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.
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.
A Philosopher’s View
By Ajoy Varghese | A Dark is Beautiful Supporter
Humans not only perceive beauty, but also have the unique ability to describe it and to judge it.
The “Dark is Beautiful” campaign has an underlying assumption— that Beauty exists! It is a clear reference to the ubiquitous existence of beauty in our world. It is also a bold challenge to social attempts to fracture beauty. One attempt to do so is by pitting one skin colour against another. The campaign asserts that that beauty is not contained in one colour but in many— individually and together. The campaign also asserts that beauty is not skin deep.
Prior to the Dark is Beautiful campaign, when was the last time you actually heard a public debate on beauty? Not likely that you did. Not surprising, either. It’s easier to use a TV ad to assault your senses than to present a logical argument to challenge your reason.
I recently heard a male celebrity protest that he had every right to choose his skin colour. How can you argue with that? Except that when a personal preference is advertised as a public good, it has made itself a subject of public scrutiny and judgment. So, if a celebrity says that endorsing a product is his right, then the public has an equal right (and I think, an obligation) to judge it. Else, his personal preference must be parked within the confines of his own thinking.
It’s a pity that we have allowed the contemporary discourse on beauty to be hijacked by beauty pageants and advertisers. Both groups are in bed together— cultural elite who seek to control and manipulate the minds of the masses by entering the citizen’s mind through the backdoor of the senses and not through the front door of Reason.
|Beauty exists. Science cannot reduce it. Religion cannot deny it. (Photo: western4uk)
How can we begin to think more deeply about beauty? Here are some preliminary considerations.
We don’t all agree on what it means to be beautiful. Some find Madonna beautiful. Others disagree. They find Mother Teresa’s face beautiful. I should not be surprised that not everybody finds babies and sunsets beautiful. We implicitly recognize that beauty defies straightforward objective standardization.
Not surprisingly, all cultures have their own notions of beauty and happily disagree about what it means to be beautiful. The fact of beauty is an objective reality. Our interpretationsof beauty are subjective and culturally influenced.
Beauty stirs us: A blade of grass glistening in the sunlight, a child’s laughter, haunting lyrics, the face of a woman, the integrity of a truth-teller and a graceful prowling tiger. There are moments in life when we encounter beauty and we have a heart-arrest, an out-of-body experience, transportation outside of ourselves. When beauty grips us, we are less preoccupied with ourselves. Sometimes, it makes us blush. At other times, it evokes awe.
It appears that we are the only species that recognizes beauty. This is no mere evolutionary superiority. While animals’ instinctive biological drive is excited by colour, scent, sound, etc., humans’ perception goes beyond the sensory. We have the unique ability to describe beauty and to judge it. We write songs about it or produce pieces of art around it. We even fight over what we consider beautiful. Pascal wryly remarked that “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”
Beauty exists. Science cannot reduce it. Religion cannot deny it.
So, what does this unique ability to discern beauty tell us? Does it say anything at all? Is it simply brute fact or a signifier? Well, that’s a discussion for another day.
“Though She Is Dark, She Is a Nice Girl”
By AJ Franklin | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner
Growing up, I was teased by classmates for being a crow, urged by relatives to apply fairness creams and finally, when it came to marriage, I was told in advance that people would expect lots of dowry from my family because I’m dark.
According to most of my relatives, we had to enlist me in a matrimonial services provider, so we went to a suitable one and I filled in a host of forms. On each form, after the basics, there was a slot for skin colour. I went ahead and ticked the box that said “dark complexioned.”
The person in charge read the form and made a funny face at me, as though I had made a stupid mistake. She pointed at the skin colour box and said, “Please change that to ‘wheat complexioned.’”
I asked why, and she rolled her eyes at me and said in Tamil that it was standard procedure for any girl of my “karuppu” skin to tick “wheat complexioned” to boost my chances of “catching” a groom.
