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.

Celebrate Diversity. Celebrate All Skin Colours.

By Kavita Emmanuel | Founder and Director of WOW

DISB-Aug15 Blog image

India still stands out at as the world’s largest democracy.   But what makes us unique is also the largeness of our diversity. Diversity of cultures, ethnic groups, religions, languages and SKIN COLOUR together make India truly special. As we celebrate our 68th Independence Day, let us be proud of our nation and all 1.2 Billion shades of skin colour it displays.

I noticed that since we began the Dark is Beautiful campaign in 2009 people have become more vocal about sharing their experiences with skin colour discrimination. The stories have begun to get deeper and brutally honest. The most painful are those where skin colour bias has driven people to suicide, ended marriages, increased dowry demands or crippled a child of his/her potential while at school.

Adoption agencies continue to struggle finding homes for dark-skinned children. I know of a family that has adopted a beautiful dark skinned girl whose siblings in the adopted family happen to be light skinned. The mother struggles to hush the comments from neighbours, friends and relatives who are ever so generous to hurl hurtful and wounding remarks at the child.

Battling mind-sets and addressing attitude change is no easy task. What may be disappointing to some of us is that in spite of the fact that campaigns such as ours have taken steps towards getting this toxic belief out of our society, we continue to battle every day struggles with skin colour bias. You may continue to face disappointment every time an advertisement praises ‘fair skin’ over dark skin. Maybe the name-calling and derogatory comments about your skin colour haven’t altogether disappeared. True! We need to learn to live with confidence in the midst of the painful reality that’s surrounds us. Don’t lose heart! Hold on to all that makes you who you are!!

I have said this before and I will continue to say this: Change begins at home, in our neighbourhoods and schools.  Let’s stop pretending that all is well in our contexts. Please do not shy away from talking to your children about the existence of the bias. They would rather hear it from you than face it in the crude form of comments from people or on television screens. Tell every child that they are valuable just as they are, in their own skin!

Join us as we celebrate diversity. Download and use this free Facebook cover for the rest of the week. Give us a shout out by including #dare2bcolourblind in the Add Description box.

skin-cover-SkinColour - PERSONAL COVER

Free DisB Facebook Cover. To download, right click and select the Save File As option

While We Battle the Violence of UNFAIR Advertising….

By Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder & Director, WOW

Image: ASCI (www.ascionline.org)

A resounding ‘Thank You’ to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) for introducing new guidelines for fairness products advertisements. While we eagerly await the formalization of these guidelines let’s face the fact that these guidelines will not end skin colour bias from among us.

Firstly, I wonder how many ad agencies welcome this change. It further raises the question as to what loopholes agencies will use to justify “UNFAIR advertising”.

Secondly, people argue and debate about how changing or stopping advertisements that are discriminatory might not necessarily change skin colour perception in the country. When we underestimate the effectiveness of the ASCI guidelines we are denying the obvious powerful influence of the media on young minds in both literate and illiterate contexts. While we know that skin colour bias was not initiated by the media we are firm in our focus to see change in the way colour prejudice is portrayed and reinforced by the media.

Also, the Dark is Beautiful campaign’s mission isn’t finished with seeing discriminatory advertisements withheld. We are on a quest to see positive messages on celebrating all skin colours penetrating the media.

I am dreaming of the day when brands would introduce ads that celebrate ‘beauty beyond colour’ and visibly give value and respect to all skin tones. I hope to see people of all skin tones being celebrated and cherished on our movie screens. The campaign beats with a  deeper desire  to see women not being valued merely for their outward appearance but for who they are and what they stand for.

Media is a powerful tool and has the potential to help a society recover from its negative practices and harsh prejudices.

Changing how media influences the nation’s psyche of beauty based on skin colour is part of the Dark is Beautiful campaign’s focus. However, we are always conscious of the need to change mind sets and societal attitudes towards skin colour.If you believe in our mission then be our ambassador by empowering those around you. 

Do your bit by putting back value in people who have faced discrimination.When you find an advertisement that’s repulsive, don’t hesitate to register a complaint with the ASCI. On the same note, lets be on the look-out for brands that are celebrating beauty in all skin tones.

Engage with your community by organizing a DARK IS BEAUTIFUL doodle event, photo booth, or just a simple discussion around the dinner table.

We all need to be in this together to see visible change.  I urge you to welcome and support ASCI’s first step in introducing the guidelines to check discriminatory advertisements.

