Surviving Discrimination – The AJ Franklin Story

“Though She Is Dark, She Is a Nice Girl”
By AJ Franklin | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner


Growing up, I was teased by classmates for being a crow, urged by relatives to apply fairness creams and finally, when it came to marriage, I was told in advance that people would expect lots of dowry from my family because I’m dark. 

According to most of my relatives, we had to enlist me in a matrimonial services provider, so we went to a suitable one and I filled in a host of forms. On each form, after the basics, there was a slot for skin colour. I went ahead and ticked the box that said “dark complexioned.” 

The person in charge read the form and made a funny face at me, as though I had made a stupid mistake. She pointed at the skin colour box and said, “Please change that to ‘wheat complexioned.’” 

I asked why, and she rolled her eyes at me and said in Tamil that it was standard procedure for any girl of my “karuppu” skin to tick “wheat complexioned” to boost my chances of “catching” a groom.

Holding back both anger and laughter, I asked the million-dollar question, “What will they say when they see me in person?” She replied, “Just get a facial bleach done before they come to see you, or tell them you tanned over the summer.”

I smiled politely, told her I’d rather not lie, and re-ticked “dark.” She shook her head ever so disapprovingly. And that was just a regular Tuesday for the unmarried dark girl.

I laughed my head off and told my parents and so called well-wishers that I’d rather be single than marry someone who looks at my skin, and not my character
, for a lifetime of being husband and wife. I was quickly labeled “stubborn” and “picky” and preparations were well on their way, under my nose. I told my parents that the most I could do was to humour them by actually agreeing to meet these prospective grooms and their parents.

So the grooms arrived with their parents in tow, looked me up and down and asked ever so candidly about dowry and skin colour, stating how unfortunate it was for my parents to have not one, but two, dark girls. Most were willing to “accept” me for a fat dowry. I said a polite “no” and turned all of them away.

Then I met the man who would shock our society by marrying me whilst being much fairer than I; that too without a single rupee of dowry, much to his parents’ dismay. Post wedding, I had it tough from Day 1. All his relatives were confused as to why my husband had married me. They asked him questions like these, mostly while I was also present:

“Did you do something wrong with her before marriage?”
“Didn’t you find a fairer girl?”
“Is she pressuring you to marry her?”
“Couldn’t you have waited for God to send you a better girl?”
 “Aren’t you worried that your children will be born dark?”

His parents acted like they had to say something in my defense, but usually ended up saying, “Though she is dark, she is a nice girl.” 

I thought that the dark skin abuse would stop when I conceived. Oh, was I mistaken! Free advice was given by all on what to eat/not to eat to give birth to a fair child. 

Each time I picked up black grapes, tea, jamun or strong coffee, my in-laws made me put it down saying that black-coloured foods will darken my growing fetus! 

I was forced to add saffron to my milk to whiten my baby. My poor husband was torn between me and his dear parents. We had such bad fights. I cried, refused to eat, and shunned visits because I was so depressed.

My in-laws prayed that if it were a girl, she should take after her father and be of “nalla colour” and if it was a boy, it would not matter, but it would be nice if he, too would be fair.

Soon as my daughter arrived, I was shown such love, because “SHE WAS BORN WHITE.” It was all celebrations for my in-laws because their granddaughter was like her father— fair, and not like her dark mother.

Sadly, my in-laws are still are going on and on about my skin colour. I took a stand and stopped talking to them after a long fight on the subject. They crossed a line when they said that I somehow darkened my daughter’s skin after I took her home. 

I am sure that these people sound inhuman to you, but they are meek, middle-class, religious, simple southern folk.

All around our society is this vile bias against dark skin. Till now, this has been a bias that no one speaks about very openly. It has been brushed aside or laughed at, and for the dark person, taken in stride as a “flaw” one has to live with.

Why can’t most people just accept my dark skin? I personally feel that it is because this idea of “fair and lovely” had been drilled into children’s heads from birth by parents, teachers and the ads that very cleverly brainwash them from the day they begin to watch TV.

