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.
My 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.
Model in the pic: Mary Smrutha Paul (DISB Ambassador, Hyderabad)
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:
“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.
My 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 courage. Many of our readers were inspired and encouraged to follow her example as they face life’s challenges
Hi! 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.
Hi 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.
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?
By Kavitha Emmanuel
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Touch the ground.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Polish the shoes.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Off to school.
Here’s a cute rhyme we teach kids to motivate them to go to school. But our children aren’t teddy bears in the first place and they need more than just ‘shoes’ to go to school.
As parents, let’s make sure that our kids are well-prepared to face the next year in school.
I want to urge parents everywhere to not just look out for your child’s academic performance but also for their physical safety and emotional well-being as well. This will go a long way in grooming your child to be the best that they can be.
Parents have talked to me about their child being bullied in school for their skin colour. Children hurt within when they see their ‘fairer’ siblings or friends get more attention and are chosen for school performances. One parent recalled how no one wanted to sit next to her child in school because she was dark. I have spoken to grown-ups who have shared how this bias forced them to retreat into a shell or has affected their sense of self-esteem.
Our child needs our attention towards their emotional needs. Let’s not ignore them. Let’s not forget to speak words of affirmation and love every day! If there is any clear instance of skin colour bias in the child’s school please do address it with their teacher and school authorities.
Another area we need to watch out for is the child’s physical safety at school. Talk to your child about safety. Don’t simply give out instructions like: ‘don’t go there!’ or ‘don’t talk to strangers.’ Spend time talking with them about why those instructions are important. This can be done without instilling fear into the child but for the purpose of inculcating good sense and understanding. There are numerous resources and counseling material available to aid parents with these tough conversations.
Please remember that most often physical abuse happens in known surroundings with known people. The abuser often wins the trust of the child and the family. Don’t ignore a child’s comments like: ’the driver gave me a chocolate and only me’ or ‘I don’t like the way my teacher hugs me’ or even ‘don’t ask uncle to pick me up. I don’t like waiting at their place till you come home’. Let us listen, observe, and see if the child is trying to communicate something beyond those words. Watch out for changes in behavior and emotional outbursts!
Learning to listen to our children’s emotional needs is as important as meeting their physical needs. We live in a more complicated world than we were used to as children. Children have increased access to media with a growing need to discern these media messages every day. We live busier lives today which may lead to missing our children’s warning signals. Let’s cultivate the habit of spending quality time with our children. Set aside a few minutes every day where each child gets undivided attention and support to say what they want without fear of rejection. Let them feel listened to. Let them know that they can come to us when they are in trouble or when they are feeling blue. Our children need to learn to handle LIFE and not just focus on grades.
Join our campaigns and stay aware!
About The Author
Kavitha Emmanuel is the Founder and Director of Women of Worth. Since 2009 she has been changing mindsets nationally and globally to end skin colour bias with the Dark is Beautiful campaign. In 2013 she began advocating safety for women and children through the Girl Arise campaign. Ms. Emmanuel has also initiated the Safe Schools Project that equips schools to proactively engage in creating safe campuses for their students.
To order Colour Blind T-Shirts write to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Tee-order” as the subject line. Delivery only within India
By Sharon Muthu
The Sunshine Paradox
It was a beautiful, sunny, typical Southern California day. After a couple weeks of cold and rainy weather, it was a joy to see Los Angeles back to its usual balmy splendor: Flowers blooming, the sweet scent of summer in the air, and Californians overjoyed to be outside, wearing their light breezy attire, adorned in sunglasses, and sipping iced coffees.
Stand Proudly in the Sunshine
I had been craving the sunshine for many days now, and couldn’t wait to get outside. I hurried to throw on a loose-fitting t-shirt and workout pants, and practically ran to the front door, my little doggy trailing close behind me, his tail wagging uncontrollably. With child-like joy, the two of us headed outside. That first breath of summer-like air was heaven, perfumed with jasmine and fresh-cut grass. The glorious California sun hit my face for the first time in days; warm, bright, soul-soothing. I smiled, breathing deeply, and shut my eyes to soak it all in.
