Growing Up a Dark Skinned Girl
For starters, I’m Hindu Punjabi and in the Punjabi culture you find some of the lightest skinned Indian people. So by Punjabi standards, I’m considered to be “dark”. Furthermore, the Indian culture, like many other cultures, is OBSESSED with being fair skinned. They’re so obsessed that there’s a $400 million dollar industry in India dedicated to lightening products – to give your skin a lighter appearance – growing 20% annually. They even have bleach creams! Bollywood actresses wear make up several shades lighter than their skin tone to appear white. Fair skin is a sign of beauty, where the lighter you are, the more beautiful you are.
So what happens when you’re the dark girl?
I grew up in a family of 3 sisters and I am by far the darkest. I was teased and called “kali mame”, translated, dark lady. I mean, the term dark lady isn’t really mean, but in the Indian culture it’s considered an insult. In elementary school during the summer months, I wasn’t allowed to play outside until the sun set, because I’d tan and get too dark. And when I’d get a tan, the teasing would get worse. I started hating my dark skin and didn’t understand why God didn’t give me fairer skin. In my teens, after constant scrutiny of my skin color, I became obsessed with being fair skinned. I started using a home made mixture that’s supposed to make me lighter. I even tried using a cream called “Fair & Lovely”. I started avoiding the sun at all costs and stopped enjoying playing outside, constantly running for cover in a shaded area. Dull, dark colors became the only options in my wardrobe.
Sometime in my early/mid twenties, I woke up completely comfortable in my skin. I stopped caring about being dark and embraced my beautiful brown skin. I would soak in the rays on a beach and loved the healthy glow it gave. I felt exotic, sexy and empowered. As each year passes, I love my skin color more and more. In fact, now when I look back, I feel that I’m MORE beautiful with my darker skin color. If I were lighter, I wouldn’t be the most beautiful version of myself. I love the fact that darker skin doesn’t wrinkle as quickly and the plethora of colors I can pull off with make up and clothing.
Just because I’ve embraced my skin color, that doesn’t mean my culture has. When I went shopping for saris in India, they were constantly trying to put me in dull colors like an orange rust so that it doesn’t contrast against my skin too much and make me appear darker; where I insisted on trying the bright pink sari please because I LOVE the contrast against my skin. For my engagement ceremony in India, I got my make up done at a well known place and I specifically told them not to apply make up lighter than my skin tone, yet they applied foundation 3 shades lighter and even applied it all down my neck, chest and arms, to completely blend it in. I ended up breaking down right before the ceremony. I think a part of me was taken back to my youth and I was reminded that my regular skin color wasn’t pretty. I then started applying bronzer everywhere, and as soon as I started looking like me again, I wiped those tears and walked in with a big smile. For my wedding, I was going to Miami for my bachelorette three weeks before and SO MANY Indians girls would be like, “Three weeks before, you’re gonna be sooo tanned” and I said, “Great! I want a bit of a glow for my big day”. Anytime I visit an Indian salon to get my waxing done and advise them that my skin is sensitive as I’m tanned, I get grilled with a bunch of questions of why do I sit in the sun and they cannot even BEGIN to comprehend why I CHOOSE to sit out in the sun and get a tan. Not to mention the slew of ridiculous commercials out there that constantly equate fairness to beauty, like the one below – fairer private parts…like really?!
You always hear people say things like, “She’s pretty for a dark girl” or, “She’s dark, but, she has beautiful features”. Why does there have to be a BUT, why isn’t she pretty just because she’s pretty?
I’ve realized that my own people scrutinize me the most for my skin color. I know I’m considered the “pretty for a dark girl” and many Indian men find me less desirable because I’m darker. I am so grateful that I was born in raised in North America, where there’s a multi-billion dollar industry on tanning – not whitening. In fact, look at Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, the first Indian American to win the title, she’s much darker than any beauty queen to come out of India. She’s beautiful because she simply is, and it took Americans to recognize this on a global platform such as Miss America before India, in a nation where the majority of people are actually brown – mind boggling!
On a final note, love the skin you’re in and beauty will follow…