By Sai Tharshini Varathan | A Dark is Beautiful Campaigner
I come from the wonderful and multicultural land of Malaysia. Malaysia is filled with diverse people that are generally friendly. But often, I get to hear a lot of painfully discriminatory comments because of my skin colour, I used to feel hurt and wondered what was so wrong in being dark?
I was once told to go to the temple and pray for a new face; to ask the Goddess for a better and fairer complexion. Of everything I have been told about my skin colour, this was the comment that really hurt.
My family is an upper middle class family and I’ve been fortunate to always have their support. The one person who really helped me is my MOM. She instilled confidence in me. She taught me to stand tall and be the best. When people mocked the colour of my skin and discriminated against me, she taught me to say, “Thank You.” People stopped teasing as they couldn’t make me feel bad anymore and they didn’t get the reaction they wanted.
Now, when people offer me fairness creams, I do find it hurtful, but I have learned to say “No. I do not need it. I am happy being a dark person and I find being dark is something lovely”.
I want to tell the people in Malaysia, my people, that being dark is not something dirty, disgusting or unwanted. Dark can be elegant and pretty. Dark can be ambitious and proud. Dark can be studious and over achieving. Because it does not depend on how dark or how fair a person’s skin is.
Dear Malaysia, will you join me and dare to be colour blind?
Sai Tharishini Varathan is a 19 yrs old medical student from Malaysia.
She loves to travel, make friends, and everything to do with science.
During her free time, she writes her own stories and wishes to publish them someday. She also loves to sing and participate in dramas.
By Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder & Director of Women of Worth
Have you ever wondered where skin colour bias originated from? I have. And frankly speaking, there is no simple answer. Skin colour bias is so much a part of our culture that if we tracked it down to see the real enemies it would possibly point to all of us, our families, our extended families, our society, our ancestors etc.
We are all guilty of either propagating or tolerating this age-old bias. Most people are unaware that such a bias can actually affect people in a deep way.
A campaign like, ’Dark is Beautiful’ (by Women of Worth) has as its core mission the task of exposing the issue, educating people on its effects on society and encouraging those who have experienced trauma because of skin colour bias to regain their confidence and self-worth.
Since our petition on Change.org to ‘take down’ Emami’s discriminatory “Fair and Handsome” ad, many have asked us the question: Why not other brands? Why only Emami? Why only Shah Rukh Khan?” Are they the only ones who are guilty of ‘unfair advertising’ or responsible for skin colour discrimination?
Not at all! If we had chosen some other brand’s ad, we still would have faced this question. Change has to begin somewhere.
The word ‘petition’ actually means ‘request’ or ‘appeal’. By posting a petition we are actually requesting Emami and Shah Rukh Khan to ‘lead the change’.
Several well-wishers of Mr. Khan are worried whether the campaign is aimed against him. I wish to reiterate that the campaign is against skin colour bias and not against Mr. Khan as any individual.
We do want to see Emami’s discriminatory ad taken down. We do want King Khan to stop endorsing products that promote skin colour discrimination. Those are our requests.
People often argue that products are manufactured to meet a demand among the masses. The demand-and-supply model cannot be an excuse to override responsible business ethics. An issue as serious as skin-colour discrimination cannot be ignored. A healthy society will be on the look out to sort out its discriminatory practices.
Today we are proud of having moved ahead in our perceptions of dowry, our society’s preference for male offspring and various other practices that reflect gender bias or discrimination. Why have we ignored skin-colour bias? The demand-and-supply model cannot be the easy answer to playing on the existing bias or insecurities of an entire group of people. We are and should be more responsible than that!
The Dark is Beautiful campaign seeks to address this complex issue in various ways.
At the launch of the campaign in 2009, we hosted contests in painting, photography, short stories and poetry on the theme “Dark is Beautiful’ to give people a chance to express their views through art. We held a Dark is Beautiful Concert, Book Reading, and Art Gallery in collaboration with British Council, Chennai premises.
|DisB Launch Concert Emceed by VJ Paloma Rao
Our media literacy module spreads awareness among school and college students that ‘beauty is beyond colour.’
|Media Literacy Workshops for High School Students
Our blog series called SURVIVING DISCRIMINATION showcases stories of men and women who have overcome the discriminating effects of skin colour bias or of those who are still trying to figure a way out.
Our social media platforms gives people a place to share their thoughts on the issue vent, find support and feel understood.
In March 2012, the campaign organized our first flash mob at Elliot’s Beach, Chennai and released a TVC featuring one of our brand ambassadors Anu Hasan. The event was chaired by Mr. Pratip Philip, Inspector General, Chennai Police. The flash mob’s slogan was “Why this colour-veri?” chosen after the famous Tamil hit song “Why this Kola-veri di?”
|Anu Hasan was the first celebrity endorsement the campaign received
|Why this Colour Veri? Expression Board
Over the past two years, celebrities like Anu Hasan, Nandita Das, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Vishaka Singh have lent their support. Their participation in the campaign has gained us visibility and media attention.
|Nandita Das challenges skin colour bias
The petition, as you can see, is one among the various initiatives of the campaign. We are well aware that skin colour bias is so deep rooted in our society and that it has to be seen and addressed from different angles.
Media Literacy and Responsible Advertising
However, having said all of the above we acknowledge the need for responsible advertising which, whether we like it or not, plays a huge role in shaping and influencing the way people think and act. If this were not true why would brands want to use stars to sell their products?
