Directors Note – “She Leads”

Kavitha Emmanuel, Founder & Director of Women of Worth writes to fill in on some of the advances WOW has seen this year of which WOW’s leadership empowerment campaign takes the spot light. She also shares her experience on being a leader herself on this unfeigned note that we bring to you right from her desk.
 Women of Worth’s latest campaign “She Leads’ is a campaign that hopes to motivate and mentor the next generation of women with leadership potential to stop at nothing and scale with confidence those heights which are rightfully theirs. Through SHE LEADS we hope to smash the barriers that limit women’s potential by nurturing in young women a resilience and conviction to reach the top without holding back.
As the implementing partners of this campaign initiated by the British Deputy High Commission, Chennai and supported by The Madras Chamber for Commerce and Industry, we were invited to participate and present SHE LEADS at the tech summit held in New Delhi on November. The Summit was inaugurated by Narendra Modi, our hon’ble Prime Minister and Teresa May,  Prime Minister of UK. It was a landmark event indeed and I was happy to be there to introduce our new campaign to business owners, politicians, entrepreneurs and students who were at the summit.
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At the session on Women In Leadership, an 18 year old student took me by surprise when she asked this one question to the panel of women leaders: “You have all shared about your great moments. But I want to know about your failures and your struggles on your way up here.” My immediate thought was, “here is a leader in the making!’
As leaders, we don’t often talk about our failures and our challenges. We try to hide behind our great moments to escape the shame of those moments we wished we were dead! I have had my share of failures. I still struggle with insecurities of not feeling capable enough to lead. I see people more gifted and talented than I am. I do struggle with feelings of jealousy and sometimes I do give up thinking I am not good enough. I am afraid of crowds. I hate public speaking. I do get depressed when I goof up a speech or when an event falls flat. And then there are those mistakes that have become life lessons.  I am not always confident even if I look that way. I come across to people as a bold and confident person. But on the inside I am often fearful. To me personally what gives me the courage to move on is my faith. My faith in a God-ordained destiny helps me walk through tough and discouraging times.
The secret about being a leader is not that you don’t fail or feel weak. But that you develop in you the resilience and tenacity to overcome all barriers that try to stop you from moving forward. Every experience you go through becomes your teacher. Failures become your stepping stones to success. Your failures make you richer if you will be open to learning from them. And it is not forbidden to talk to a friend about your failures or insecurities. It is normal to feel inadequate or fearful. It is normal to feel like you want to give up half way through a project. But what is crucial is that we don’t stay there in that moment but gather the courage to pick ourselves up and press on towards our goals.

Fear to Freedom – Spiels from the Month of March

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During the month of March, we celebrated “Fear to Freedom” on our Dark is Beautiful Facebook page. What better way to connect with one another than sharing each other’s experiences eh? WOW applauds each and everyone who chose to change the narrative that typically follows fear. Here are a few stories that we gathered from all over India.

Fear to Freedom #1 This story resonated with many of our followers. A central theme that rose from the discussions highlights the legally banned practice of dowry continuing to mar dark skin complexion.  

jyoti3My name is Jyoti and I write this on behalf of all the Jyoti’s out there.I was born into a middle-class Bihari family in Jamshedpur. I am an Engineer by profession. I have skimmed through thousands of profiles in search for a bridegroom, but I didn’t find anyone who shares the same beliefs and values as I do. My parents were worried and feared about my marriage because I am dark and if a girl child is dark, it is completely unacceptable here. But recently, they found someone for me and fixed my marriage. Everything seemed fine in the beginning because my parents had already told them of my complexion and they didn’t say much. But one fine day the grooms family called my parents and stated very indirectly (since they are compromising on a fair daughter-in-law for me),“ We just have one son and after your daughter gets married, everything we have will be hers so pay for our son’s expenses now.” My parents were ready to pay for his expenses because they loved me and wanted me happily married. But when I heard it, I was annoyed. So, I called up the guy and asked him about it. He said,”We shouldn’t get our heads involved in this matter.” I was even more annoyed and said no to the guy. Why should I pay up because I am dark? It doesn’t make me any less of a human. I will certainly marry when I find my right match. A man who looks at my heart and not my outward appearance. Until then I refuse to put a price tag on my skin colour.

Fear to Freedom #2 Savitha received a lot of support from the DISB community spurring her on to break free from fashion norms and experience the joy of colours. We agree. 

