matter. It seems to me now that it had a lot to do with his colonial upbringing. He just could not see the problem.

My mother grew up with no love for her skin colour and internalized the message that the world around her was screaming in her ears. She never even thought of questioning it. She accepted it as the truth, the final word.

Colourism deeply rooted in Indian minds

This could be because colourism is so deeply-rooted in our culture that at times we don’t even recognize our own biases. Darker skin is also often attached to the lower classes in India and could be one reason that everybody wants to appear “lighter.”

From lightening our faces to our vaginas, we just don’t seem to be happy the way we are. You will also notice that having a “lighter” coloured wife is something many men still aspire for in our country. I have literally heard from my parent’s generation that a man who is dark skinned should marry a woman who’s lighter so that at least his offspring doesn’t turn out his colour. I mean, how sad are we?

And the irony is that those with white skin can often be found getting “tanned” to look exotic! I mean, don’t we see it? I honestly don’t even know what to call my skin colour because I am “wheatish” (not whitish!) when I am at my parent’s house and “fair” when I visit my in-laws.

On googling “wheatish,” which I highly doubted was even a real word, I got this:

(Indian English) “(of a person’s skin or face) light brown or pale gold, like wheat that is fully grown and ready to be picked.” I believe we can totally own the word wheatish then and own it, but with the right connotations.

Our country is so colourful and diverse when it comes to skin colour and we should be celebrating these differences. With so much awareness today about body positivity and self-acceptance, it is important for us to have these conversations and keep questioning what’s deemed normal by society.

We need to look closely at how our biases play out in our everyday lives and consciously move towards conversations that are not about skin colour, body sizes or physical appearances. The intersectionality of colour, gender and class makes the problem a little more complicated, but with the right heart and intentions, we can fight colourism together.

My daughter is teaching me to be proud of my colour – tanned or not. I can never be too tanned as my mom taught me. So, this summer, I am proudly flaunting my tanned arms and my “wheatish” face! My hope is that through my example, I can help my mother unlearn and fall in love with her skin colour.

So, the next time you see yourself in the mirror, I hope you see and appreciate yourself for who you are and fall in love with the skin colour you’re born with.

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About the Author

Anushka Bhartiya

A former journalist, a freelance content creator and a mom blogger who can be found scribbling away in her many diaries, when she’s not entertaining or learning from her young daughter. A spiritually-inclined read more...

14 Posts | 32,387 Views

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