It’s time stop teaching our children that that the princess in the story is “as fair as can be.”
It’s time to say that fair isn’t the only kind of lovely.
It’s time to embrace the dark child.
It’s time to view people as human beings, and not a shade of colour.
Dark is not bad, dark is not unlucky, dark is not ugly.
Stand up and say it: “Dark is beautiful.”

Who’s Behind the Dark is Beautiful Campaign?

By Kavitha Emmanuel | Director of WOW
The success we have had so far with the Dark is Beautiful campaign is because of people like you who have believed in this cause and lent their support wholeheartedly. We have gone this far as an NGO with very little resources. This is a people’s campaign, your campaign!
Many have asked, “Why target only Emami’s Fair & Handsome, and not other brands?” Some have even wondered if we are supported/sponsored by Emami’s competitors!
To clear the air, we wish to inform you that Women of Worth and the Dark is Beautiful campaign have no relationship, financial or otherwise, with any cosmetic brand. We share the same conviction about every brand that is promoting fairness products through unfair advertising, which we believe endorses the toxic belief that fair alone is beautiful or handsome. Our intention is NOT to deface organizations, corporations or people. We are ALL responsible to lead change.
The WOW team has been working tirelessly to make this campaign what it is today. Lydia Durairaj, our campaign manager, builds bridges with people and keeps all the moving parts moving. Magda Tewes is our student coordinator and a graphic designer.
The rest of our core team is made up of committed volunteers:
Photography and Design: Zippora Madhukar
Design: Shalomie Tewes and Joanna Williams
Editing: Deepika Davidar
Writing and New Media: Marsha, Joy Christina
Cartoon Artist and New Media: Anju Sabu

The teamhas given us invaluable support and advice, and thus given voice to over 22,000 people who want to see an end to discriminatory advertising.
Our gratitude extends to our volunteer models: Anu, Mary, Aparna, Diya, David, Arpit, Monisha, Christy, and Fenny, along with all who were part of our video, “1.2 Billion Shades of Beautiful,” directed by Surya Jayaraman, with music by Timothy Madhukar. Our TVC with actor Anu Hasan was a contribution from Aubrey Sequiera, Goldwire Films.
To all those who allowed us to use their stories on our blog: You’re brave and beautiful. 
We appreciate each of the celebrities who have backed this cause with their words and their time: Nandita Das, Tannistha Chatterjee, Anu Hasan, Rupinder Nagra, Wilbur Sargunaraj, Vishakha Singh and Shekhar Kapur.
Most of our printingis sponsored by Go Media, while Audio Sciences has provided sound for our events.
Naturals and Unlimited Innovations have sponsored our T-shirts.
We also wish to thank Mr. Pratip Philip ADGP (Additional Director General of Police) and John Ravindran (chartered accountant) for their input and assistance.
We acknowledge our venue partners in Mumbai, Panasonic Experience Center and New Alpha Academy. Venue partners for previous events include British Council (Chennai), MLS Business Centres and Express Avenue Mall (Chennai).
We thank the media,who have reported on the campaign and engaged the public in meaningful discussions.
WOW warmly thanks all Mumbaikars who have helped us so far with practical support and sponsorships towards our petition delivery process. A special shout out to our Mumbai coordinator, Vasu Vittal Rao and to Savi and Ashwani Kumar Shukla and Arati Purani.