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Model in the pic: Mary Smrutha Paul (DISB Ambassador, Hyderabad)

Dear Aunty,

I do not know why you like to pick on my skin colour all the time. This is how God chose to make me. But you always make a big deal out of it. If I slap some red lipstick on, you say, ” You look ugly….. you think you are a foreigner or something?”. If I choose to wear a yellow heel, you say, ” What are you thinking? Are you out of your mind?” I still remember coming back home one night so excited after getting myself a beautiful lime green Lehenga and you smirked and said, “Give it to your sister, She’s gori hai na?”(Isn’t she fair?) I can’t even begin to explain how I felt that day. I felt so shameful. The fear of approval gripped me. I love fashion, I love dressing up in different colours. I can’t live my whole life wearing just maroons and blue’s can I? I am dark and what’s wrong if I wear bright colours? It’s time this kind of demeaning attitude changes!!! If I don’t even have the basic right to dress the way I want to and express myself sometimes I wonder what am I even doing here!?

– Savitha, The Stressed Out Dresser from Delhi

Fear to Freedom #3 Celestine wrote to us raising this fascinating question:

Celestine“Do each and everyone one of us secretly have a colourist inside of us?”

Colourism: A form of discrimination which is based on the individual’s skin colour, with the person who has the lighter skin tone, treated more favourably.

Celestine adds, “Editing pictures became a routine. It’s like I didn’t want to be myself until I realized I was being a colourist myself.”

Do we in our minds often paint ourselves to a skin colour we think we would look perfect at? Is that why filtered images are a huge fad? Has media successfully tapped into all our inferior complexes, flaws and fears, slowly but steadily somehow tricking us to believe that we all to a certain extent have to look like someone else to be accepted?

Celestine says, “Now that I have learned to see beauty in a different light, I feel I look much better without editing my images because that’s me in my authentic self and not a copy.” And we second that Celestine!

Fear to Freedom #4 starts with skin pigmentation, name calling and bullying, but ends with accepting the so-called-imperfections that make us uniquely beautiful. 

NatashaMy name is Natasha and I am from Telangana. You know everyone of us have some form of fear or the other. Mine stared back at me every time I looked at myself in the mirror, more so that the very thought would make me not want to see my reflection (sighs). I had dark pigmentation around my lips and chin so it used to look like I was having a moustache and kids in school started calling me Mushtasa. It used to make me feel like I was never worth it. I always thought how beautiful the fair skinned girls were and how life was easier for them at least in this aspect. As all these feelings grew louder I started disliking myself. Over the years, I have come to realize that the worst form of rejection is not other people rejecting you but you rejecting yourself. So today, I can boldly say, Mushtasha or not, I am proud of my dark skin (and the flaws therein, that makes me human I’d like to think) and I have learned to love (it was hard trust me but not impossible) myself the way I am. A huge shout out to my parents for helping me through this phase.

P.S “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” (And love yourself ) – Harvey Fierstein

Fear to Freedom #5 radiates courageMany of our readers were inspired and encouraged to follow her example as they face life’s challenges

ShirleyHi! This is Shirley from Hyderabad and this is my story.
I spent 10 years of my life in self-criticism. Like a princess locked up in a tall tower, because I felt like I was cursed for being born dark. Growing up with a complexion like this was not easy. Where do you look for comfort and consolation when your own family thinks you are born with a skin colour different than them? When your own friends start teasing you and name tagging you as “Black”? Not being chosen for anything because people look at your complexion and not your personality? Eventually, you start believing you don’t have the right to feel pretty or beautiful. In a country where it is common to be born in this shade, I was being shamed for the very same. But all this made me step back and look at the sunny side of life. My parents and my close friends helped me believe that I am beautiful inside out. The moment I believed I am beautiful, I saw that life was beautiful and what others thought of me slowly became irrelevant. Like they say, “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger”. So don’t let this(skin colour discrimination) ever stop you. I did not let it stop me.

Fear to Freedom #6 reflects on the attributes of inner beauty while showcasing that beauty is so much a social construct which needs to be redefined by the individual and not a tube of fairness cream. 

FinalversionSAIHi Facebook, This is Yasha Aluru and I am from Telangana. This story is about a good friend who is worth so much more than she knows. The beautiful lady in the picture is Sai. She joined as a maid about three weeks ago.

I was applying some sunscreen one morning and as she was cleaning she asked me curiously “Amma (Madam), what are you applying?” I told her its sunscreen. She asked me again, “ Is that how you become white? I used to be darker. My brother and sister are fair so how can I become like them?”

I could see that it took her courage to ask me that question and I knew I had one simple responsibility towards her.I had to remind her that it was she (and not her fairer brother or sister) who helped her sick mother, she who stayed by her cousin’s side every day while her kidneys slowly failed, and it is she who takes care of her little one all by herself because she loves him unconditionally. I had to tell her that her beauty cannot be bought in a zillion tubes of fairness creams. Her beauty was a gift that she honed into the worthy human she is.