Women’s Day Doodle

Freedom to Be Me

By Shini Abraham | Artist and Dark is Beautiful Supporter

This freedom doodle was inspired by thoughts that emerged as I pondered over the intimate connection between courage and freedom. We all have access to revelation and insight – powerful truth about ourselves, revelation about distorted and toxic beliefs, clarity on casting off oppression. Insight is the light that shines and shows us the path to freedom. However, freedom, while it exists for us all, isn’t something we just stumble into. It requires commitment on our part, a step of faith, an act of determination before we can attain it. Courage is that bridge to freedom.

Insight > courage > freedom

Freedom is
finding the courage
to be me.

Courage is
willingness
to stand alone,
determination
to take a stand against popular opinion,
and conviction
to stand firm on principle.

Courage is freedom to be me.

(© Shini Abraham, www.ducodivina.com/blog)

Shini is an artist, inspirational speaker and a published author on contemplative doodling. She works with children who struggle with learning disabilities, youth-at-risk, as well as with people who have experienced severe trauma and pain in their lives; and teaches on communication design, inter-personal, and inter-cultural communication around the world. She loves the outdoors, books and people – not necessarily in that order.

If you would like to learn more about the book or her doodles, go to ducodivina.com and facebook.com/DucoDivina

Is True Love Colour Blind?

Our love reveres—and transcends—differences

By Shiyani Gilbert

 

 

When I met Ben for the first time I knew that he was very special. I felt his heart, and I felt his love and passion for God. A month after we met, he proposed and I had on my finger a precious ring passed down from his great grandmother. 
 
A year after, in 2009, the two of us became one when we said, “We do.” 
 
As two individuals from different nationalities, cultures, traditions and experiences, and having different expectations, there have been sparks, and fireworks, at times. It’s not just that we come from different walks of life, but the very simple fact that I am a female and Ben is male. We are wired differently. What floats my boat does nothing to his. Through constant communication, understanding and selflessness, we are learning to love each other better.
 
Our love for each other transcends colour. What makes Ben amazing is what he is made of. He is a man of honour, a man of love, a man of gentleness and courage, a man of respect and loyalty, and a man of his word. He can be green for all that I care, as long as he is my Ben whom I love. 
 
Having said that, we have discovered some of the differences amongst colours. I had never known what sunburn really looks like until I met Ben, and Ben didn’t realise how scars could take years to go away on darker skin. I don’t bruise readily, if at all, whereas Ben turns pink and blue quite easily. These differences make our life much more interesting and add to the excitement of our discovery.
 
We have had our fair share of inputs from others, which have not always been encouraging – opinions that “we should stick to our own kind,” and comments that question the reasons for our marriage, such as a British passport being a deciding factor. At times it did feel like we had a lot to prove. But very soon, the significant overtook the needless, and all that mattered was “us.”
 
The story goes on as we so look forward to this Valentine’s Day, just another day, and another reason to let us know how much we love each other, and celebrate this gift of love we are blessed with. In a world of temporariness, we are blessed with something lasting; in a world of division, we are united as one; in this world of doubt we have trust and in a world divided by colour, we live blind in the safety of love. 

Hue: A Matter of Colour, features the Dark is Beautiful Campaign at the International Film Festival, 2014

February, 2014 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

HUE: A MATTER OF COLOUR screening at the International Film Festival, Mumbai

The Dark is Beautiful Campaign is featured in this documentary with a story that reveals the toxic effects of skin colour bias in the country

  
Chennai, 1stFebruary 2014: Sepia Films, Canada and Women of Worth, the Chennai based NGO is proud to announce the screening of documentary film HUE: A MATTER OF COLOUR at the Mumbai International Film Festival on 4th February 2014, at 11am at the TATA Theatre.  The film is directed by the acclaimed Vic Sarin, an Indian born Canadian-American film director, producer and cinematographer who has to his credit films like Partition, Margaret’s Museum, Left Behind and Dancing in the Dark.  HUE had its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival in front of a sold out crowd. 