Suddenly I heard a nagging voice echo from somewhere deep inside me, full of fear as it abruptly eclipsed my happiness: I better put a hat on & stay in the shade, or my skin might get too dark.
Using Positive Self Talk
“Whoa! What was that?!,” I thought, alarmed as my eyes sprung open. Immediately, a stronger inner-voice overtook the nagging one: “STOP! Sharon Muthu, you get that negative, old, toxic, incorrect thought out of your mind now. You know that it has no validity. You are smarter than that. You are braver than that.”
Whew. I stood for a moment truly shocked, because thoughts like that are very rare for me these days. I’ve come to embrace and love my dark skin over the years. Yet there it was; The horrible result of old-world conditioning that was somehow still lingering in the back of my mind, sneaking up on me like a knee-jerk reaction at the very mention of the word “sunshine.”
I was grateful for the voice of truth had come to my rescue. I had to tell myself, “These negative thoughts are toxic and false. I will not perpetuate such nonsense for myself or anyone else. I am smarter than that. I am braver than that. I will enjoy this long-awaited sunshine because it is natural and beautiful. And, whether or not my skin turns darker remains irrelevant, for I will still be beautiful, regardless.”
And once more, grounded in this absolute truth, my little dog and I set off for a long morning walk, happily drenched in the Southern California sunlight.
Colourism Buried Deep Inside Me
As I walked on, I reflected on the momentary inner-conflict that had just occurred. What was that voice of doubt and shame? When did it begin? Why does it sometimes rear its ugly head even when I’m feeling so happy and confident about myself? Why do I continue to face the demons and battle the ghosts of my childhood?
I am still my six-year-old self hearing my South Asian community elders telling me to, “Always keep out of the sun if you don’t want to be dark.” I am still the twelve-year-old adolescent girl being bombarded by ads for creams and scrubs, promising beauty (and ultimately, validation) by virtue of lighter skin. I am still the twenty-year-old young woman who hears others saying condescendingly, “Sharon, you’re very dark, but still pretty enough.” And, today, I am a grown woman who is deeply affected by the constant battles of racism & skin-colour bias that plague every culture, at every level of society.
A Little Sunshine On Your Face
My friends, change begins with us: It begins within our own families, within our communities, with how we teach our children. But, most importantly, it begins within our individual minds.
I can tell you from experience, it does get easier. The more I reaffirm these truths for myself each day, the more it becomes effortless to do so. The more I help to spread awareness, the more awareness I receive in my own journey. The more I see beauty in others, no matter our similarities or differences, the more beautiful I feel within myself. And, suddenly, those negative thoughts fade from my mind more quickly than ever before.
So, raise your voices loudly and proudly: We are ALL beautiful, just the way we are. And, I promise you – A little sunshine on your face won’t ever change that.
About the Author:
Sharon Muthu is an actress, voiceover artist, and singer, based out of Los Angeles, CA. She serves as the “Ambassador to Hollywood” for the international awareness campaign, Dark is Beautiful. She strongly supports and encourages the rise of ethnic diversity in Hollywood, and she hopes to be a prominent part of the next chapter of South Asian talents being featured in mainstream American entertainment.
By Kavita Emmanuel | Founder and Director, WOW
Happy Women’s Day 2015 to all the women out there!
These wishes come from a heavy heart but with all sincerity that I can muster at a time when India is shocked at her own attitude towards women.
“We have the best culture. In our culture there is no space for a woman,” says ML Sharma.
Do you wonder what goes on in people’s mind when they make such statements? Do they really hold on to such archaic world views? Have we not progressed with all the awareness surrounding us on gender equality?
Should Leslie Udwin’s film be released? – is the hot debate at the moment in the country. Frankly, I am more shocked by what the defense lawyers, ML Sharma and AP Singh, have said.
Can our lawyers use male chauvinism, misogyny, and patriarchy as a legal defense for rape and murder? How does condoning acts of violence against women and blaming these actions on culture not bring us shame beyond recovery? On the other hand, are these defenses mere excuses to not allow the finer, mature side of human nature to take over one’s baser instincts?
To me, this statement is the essence of a fallen human nature; a human behavior that so vehemently and arrogantly parades its desire to manipulate and oppress fellow humans.
