The Dark SiDe
I’VE LOST COUNT OF the number of times when visiting a college for a talk, a young girl would invariably ask me how I am so confident about being dark. It’s a question that comes up often, mostly with teenagers. It’s heartbreaking to know that of all the things you have to face today, the colour of your skin can make you feel less worthy.
It’s common enough. Indian parents don’t send their children to swim or to play outside so they don’t become tanned. I’ve faced it too. Even though my parents worked hard to keep me away from any complexes, growing up, there was always a concerned relative doling out wellmeaning advice about how to become fair, ranging from the regular application of haldi to staying out of the sun, because being dark meant low stakes when it came to marriage.
I see it all around me. My neighbours have two small daughters. One’s complexion is just a hint darker than the other’s and she’s afraid of going to school because everyone teases her about it. Joining an industry where looks are paramount, I would often hear directors say, “Don’t worry, we’ll make you fairer”, especially if the character I was playing was an urban, educated one. It’s fine to be dark as a rural woman but when you’re in the city, there’s only room for fair. It’s an outdated formula that’s still around in the movies, its presence only reinforcing stereotypes of people who are dark and those who aren’t.
So when the Bengaluru-based organisation Women of Worth contacted me to be the face of the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign, I jumped at the opportunity. And even though I was aware of the prejudice against dark skin, I began to realise its epidemic proportions only after. Stories flooded in. The sheer volume of emails from young women made me understand how deeply it still cuts across society. Some women sought advice on how to deal with not becoming fair despite numerous efforts. Others were defensive about their complexion and the colours that they wore too—many had grown up believing that neither dark nor light colours would suit them, or that a certain shade would look nice only if they were fairer. It was like every colour was the wrong one. One woman wrote saying that all her life she had worn dull colours because she was told brights didn’t look good on her. After she saw the campaign, she removed every trace of grey in her wardrobe and filled it with vivid hues.
I was also often asked why only dark should be called beautiful? Wasn’t that stereotyping too? Of course, in an ideal world, one can say ‘be natural’ or ‘be yourself ’, everybody’s equally beautiful. Unfortunately, in this world, fairness is equated with beauty. The need of the hour is to make people understand that dark is beautiful too. You only have to look at the endless whitening products that range from inexpensive drugstore creams to expensive departmental store serums to see that. The quest for fairness has reached bizarre heights—there’s also a fairness vaginal wash in the market. So now it’s not enough to have a fair face to please your man, you must also make your privates much lighter. It makes me afraid when I hear that the entire whitening cosmetic industry is much bigger than the entire cosmetic industry put together.
It’s a reflection of our obsession with skin colour that stems from an idea of beauty that has been imposed upon us by advertisements and decades of brainwashing. Yes, we all want to look a certain way, but should it be of paramount importance? Beauty is fleeting, and shouldn’t be right at the top of your list. Life goes by so quickly and you realise that you don’t even have enough time for the really important things, like work, family, fun, and knowledge. So I, for one, am going to celebrate my complexion instead of worrying about how to change it. The colour of your skin was given to you. It was something that you’re born with and cannot change. You didn’t choose it, so why choose people’s perceptions of it? It’s important to overcome these perceptions and focus on who you are and want to be—your likes, dislikes, dreams, interests, discoveries— things that make you happy and confident. You ought to be defined not by the people around, but by yourself. Because when you think of yourself as other than dark, a whole world of possibilities opens up. Actress, academic, and
face of the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign, Nandita Das questions a
whole nation’s preoccupation with