From rural India to the most educated in urban India people look up to icons like Shah Rukh Khan. We celebrate and esteem stars as role models. Therefore, it is only right that we require them to exercise a certain sense of responsibility towards their countrymen. They are not just entertainers. They are prominent voices in the nation that people from all walks of life stop and listen to. Our petition is simply this: Please say ‘no’ to skin colour bias!
Show us that you care!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kavitha is passionate about campaigning for issues concerning women, children and the underprivileged. She finds great fulfillment in helping women realize their dreams and live up to their full potential. She founded Women of Worth (WOW) with a vision to empower, train and motivate women to ‘Be the Best They can Be’. She is always looking for opportunities to create avenues for change that will make the world a better place for women.
By Sudha Menon | A Dark is Beautiful Campaigner
If you have grown up in a dark brown skin, like I have, you have possible heard this sentence many times in your life: ” She is dark but smart”, ” She is not dark, just dusky. And, very intelligent”. “She is nice. A little dark, but nice…”
I grew up in an age when being dark was a horrible fate. Being dark meant either being noticed because of your dark colour or worse still, ignored or neglected to such a point that you begin to feel you don’t exist. That people can’t see you.
Growing up, I remember the best years of my childhood were spent in clothes that were shades of either grey or brown so that I felt I was a mouse that disappeared into the background. Dark people could not carry reds, blues and greens was the thought back then but every time loving family members brought me yet another grey or brown dress for my birthday, my heart broke a little more.
If you look at photographs from my childhood you can spot me immediately. I am the girl in the corner of the frame, angry eyes staring down the photographer, almost willing him to make me look lovely, despite the drabness of my clothes. In many ways , I think the colourlessness of my clothes made affected my personality for a long time. I was a shy kid with few friends and I became a rebel to boot, possibly to get some attention for myself.
My parents and siblings never made me feel I was any lesser. My father, in fact, would proudly say I was his prettiest baby but the community around reminded me of the colour of my skin at every opportunity, not by talking about it but in subtler ways that hurt way more than that….
I never did know how to verbalize my hurt back then but my heart yearned to wear bright red, emerald green, orange and pink. It is possibly a hangover from my childhood that my cupboard is now full of these colours:-)
I celebrate colour and revel in wearing every hue of the rainbow.
Somewhere along the way I learnt also to look at life in a more cheerful way. Maybe it was because I felt so much on the fringes of life, side-lined and neglected, that I have grown up to be a person with empathy and compassion and a sensitivity towards the differentness of people. I seek out diversity in life and have made it my mission to celebrate that in every manner possible.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sudha Menon is a long-time journalist and author of best-selling non-fiction books, Leading Ladies; Women Who Inspire India and the recently launched Legacy-letters to their daughters from eminent men and women. After a childhood where she fought with the demons of self-doubt and a deep-rooted complex about the colour of her skin, she says she found her calling in becoming a “chronicler of people’s lives.”
By Chandra Vadhana | An UNfair & Beautiful contributor
Right from childhood I developed a BIG inferiority complex because I was dark.
I had the privilege of being schooled at one of the best convent schools in my locality, despite being born in a middle class family. In fact, I was one of the darkest in my class and hence the most “un-preferred” for any on-stage events. And that made me shy away from getting on the stage, even when I was sure of my capabilities.
I used to cry and shout at my mother for giving birth to me dark. She was actually fairer and I used to be jealous of her beauty. But she was a woman of substance. She always motivated me and instilled great strength in me. Her belief in me made me realize that i can achieve anything in life and that my abilities are never connected with my skin colour.
She did two good things after my convent education: first she put me in an aided college, where there were girls I could relate to and shared my dark skin. Secondly, she forced me to join NCC and sent me to all the leadership camps, which helped bring out my capabilities as a speaker, communicator and as a motivated leader.
The first NCC camp was rough, but I kept with it and went on to become the best cadet in Kerala, got selected for the Republic Day parade, went on a youth exchange program and won many medals. My NCC training also helped build my confidence.
I went on to do my MBA from CUSAT. I also did my M.Sc. in Psychology and I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in Psychometrics.
I love my job as an RJ and voice artist, where I get to use my talent to communicate with the community. In spite of my many accomplishments and awards, I do feel sad that I don’t get on-stage work as an anchor due to the colour of my skin.
I went on to marry a man who is fair and handsome, who loves me and my kids more than anything else and skin colour is never an issue in our home.
I can say I’m a successful and accomplished dark skinned woman! I have overcome my inferiority complex of dark skin and in the past many years, I have motivated a lot of youngsters by taking personality development classes.
Finally, I believe that the concept of inferiority complex is a pure business strategy for a billion dollar industry that’s thriving because of the fairness creams. I believe this stigma can be wiped away only when more and more dark skinned women are in media’s limelight!
And, yes, lets Throw Out That Tubeof fairness products right out the windows!
The Chandra Vadhana Story is the first of the Surviving Discrimination posts. If you have overcome skin colour bias and would like to share your story to inspire change among young men and women, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chandra Vadhana is a Voice artist, Radio Jockey and a Trainer based at Cochin. She is also a blogger and publishes at www.ceeveescorner.blogspot.com or http://www.facebook.com/pages/RJ-Chandra/425925877501447