“Hey, Sai. If you start coming to work this late in the day, it will get very sunny and you will turn darker”, said my mother yesterday. Sai smiled and looked at me….a look that said, “Now is that really so bad?”

Fear to Freedom #7 reminds us that the society continues to struggle with skin colour bias. But are permitted to question, challenge, and ultimately, show by our actions, that skin colour bias can be overcome. 

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My name is Keerthika Gummadi ,  I am from Hyderabad. I live in New York at the moment and will be back in India for good. When I think of returning back to India, there’s this one thing that constantly troubles me. Meeting relatives who I know will urge me to try the latest fairness creams and treatments. I often wonder why am I being bullied for something I am born with? Why can’t I be accepted the way I am? I am worshipped for my tan in the foreign land but looked down for the same in my motherland. I have always had people walk up to me and say, “You are beautiful despite being dark”. I don’t get it!!! What does skin colour have to do with being beautiful? Beauty lies on the inside, doesn’t it?

 

From the Girl Whose Face is Not Looking Good

 

This month at WOW we engaged with the parents and schools on the topic of bullying. We spoke to teachers and trained them on how to handle issues of bullying on campus. Our communications and design teams created posters that schools can use to educate students on appropriate behaviour and promote zero tolerance towards bullying. This is an essential topic to discuss in every campus.

When we talk about bullying on campuses, we usually associate the issue with bullying that happens among students. But we need to begin to recognize the fact thatsometimes the bully could be the teacher.

Bullying.coverpicWhen a teacher has unrealistic expectations from a student and resorts to name-calling or when a teacher displays bias towards a certain student and is unreasonable, the victims of bullying are the students who feel overpowered and helpless. Verbal abuse by teachers leave deep scars on young minds. In the name of discipline, a teacher can easily cross the line without intending to. Here is a painful story we received from a student who feels such intense pain and is trying to understand how someone who is supposed to be building her up is actually tearing her apart. We urge you to use this platform to start discussions on bullying at various levels – on campuses, at work, and even at home.

– Kavitha Emmanuel

From the Girl Whose Face is Not Looking Good 

Yesterday was a good day: I made it to class on time and I was responsive during class. I had put in a lot of effort to study and prepare for the class and I could see it pay off. My day could not have started better. I am a learner, a true geek at heart. I pay attention, I make notes, I love to listen to interesting lectures. The classroom is my playground.

The professors and teachers have a heart to impart knowledge and see us succeed. I like when they speak on topics like personality development and improving life skills like healthy social conduct or professional ethics. I believe that they are the farmers who cultivate our minds to be the leaders of tomorrow.

As a responsible and proactive student, raised and taught by the sharp minds of our faculty, I approached my class mentor and teacher about final exam dates. Her response as she looked into my zit ridden face made me question everything I had come to love about college. Instead of the dates, I was told: Stop concentrating on your exams and first clear your skin. You can write many exams but for now you concentrate on your skin. It’s not at all looking good. It’s not good at all.

I am a determined young woman who does not let my acne bother me. I’ve lived with it since fifth standard and it’s a part of me – the confident, beautiful, and talented me. Acne has never stopped me from doing what I want to do. So, I pushed onwards and respectfully told my teacher that my acne does not bother me, but exams do and that I’d like to know the dates. As the conversation continued to transpire with a large audience in the lobby, my teacher did not hesitate to verbalize her emotions and opinions: But we have to look at you and it’s not at all good. A few of my classmates who stood nearby piped in to support the teacher’s opinion that I lack the interest to care for my skin.

 

recite-1g9qyv1Much has been talked about bullying on campuses and more has been discussed about the recent suicide of the 9th standard boy who was a victim of bullying. I see the actions of my teacher as demeaning, reckless and careless, providing backing and support to those who might use it to bully. It might not have sounded as mockery, but it had the same effect.

As a mentor who needs to lead and build trust, she failed and I do not want to have another conversation with her. I have lost all ability to muster up any respect for her.

Dear Ms. D, how can I learn anything from someone who lost face with her student?

From,

The girl whose face remains beautifully confident!

Who is to blame: Victim or Perpetrator?

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Just imagine that you had walked into an ATM to draw some cash or, say, you were on your way to a wedding dressed in a reasonable amount of gold jewellery. As you were approaching your car what if someone slit your throat and stole your cash or jewellery? Whose fault do you think it is? The person who slit your throat or your own fault? Would you accept that it is your fault to have done something that is totally legitimate for people to do? Of course, you can always choose to never draw cash from an ATM or to never get out of your car or maybe not to go out alone to draw cash from an ATM. Those are possibly fear measures or safety measures you would take to protect yourself.