Holding back both anger and laughter, I asked the million-dollar question, “What will they say when they see me in person?” She replied, “Just get a facial bleach done before they come to see you, or tell them you tanned over the summer.”
I smiled politely, told her I’d rather not lie, and re-ticked “dark.” She shook her head ever so disapprovingly. And that was just a regular Tuesday for the unmarried dark girl.
I laughed my head off and told my parents and so called well-wishers that I’d rather be single than marry someone who looks at my skin, and not my character, for a lifetime of being husband and wife. I was quickly labeled “stubborn” and “picky” and preparations were well on their way, under my nose. I told my parents that the most I could do was to humour them by actually agreeing to meet these prospective grooms and their parents.
So the grooms arrived with their parents in tow, looked me up and down and asked ever so candidly about dowry and skin colour, stating how unfortunate it was for my parents to have not one, but two, dark girls. Most were willing to “accept” me for a fat dowry. I said a polite “no” and turned all of them away.
Then I met the man who would shock our society by marrying me whilst being much fairer than I; that too without a single rupee of dowry, much to his parents’ dismay. Post wedding, I had it tough from Day 1. All his relatives were confused as to why my husband had married me. They asked him questions like these, mostly while I was also present:
“Did you do something wrong with her before marriage?”
“Didn’t you find a fairer girl?”
“Is she pressuring you to marry her?”
“Couldn’t you have waited for God to send you a better girl?”
“Aren’t you worried that your children will be born dark?”
His parents acted like they had to say something in my defense, but usually ended up saying, “Though she is dark, she is a nice girl.”
I thought that the dark skin abuse would stop when I conceived. Oh, was I mistaken! Free advice was given by all on what to eat/not to eat to give birth to a fair child.
Each time I picked up black grapes, tea, jamun or strong coffee, my in-laws made me put it down saying that black-coloured foods will darken my growing fetus!
I was forced to add saffron to my milk to whiten my baby. My poor husband was torn between me and his dear parents. We had such bad fights. I cried, refused to eat, and shunned visits because I was so depressed.
My in-laws prayed that if it were a girl, she should take after her father and be of “nalla colour” and if it was a boy, it would not matter, but it would be nice if he, too would be fair.
Soon as my daughter arrived, I was shown such love, because “SHE WAS BORN WHITE.” It was all celebrations for my in-laws because their granddaughter was like her father— fair, and not like her dark mother.
Sadly, my in-laws are still are going on and on about my skin colour. I took a stand and stopped talking to them after a long fight on the subject. They crossed a line when they said that I somehow darkened my daughter’s skin after I took her home.
I am sure that these people sound inhuman to you, but they are meek, middle-class, religious, simple southern folk.
All around our society is this vile bias against dark skin. Till now, this has been a bias that no one speaks about very openly. It has been brushed aside or laughed at, and for the dark person, taken in stride as a “flaw” one has to live with.
Why can’t most people just accept my dark skin? I personally feel that it is because this idea of “fair and lovely” had been drilled into children’s heads from birth by parents, teachers and the ads that very cleverly brainwash them from the day they begin to watch TV.
It’s time stop teaching our children that that the princess in the story is “as fair as can be.”
It’s time to say that fair isn’t the only kind of lovely.
It’s time to embrace the dark child.
It’s time to view people as human beings, and not a shade of colour.
Dark is not bad, dark is not unlucky, dark is not ugly.
Stand up and say it: “Dark is beautiful.”
By Kavitha Emmanuel | Director, Women of Worth
This Diwali let’s take a pledge to esteem all people based on their innate value and not judge them based on their skin colour. In celebrating skin colour diversity we give back to people the dignity they deserve. In the past this was not seen as a serious issue. Dark skinned people were expected to take negative comments about their skin colour in their stride and not make a big deal of it. But this Diwali let’s make a big deal of letting our nation know that radiant comes in every colour.
This Diwali let’s decide to lead change!
There’s something we can all do to celebrate 1.2 billion shades!