Shed Colour Bias with Natasha Sharma

By Natasha Sharma | Model & Social Activist

Natasha Sharma for DisB-01Colour complex affects people worldwide.

For a long time, I was under the impression that a “fair and lovely” complexion was only desired by South Asians. My research and life experiences have opened my eyes to the fact that many communities around the world are impacted by this issue.

The belief that light skin is superior and will bring a person happiness, love, and success is deeply rooted in Eurocentricism. Societies which were colonized by Europeans for centuries began to associate “whiteness” with power. In the present, we see countless manifestations of this mindset, at both micro and macro levels.

My first brushes with “dark skin vs light skin” were at a young age. As a first generation Indian-American, I am very proud of my culture and heritage, however, the colour complex is one aspect that has always disturbed me. Many Indians are so quick to accuse “foreigners” of racism while there is so much racism within the Indian culture itself.

4Like many other dark-skinned Indian girls, I received slights and jabs from other Indians. Comments like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so dark!” (with a tone of disgust) , “you would be prettier if you were lighter,” and “guys like girls that are light-skinned,” were extremely hurtful to hear. It didn’t help to constantly see ads for “Fair and Lovely” on the Indian channels, see only light-skinned heroines in Bollywood films, and to see the dark-skinned actresses cast as dowdy, unattractive sisters.

Fortunately for me, I grew up in a household where my parents emphasized that people who are dark-skinned are equally deserving of success, happiness, love and acceptance. Their positive attitudes helped offset some of the negativity.

Around the age of 18, friends, acquaintances, and strangers encouraged me to take up modeling. I began to realize that my dark-skin is striking and attractive. As a university senior studying International Relations and Social Work, I decided to combine my passion for social justice with modeling.

I’ve also had to take a stand against promoting dark-skin as something exotic. I have come across people that want to only work with me for the “exotic” factor. I have come across photographers that are interested in shooting with me because I have a “rare” skin tone and could supposedly pass as a person from a mixed race background. I have made it a point to stay away from photographers and designers who play into the “dark skin fetish” as well. I want to show the world that dark-skinned people can be beautiful without being exoticized.

Natasha-poster-3I want to use my personal experiences to uplift and relate to other people of colour.  Over the course of the past two years, I have modeled for local fashion designers, photographers, salons, and even a few online magazines. On my modeling page, I frequently write posts, provide commentary, and share articles about the devastating impact of colour discrimination. I hope to achieve a global presence and reach many people with the message of accepting and celebrating all skin colours.

I encourage everyone to speak out against colour complex when the opportunity presents itself. Whether it’s at the dinner table, in a classroom, or at a rally, remember that your voice counts. Knowledge is power–the more we inform others about the deep roots and lingering impact of colourism, the closer we come to creating a world that celebrates beauty in all forms.

This is the very reason I was so thrilled when I came across the Dark is Beautiful Facebook page last year. It is extremely refreshing to see a campaign which celebrates the beauty of all skin tones.

No one deserves to have their self-esteem corroded by skin colour bias. By promoting skin colour diversity in the media I am taking on Mahatma Gandhi’s challenge to me: Be the change I wish to see in the world.

298534_385697948201475_1843226181_nABOUT THE AUTHOR: Natasha Sharma is an International Relations and Social Work graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. She is very passionate about addressing social inequities. She has worked extensively with youth, immigrants, refugees, and survivors of domestic violence. She has also helped facilitate sustainable projects benefiting communities in India and Ghana. She ultimately hopes to pursue a career in the field of international human rights. Additionally, she does some free-lance modeling on the side. For the past two years, she has participated in local fashion shows, hair shows, photoshoots, and showcases. She hopes to increase the presence of women of colour in the media and to use her modeling career to combat skin colour bias.

 

Introducing Our Next Blog Series

By Kavita Emmanuel | Founder and Director of WOW

 

Natasha Sharma for DisB-01Lately there has been a lot of talk and speculation on the guidelines for advertising fairness products that was introduced by the Advertising Standards Council of  India (ASCI).  So let’s take some time to break it down and see what this means for us.

We grow up with this learned behaviour that clean and bright means white. Or that beauty and success require light skin. We are constantly being bombarded by these messages from the media. This is why the guidelines introduced by ASCI were a breath of fresh air. But regulations are just the beginning to the change we want to see.

Let’s face it! Even if all print and TV advertisements followed the ASCI guidelines we may still see skin colour discrimination endorsed simply because any product recommending ‘fairness’ as an option is in a way continuing to tell us that ‘the fair’ way is the wanted way!  That is the reason our advocacy efforts include seeing more diversity on the silver screen.

We have had conversations with fashion photographers: some want to work with the traditional idea of beauty while others have seen the beauty in all skin colours and would recommend a model based on talent. But often photographers and advertising agencies are caught between what they would like to do and what the client (the brand) wants to see.

When we sit down to chat with owners and directors of brands, they too believe talented models come in many colours but their clientele (we the customers) are more comfortable with the traditional sense of beauty where a model’s skin as white as milk. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps us stagnating in our patriarchal ideologies and perceptions of beauty, success, and self worth. This is where we would like to inspire advertising agencies and brands to take a stand towards ‘responsible advertising’ and not just do what sells.

When we think of change, we want to see the BIG picture and a future where media does not sell discrimination to our children. Do we not want our children outgrowing the iron-maiden-beauty-traps that we have come to believe as something true and real? Do we not want our children to accept themselves for who they are and respect others for being themselves? And do we not want our children to witness a true celebration of all skin colours in the media? We, at Dark is Beautiful, do not just want to see discriminatory advertisements disappear but we want to see people of all skin colours being included and their skin tones celebrated.

This is why we welcomed the story of model  Natasha Sharma. Here is a young Indian-American talking about changing the landscape of visual media by combating skin colour bias in the media. Stay tuned for her story that will be coming out this week. Meanwhile, if you see an ad on television that is discriminatory and derogatory, do your part and report it to ASCI at www.ascionline.org.