In the summer of 2018, during a visit to London, I went shopping for makeup. I wanted to buy specific concealer for my skin, as back in India, I never found suitable colours. At the store, a salesgirl helped me by testing several concealers to see which one would suit me the best. “Oh, Classic-Ivory seems too light and would make you look pale, and Deep-Mocha is too dark for your skin. Let’s go with the Bronze-Beige” she smiled and said. Once I got home, I teared up. I felt completely overwhelmed by what had just happened.
Growing up in India, I always considered myself to be privileged. Belonging to a family that
was in the top tiers of social hierarchy, I never experienced discrimination or prejudice. But,
there was one quality I possessed that separated me from most others – dark skin. Everyone
around me seemed to have been blessed with flawless, pale skin, and they urged me to try to achieve it as well.
Desperate and repulsive attempts were made by family to lighten my skin tone, using ‘natural remedies’. Relatives remarked, “She’s a nice girl, but pity she’s so black”. I was usually the photographer rather than the subject of photographs – apparently dark skin didn’t look nice in photos. In a bitter argument with an ex-friend, she hurled the words “you black bitch” (‘black’ stinging more than ‘bitch’). Salesgirls would frantically crowd around me blending pale concealer shades and assure me that it would make my skin look fair. I recall lashing out, asking if my dark skin looked ugly. I got the response “No, of course it doesn’t, but it would look better if it was fair!” That was my breaking point.
I began equating my self-worth with my dark skin. It was a world that revolved around being
fair-skinned, and you had to learn how to navigate it. I felt that I needed to have a good
personality, be intelligent, and have a sense of humour to compensate my ‘ugliness’. While
my other friends would participate in modelling competitions and fashion shows, I felt like
curling into a ball. I wanted to blend into the shadows (a popular joke made at my expense,
given my tan.) I laughed about it on the outside, but I would go home and sob wishing that I
would somehow wake up with fair skin. I had been reduced to a shade on a colour palette. I had no idea who I was, or what other qualities I possessed. I constantly felt like I did not belong. Neither was I a “privileged Dominant”, nor a “disadvantaged Oppressed”. I was floating in the middle, not worthy of either place, and still searching for one.
Now, for the first time, someone pushed away a lighter shade saying it wouldn’t suit me,
followed by matter-of-factly stating that there were shades too dark for my skin. She didn’t
see my skin as something which had to be changed. Whereas, I only saw my dark skin as a
liability, an aberration which needed correction. I tried to not pay attention to any of those
instances when they happened. I considered it ‘normal’ behaviour, and tried to brush it off. I
felt I was overthinking it. It was as if all those past experiences had to cause severe collateral
damage as a consequence for me to see this as wrong.
In this moment however, I was introduced to a world where my colour is merely a shade on a
spectrum of skin shades, each just as beautiful, worthy, and ‘normal’ as the other. It took one
moment of acceptance to understand how different I had been feeling all these years.
* Name changed to maintain author's confidentiality.