The Dark SiDe

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR BEAUTY -

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

fair skin

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