Growing up, I remember I was told countless times to exfoliate with almond and turmeric powder or to drink carrot juice to become fairer. Against my will, the Indian mindset that fairness is beauty and darker skin is a flaw became ingrained in my mind. I found myself avoiding going out during the middle of the day to prevent getting a tan and didn’t even realize how detrimental this mindset was until I reached high school.
This idea that dark is ugly is not new; it stems from Indian history and was passed down from generation to generation. Before gaining its independence, India was ruled by the Mughals and the British who were generally fairer skinned. Their subjects, who were forced to do much of the dirty work, were traditionally darker. This ruler- subject relationship in which the Indians didn’t have any power, started the process of solidifying that dark skin is bad. Even after India got its independence, this destructive mindset persisted under the guise of the caste system. The lower castes often had to work outside and were more exposed to the sun. As a result, they tended to have a darker complexion compared to individuals of the higher caste who worked inside and therefore remained fair. The mindset that fair was better was cemented and it became understood that fairer people were more powerful, more respected, and more attractive. Although the caste system was abolished seventy years ago, this mindset is yet to be removed from the people’s minds.
Our skin color, something we can’t control, is often a deciding factor when finding significant others and developing careers. It is not uncommon for Indian society to say that a girl is lucky to have gotten married “despite” her dark complexion. In 2020, it is unacceptable that such dialogue persists. Instead of praising the girl for her achievements and personality, all that is discussed is her skin color. It is impossible for girls to escape this toxic mindset that creates a link between their skin color and their beauty even in their career. For example, it is extremely difficult for girls with darker complexion to find representation in Bollywood, and when they do, it is usually in a character whom the filmmakers want the audience to think is not conventionally pretty. All the actresses are either fair or undergo a variety of cosmetic surgeries to become fair. Many children during their formative years, including me, often derive our idea of what is beautiful from the media, especially movies – an industry known for its beauty. Even in America, this idea of fair is beautiful, prevails. Only Priyanka Chopra, a fair actress, is referenced when talking about Indian beauty. However, dark-skinned actresses, such as Mindy Kaling, are never cited as examples. When children don’t see darker-skinned actresses, they start to believe that dark skin is not beautiful, and this idea often leads to a lifetime of self-worth issues and low self-confidence.
It’s easy to think that these issues don’t exist in our generation and that color does not affect the way we see each other as Gen Zers. Furthermore, both women and men are subject to the idea that fairer skin is better. Despite being in America, far from our country of origin, these beliefs are unconsciously passed down to the next generation of Indian Americans through jokes or seemingly meaningless comments made by our family and friends. These comments and jokes undoubtedly affect the way girls with darker complexion view ourselves and our self-confidence. It will definitely be a hard process to reprogram ourselves and generations of inherited mindsets. I still find myself slipping into the injurious fair-is-beautiful mindset sometimes, when I decide to stay in at noon to prevent a tan. However, the change we need will take a conscious effort from all of us to realize that our self-confidence and beauty should stem from our values, beliefs, occupations, and achievements, not our skin color. While darker-skinned people must change our self-concept, fairer-skinned people also have a part to play; they must also realize that dark skin is beautiful.