Hue, which was filmed by Vic Sarin in over 10 countries, including many regions in India, is a personal heart-felt investigation into the history and often-tragic effects of colourism – the phenomenon whereby people within the same ethnic group discriminate against each other based on differences in skin tone.  Sarin travels across the globe to discuss this complex cross-cultural social issue with individuals whose lives it affects.  What Sarin discovered was more than just eye opening, “Having the spectrum of different shades of skin is what gives us the richness in human beauty.  Each and every shade is worth worshiping.”
Sarin is excited about having the film’s international premiere in Mumbai, for several reasons, “Well the story is relevant to my birthplace, it is a personal story and I feel that the it is only right that the film steps out internationally on this stage, as I am sure this story will be especially interesting to an Indian audience.”
Women of Worth’s founder Kavitha Emmanuel who launched the Dark is Beautiful campaign in 2009, said,  In 2012 we  received an invitation from Sepia Films in Canada to participate in this documentary that features the issue of colourism across different cultures around the globe. We were happy to have been featured in this documentary directed by Mr Vic Sarin that brings to light an issue that has been swept under the carpet for several decades.
With this documentary the DISB campaign gives another opportunity for India to seriously consider the implications of the belief that a person’s worth is measured by the fairness of their skin.

The  Dark is Beautiful campaign went viral on social media since 2013 with celebrities like Nandita Das, AnuHasan, TannishthaChatterjee, ShekharKapur, Wilbur Sargunaraj, RupinderNagra, Vishaka Singh, Khushboo and others backing the campaign. 
‘The story of Sapna Abraham featured in the film is representative of India’s obsession with fair skin’ added Ms. Emmanuel. “Her story is what convinced me to initiate the campaign in 2009. We are talking about real life experiences of people as we address this issue.”

About Vic Sarin and Sepia Films
Vic Sarin is one of Canada’s most celebrated Directors of Photography, receiving numerous accolades including Genie, Gemini and Emmy nominations and awards among others. He is the recipient of the prestigious Kodak Lifetime Achievement Award for having created some of Canadian cinema’s most moving and memorable images.
Sepia Films is a feature film production company specializing in international co- production, with a mandate to make quality, commercially viable feature films for the global marketplace. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Sepia focuses on telling great stories in unique ways and in a variety of genres to make movies that resonate with audiences both domestically and abroad.

About WOW: Women of Worth (WOW) is a network empowering women to be agents of change. Based in Chennai, WOW trains students in soft skills such as media literacy, gender issues and personality development. WOW initiated the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign in 2009.

Media Contact:
Anita Samuel: +91-9003222851,
Email: darkisbeautiful@womenofworth.in
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/darkisbeautiful
Petition:
http://www.change.org/darkisbeautiful

Amazing This Way

A mother and her daughter talk about colour and confidence

by Pranuthi Bunyan | With a poem by Sanchitha Rahael Sathyadass

As a mother, I have heard people come up to us and make statements such as, “Your younger son has a better colour than the others!” And this would at most times be in front of the kids. It’s ridiculous!

Our three kids, Sanchitha (12 years), Tharan (9) and Vivaan (3) are three different shades. We consciously reinforce to them that each shade is precious–one chocolate, one coffee and one caramel! 

Also, we emphasize that God has created each one fearfully and wonderfully and makes no mistakes!

 
Sanchu, as we call her, is a born artist. She loves to dance and sing and is a part of a children’s choir called “Shine,” and has formed little singing quartet called the “Four-tunes”! When she was in public school, she was sometimes ridiculed by her classmates for her colour. It would make her upset at first.
 
One time my eldest son was made fun of at school; one boy called him “black Tharan” in front of me. I immediately asked the child if Tharan’s hair and face were the same colour. When he sheepishly said no,  I told him to learn his colours better!
 

While there are people who are around who make senseless statements, there have also been others who have been an encouragement. There was an opportunity last Christmas when the two eldest kids were featured in a music video. Opportunities such as these and focus on their inner strengths and gifts, have been the main factors in developing a confidence that we have seen, especially in Sanchu over the last few years. We hope that the two boys will also develop their strengths and live as confident people.

When asked to write for Dark is Beautiful, Sanchu was apprehensive initially. But when we told her that this was helping to campaign for a cause that it would help bring awareness to several others and help create a world that is free of discrimination on the basis of colour, especially for the next generations, she cheerfully agreed! In a matter of minutes, she said a little prayer and had the poem thought out, typed out and formatted!

Amazing this way
by Sanchitha Rahael Sathyadass, age 12

Black or white,

Red or blue,

We are the same,

And that is true.

Lotions, perfumes,

Face washes and soaps,

Make you think that

You should glow.

 



Washing your face 

And applying cream

Is unnecessary.