My greatest fear is this: Why isn’t everyone infuriated by these statements or do some people in some sense agree with what is being said? How long will we continue to hear: “A girl should be home before 6,” or “Boys will be boys,” or “her dress invites trouble.”
Government schemes for the empowerment of women, new laws to protect women and the campaigns for equality by women for women focus on one half of the gender equation. There is another half that we can no longer ignore. For too long we have ignored the empowerment of men. The truth is that most men today pathetically display their need to be empowered.
We need to send the message of equality to our boys in our schools and colleges who are so accustomed to seeing gender based discrimination play out right before their eyes.
If we do not address gender inequality now, we will continue to raise male leaders and influencers endorsing the same old dehumanizing attitude towards women.
If we do not address gender inequality now, our generation will have a hand in perpetuating the norm that says empowerment is good so as long as it does not challenge gender roles and a man’s place in society.
Our boys need to be taught to question societal norms that limit women. They need to come alongside us women to stand up and say: Men and women, we are equal. Men and women, together we can reclaim the dignity, value and worth that belong to women.
The ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign’s focus last year was to start city chapters in India. So far, we have been able to successfully initiate conversations with some of our ardent supporters in Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. We have even managed to do awareness events and workshops in these cities.
At this point, the most active and happening city chapter is our Mumbai Chapter. We have always felt welcomed in the city and have built great friendships and partnerships in the last year alone. From the lecture at St. Xavier’s College, to the presentation at the Kahani Karnival, the city is all set to tune in to the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ mission of celebrating ‘beauty beyond colour’.
Today, I want to introduce to you one of our Mumbai Chapter Coordinators. We met Hazel Correa for the first time in Mumbai during our petition delivery trip in September 2013. Though I couldn’t spend much time with her then, I got to know her during my subsequent visits to Mumbai. Last year, when I approached her about being a part of the Mumbai Chapter, she willingly and promptly said ‘yes’! Since then, the WOW team has enjoyed working with Hazel.
– Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder and Director, WOW
Love The Skin You’re In
I was probably around six years old when I distinctly realized there was a difference between my siblings’ skin tones and mine.
I’ve tried hard to recall if I came to that understanding myself, or if it was because of what I had heard people say. My guess is that it was the latter. I was very young when I started getting picked on about my skin colour. Sometimes it was name-calling, sometimes I was excluded from games, and sometimes I just stayed away to avoid being hurt. I didn’t like my skin and I wondered why I was darker than my siblings. I wasn’t happy with the way I looked.
If it weren’t for my older sister constantly telling me that she loved my skin, and saying she wished she had my skin colour, I would probably be a very different person today. There were days when I’d come home crying. I would be upset about something some of the other kids had said to me; but my sister was always my safe haven. She would explain to me that it didn’t matter what the others thought. It was important for me to know that I was special, unique and perfect in my own way. Her unwavering support and reassurance is why, in time, I learned to not only accept the way I looked, but to love it!
As a child, things started to change when I was about twelve. I began to play sports competitively. The better I got at sports, the more popular I became. My parents encouraged me to participate in more activities. I competed in elocution and singing contests. Competing, and winning went a long way in building my self-esteem.
Going to college broadened my horizons. I met people from different parts of the country, and eventually different parts of the world. Exposure to different people, and different ways of thinking helped me evolve into the person I am today. Diversity is an amazing thing.
Today, I am happy, healthy and grateful for the life I have. My self-worth isn’t based on how I look. I don’t buy into anyone else’s perception of beauty. My wish is for each of you to be comfortable in your own skin. When you feel secure and positive about yourself, you’re bound to be naturally radiant.
When I learned about the ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ campaign, I knew immediately that I wanted to get involved. I wanted to be a part of a network of like-minded individuals who spread the message that ‘beauty is beyond colour’.
Beauty is natural. Beauty is grace, confidence and radiance. Beauty is what YOU want it to be.
About the author:
Hazel works in Governance and Internal Communications for Alcatel-Lucent. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Loyola Institute of Business Administration, Chennai and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. A native of the city, she is a ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ Mumbai Campaign Coordinator.
By Natasha Sharma | Model & Social Activist
Colour 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.
Like 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.
I 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.
ABOUT 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.