It infuriates me to think that every time a rape or murder of a young girl is reported, people say: “she must have done something to deserve it”, “wonder what she was wearing?’, or “why did she go there?” or ” She asked for it because she was hanging out with her friends” and so on…

Have you ever considered everything that a girl has to think of before she steps out of her house for her own safety? Well, here are a few thoughts that possibly run through her mind:

“What should I wear to not attract rape?”

“What time is it? Is it safe to go out now?”

“Wait! Is this a safe place to go to?”

Why should we always live in fear of being violated? What about girls who are very young and probably are not even aware that there are sexual predators around? I remember reading a comment once on social media: “this is why girls should be kept in the house locked up!”. Is this how we stay safe? Well, what about abuse that happens at home?

I am not saying here that we shouldn’t stay safe. But why do we stray from recognizing who the real offender is? Why are we not able to rally enough support to raise the bar on women’s safety at the workplace, in public spaces, in schools and at home?

Let’s remember that what we really need to battle is society’s mindset towards women. And yes, we surely need to work on measures that ensure a woman’s safety in all spheres by taking all practical steps necessary – be it through fixing CCTV cameras in public spaces and campuses or lighting up dark alleys or by reporting stalkers and eve-teasers. We do need to increase safety awareness among people.  We need to educate children, both girls and boys on safety. But more importantly, let’s teach them to respect the other. Teaching young boys to respect girls at home and at school will go a long way in ensuring a safe world. Teach them to challenge injustice towards women. Teach them to challenge age-old mindsets that dictate that a woman stays safe when she is locked up somewhere!

Kavitha Emmanuel

Founder & Director
Women of Worth

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Kaali Kali

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Yash Shankar, the artist.

Dark is beautiful had a splendid opportunity to be a part of a solo exhibition titled “Kaali Kali”, by Yash Shankar that celebrated body positivity and diversity among women with the theme majorly focusing on skin colour discrimination. We love supporting and encouraging young artists like Yash who beautifully express their thoughts through their artwork. DISB has stood for celebrating diversity of all skin shades and body types ever since our inception and partnering with a like minded artist was refreshing. We leave you with a small excerpt on the young artist and what kindled her to do an exhibition that had been brewing in her mind for a long time.

Yash Shankar, is an undergraduate student of Applied Psychology and Global Public Health at NYU. She grew up travelling and moving from country to country with her family, and as she learned more about each culture, the one thing that stood out for her was the discrimination minority groups faced. Having faced discrimination  based on her skin colour from a very young age; from kindergarten to be precise and as she grew a little older it slowly became slut shaming and sexism. Talking about this she said, “I can’t remember a time at which I have been treated fairly for who I am. What was once blatantly offensive, became subtler and more widely accepted in society every day.  By the time I got to college, I realized that the society that I was now a part of, was built on discrimination; as was the society I came from. Everywhere I turned, I saw my culture being appropriated, and before I had the words to describe this, all I had was a feeling of discomfort at people manipulating a culture they didn’t fully understand. I had always known double standards to be a part of my life, but as I grew and further understood this, I started to realize I didn’t have to be okay with it. I could see my culture everywhere, but I could never see my people. India got independence from Britain, almost 70 years ago, but people of colour to this day remain trapped inside a system that constantly benefits from them but never works to benefit them.”

When we quizzed her about the exhibition she said, “I have been learning about race and feminism, I have realized that though I cannot be happy about my position in the world today, I don’t have to be sad like I once was. I can get angry. I can get angry for myself, and I can get angry for my people. But I also know anger is not the solution. I would rather steer all that anger positively and bring about a change in my own way. Doing this exhibition –an exhibition that celebrates the everyday dark Indian woman- has allowed me to take a small step in fixing an impossibly large problem. Working on these paintings has inspired me to fight for the freedom and opportunities that I deserve, and I hope that in the future women of colour can come together and support each other to do the same.

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When I was 5 years old, I lived in Bangkok and had no friends. When my teacher asked me what I would like the most, I innocently told her that I would, for one day, like everyone to ignore the fact that I had dark skin. Now that I’ve grown up, I don’t want to ignore that part of me anymore at all. I want to celebrate it and embrace it; one of the ways I achieved this is when I hosted an art exhibition in Chennai at Lakshana Art Gallery.I thank Dark is Beautiful for their support towards my cause and for readily partnering with me.”

 

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