You look amazing

Just this way,

Cause dark is beautiful,

And that’s what we say.

Emami says ‘no’ to leading the change against skin colour bias. Discriminatory Fair and Handsome ad will continue

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WOW’s petition on Change.org against Fair and Handsome ad garners a one on meet with the top brass of EMAMI

January 18th, 2014, Kolkatta — Women of Worth (WOW) , the Chennai based NGO behind the Dark is Beautiful Campaign, was invited today to a one on one meeting with Mr. Mohan Goenka, Director of Emami Group.

This was in response to a petition drive on Change.org against Fair and Handsome ad which has garnered more than 25000 online signatures from across the length and breadth of the country and  even from many countries across the world, notably Pakistan, Middle Eastern countries, a few African nations, USA, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and UK.

At a closed door meeting in EMAMI’s headquarters in Kolkata with Mr. Goenka, Director, EMAMI and Ms. Mahasweta  Sen, GM,  Corporate Communications, Ms. Kavitha Emmanuel, Founder Director, Women of Worth, requested EMAMI to consider removing the Fair and Handsome advertisement  from television screens, hoardings and magazines. She further challenged Mr. Goenka to lead the change in the current trend in fairness–products marketing and make a difference by addressing the issue of skin colour bias in the nation head on.   

In response Mr. Goenka said that the advertisement will continue as they are meeting a need in the society based on their market research. He believes whitening is a global phenomenon and a trend and changing mindsets might be impossible. During the discussion he stressed how preference for fair skin has been there for generations and changing it now did not make sense. When quizzed about the 25,000 petitioners who are saying that the ad is discriminatory he said, ‘in a country with billion people I cannot answer every individual’s petition!’

“If people want to be like Shah Rukh Khan, there is nothing wrong with it. If they want to be fair, it is an aspiration,” he said. Ms. Mahasweta Sen added that ‘if the cream is helping people be more confident, what is wrong with that?’

Talking about the future of this campaign, Ms. Emmanuel added, “We hope that brands and brand ambassadors will listen to the united voices that are calling for new attitudes and new products that appreciate and celebrates the diverse skin tones in a land of 1.2 billion shades of skin. The campaign will continue to address the issue of skin colour bias and tackle unfair advertising practises with the Advertising Standards Council of India and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.”

About WOW: Women of Worth (WOW) is a network empowering women to be agents of change. Based in Chennai, WOW trains students in soft skills such as media literacy, gender issues and personality development. WOW initiated the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign in 2009.

Media Contact: Lydia Durairaj , +919940358429
Email: darkisbeautiful@gmail.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/darkisbeautiful

Celebrating “YOU” in 2014!

By Kavitha Emmanuel | Director of Women of Worth

Design Props: 6 pm Designs


Celebration has always been the mood of this campaign!

While we battle toxic notions of beauty based on skin colour we need to remember that celebrating who we are is the first step towards bringing about change in our environment. This has always been our underlying emphasis – to celebrate people for their innate worth and value. 

Photo by: Anu Anna Jacob

Looking back at the year gone by makes me wonder. We have done a lot as a campaign, but have we actually made a dent yet in expunging the belief that fair skin alone is beautiful? 


I am grateful for all the attention this campaign has received. But I believe we have a long road to tread. And the walk begins in our own homes. 

It begins with us, our parents, our grandparents, our in-laws, and others who influence our choices and lifestyles. It begins with us choosing to not judge people based on skin colour, or use hurtful nicknames, or compare siblings of different skin shades, or choose your life partner based solely on his/her skin colour. 

And if you witness someone judging or being hurtful because of skin colour, don’t shy away from a conversation that would challenge them to think differently.

Please remember that while we battle this toxic belief, our values are what steer our actions. Here are a few:

  • 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 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 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 in building unity in diversity and endorse the celebration of all skin tones from white and wheatish to dark and dusky.


While the Dark is Beautiful team continues to make plans to address the issue from different fronts, we request your continued support. We will be meeting with Mr Goenka, Director, Emami, to discuss our petition response on January 18
th 2014. While we do our bit, we look to you, our supporters to be our voice from wherever you are.

 

You could host a DISB party, a doodle hang-out or a petition drive in your neighbourhood – anything to keep the discussion going. Continue to tell us your stories, your struggles and challenges. Do stay in touch with us and dare to be colour blind in your circles!

 

So this year, let’s plan to celebrate ‘beauty beyond colour’!