In my previous article on body image and weight obsession for women, lots of women shared why they will always be very jumpy around weight. It all started in the childhood when they heard barbs related to weight, even their family members added to them. You are too thin or you are too fat defined them for years. And even now they struggle with every kilo of weight gained or lost.
That made me think how much the experiences in our childhood moulds how we think subsequently in life. While growing up, I heard a lot of conversation around skin colour. Relatives commenting casually on colour, peers and friends too. I remember how actresses of yore who were dark skinned were always called dusky beauties, as if their skin colour was always what defined them more. While I was not really complexed about my skin colour, I hated the topic. I knew I wasn’t fair skinned as my mum was or as women were supposed to be.
It took me a lot of reading and understanding, support of close family and friends to appreciate and understand that I was truly beautiful in my skin. That being brown did not take away from my physical beauty. That I did not have to satisfy someone else’s view of beauty. But little did I know that men faced the same issues. In my opinion, a man could be dark or fair and no one really cared. But when my own sons were growing up, there were many instances when their being brown was used to insult them. Being kids they were confused and sometimes ashamed.
But as a mum who was now confident and determined to raise her sons to feel pride in their colour, I knew that this work began at home including having conversations. We always talk about these sticky issues at home. I understand the hurt they feel, after all who wouldn’t. I recognize that sometimes they would wonder why couldn’t they just be fair, and it would be easier. And I had to put those thoughts into perspective. After all, if not this there would be some other issue that another person who wishes to pull you down would find to taunt you, isn’t it? So the answer is not in the issue going away but in how we deal with taunts and slurs in general.
We try to see why a person would want to feel superior by pulling others down. We try to understand why we have a deep-seated complex when it comes to skin colour. Is it hundreds of years of being colonized, of messages shared on big screen and articles, of advertisements of fairness creams and products or something more? And how do we address these both to the person pulling us down and to our own selves? Thus began the process of building pride and confidence in who we are and in what we have been blessed with.
Today, I can say very safely that I am super confident, aware of the qualities that I have been blessed with and happy in my own skin. Now, when a salon person asks me if I want a bleach or a detan treatment, I smile and tell her no. I no longer internalise it as her judgment of my skin colour because she is asking a fair skinned woman the same question as well. Let’s face it often a harmless query may make us respond in a totally crazy way solely because that query has a certain association for us. In our minds, your assumption about me being dark implies that I am not beautiful or somehow inferior. If we can break that association in our minds, then we have won half the battle.
Today, I feel that my sons respond in a much more controlled and calm manner to any insinuations about their skin colour. Hopefully, somewhere they are taking pride in being brown, in their Indian heritage and in the way they look. Apart from raising them as men who are feminists, this is another area that I have focused a lot on. It is not to say that they are devoid of insecurities or angst. But much work has been done to raise their self-esteem.
Earlier while I kept quiet when someone made a comment on skin colour, today I speak up. Not as an outburst but in a quiet tone, questioning the intent and often shutting down any insinuation about dark-skinned being inferior. I know of a number of women who have lived with families and friends who had constantly taunted them and shattered their self-esteem. I do hope that they can work towards healing.
We all can dream of a day when we will not be shamed for being who we are in terms of our appearance. But till then, let’s empower our children to embrace their true identity and to feel comfortable in their own skin.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic? Have you ever been shamed for the way you look?