The WOW core team also wishes to recognize the support of our families and friends who’ve advised and encouraged us.
Our hope is that campaigns like this will be a catalyst to bring reformation in the way people perceive beauty and worth, and that our society will uphold values of justice, equality and dignity for all.
Anyone who wishes to support the campaign through sponsorships, partnerships, financial contributions and other resources can write to us at:

Get On the Bus, Baby

Dark is Beautiful is celebrating 1.2 Billion Shades of Skin Colour on Saturday, November 16, in MUMBAI. Join the colour madness at these locations:

Point 1: GATEWAY OF INDIA. Pick up at 9:00am
Point 2: MARINE DRIVE. Pick up at 9:45am
Point 3: CHOWPATTY. Pick up at 10:15am
Point 4: HILL ROAD. Between 2:30 and 3:00
Point 5: BANDSTAND. Between 3:00 – 4:00
Volunteers can join the celebrations at these venues. Artists, Musicians, Dancers, who would like to be a part of the event and share their talent to raise awareness – musicians, host a sidewalk gallery, or learn more about the campaign – can come directly to Bandstand. 
Volunteers who would like to join us on the bus can contact Lydia at 0 99403 58429 or Magda at 0 96772 53180
Here are the values of Women of Worth (WOW). We encourage volunteers to adhere to the following:
  • We value all people based on their innate worth. Skin colour, physical features, caste, social standing or ethnic  origins do not determine a person’s worth
  • We do not endorse cultural or traditional practices that strip people of their freedom to choose and to be who they are
  • We believe in showing our discontent or disapproval in a respectful and peaceful way
  • We do not believe in or approve of violence, vulgarity or unethical practices to achieve the campaign’s goals.
  • We do not believe in judging people for existing attitudes towards skin colour but would like to promote change of attitude through discussions, dialogue, petitions and partnerships
  • We believe that change is possible. Even those who have overlooked or endorsed the issue of skin colour bias in some way can still turn around and lead the change.
  • We are on the look out to build bridges rather than to burn them. We are always open to connecting, networking and partnering with individuals and organizations who seek to lead the change 
  • We believe that media is a powerful tool which if used rightly can bring positive change in a society
  • We are not against the advertising industry but stand up for change towards responsible advertising
  • We believe in building unity in diversity and endorse the celebration of all skin tones from white and wheatish to dark and dusky. 


Surviving Discrimination – The Lydia Marsha Photo Story

By Lydia Marsha | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner

“You don’t have to be model to inspire people that dark is beautiful, you can be a role model everyday in your life just by being yourself” – Lydia Marsha

Words can hurt. I get teased for being dark skinned even now, at 25. Relatives do not see how I feel when they compare me with my siblings: “they are Fair and beautiful. You are Dark but beautiful.” It takes a lot of strength to overcome the small, insignificant word like “but.”

I once hated myself so much that I would hurt myself for being born with dark skin. I was ashamed to smile thinking that I might scare people. I had no confidence at all.

It broke my heart when my niece, a beautiful dark skinned child told me that she believes she is not beautiful and that she was being teased in school for being dark skinned.
This prejudice starts at our own homes. My aunt is looking for a fair skinned bride to marry her dark skinned son, primarily for fair progeny. I want this mentality to stop! I want to give the generation to come a chance to be their own judge and jury of beauty!
I enrolled in modeling to inspire dark skinned women especially in Malaysia to be proud of themselves. It is a difficult road for me as dark skinned models are not preferred in Malaysian media industry. But I will live my dream on my terms. I will inspire change!
Lydia Marsha is currently completing her B.A. in Professional Communication in Lim Kok Wing University, Malaysia. She is a freelance photographer specialized in children photography. She enjoys reading novels and watching inspirational movies on women’s empowerment.
A special shout-out to photographer Rose Marie from Rosiegraphie. Thanks, Rosie, for the great pics! 
– Dark is Beautiful Team

Let There Be Light!

By Kavitha Emmanuel | Director, Women of Worth

This Diwali let’s take a pledge to esteem all people based on their innate value and not judge them based on their skin colour. In celebrating skin colour diversity we give back to people the dignity they deserve. In the past this was not seen as a serious issue. Dark skinned people were expected to take negative comments about their skin colour in their stride and not make a big deal of it. But this Diwali let’s make a big deal of letting our nation know that radiant comes in every colour. 

This Diwali let’s decide to lead change! 

There’s something we can all do to celebrate 1.2 billion shades!