When I was born, I used to be an extremely adorable, cute and most importantly, a fair-skinned baby. I had milky white skin with soft curly hair. Everyone thought I would grow up to be an extremely pretty girl simply because of my fair complexion. But as I was growing up in my teens, my skin started turning tan. In fact people don’t believe that I am the same person as the fair baby in the photo. They even jokingly ask, “How did you become so tanned?”
I remained tanned throughout my teens all the way to adulthood.
In 2015, I started exercising more and more rigorously, lost some weight, went on a volcanic expedition and became a few shades darker. The months passed by and I increased my exercise regime by running in the sun, shed more kilos and became increasingly tanned. I have become so tanned that I now have tan lines on my body.
Whoever I met after many months make startling remarks, ‘Roshni you have become so tanned! “Roshni you have become darker,” in a slightly condescending tone.
All the aunties during our functions have nothing positive to say except for how tanned I have become, how my face is becoming darker. Although I never got offended by the belittling remarks about my skin color, it got me thinking.
Why is everyone obsessed about skin complexion?
Why do we get worried that we might become a few shades darker by going under the sun? And why do we associate beauty with fair skin complexion?
Historically, fair complexion has always been an indicator of higher social status across many societies. The poor classes, the peasants and laborers would spend many hours of the day working in the hot scorching sun and hence have a darker skin complexion than the richer classes and nobles.
Although feudalism no longer exists in many societies, human beings still have an undeniable bias towards fair complexion.
This mindset where skin color is the ultimate benchmark of beauty has permeated over the centuries and decades.
In my own community, I have seen mothers restricting their daughters from going out in the sun, telling their daughters to keep drinking milk to become fairer and even apply the infamous Fairandlovely cream.
In Thailand, where you find skin whitening products all across the country, Seoul Secret, a Thai company came under fire for their advert on skin lightening pills with the tagline “White makes you a winner.”
In Africa’s Ivory Coast, whitening products readily and widely available in shops pose so much damage to skin health that they were banned by the government a few years ago. Despite the ban, stores are still stocking up the products because of public demand and their desire to become fairer in complexion. .
In the age of digital enlightenment, we have continued to succumb to stereotypes on beauty based on fair complexion. This is the era where there is a breakthrough in science; we are opening up to new ideas, widening our wisdom and discarding our orthodox beliefs and meta narratives.
Perhaps we should analyze this stereotypical conception on skin color from a scientific/biological means- on what determines skin pigmentation. It is melanin. It is melanin that composes of a class of compounds that predominantly serve as a pigment. In turn, we are not obsessed about skin color or skin complexion.
Rather we are obsessed with pigmentation, or a mere chemical compound that is found in our human body, and we are using that as a hallmark of beauty.
This is what the skin whitening industry has leveraged on. They are making billions of dollars each year by selling harmful and damaging products- skin whitening creams, facial treatments and lightening serums.
They are exploiting our insecurities.
Skin complexion is determined by the amount of melanin in one’s body and no one should feel inferior because of that. Human beings come in a glorious and diverse spectrum of colors: light, dark, plain, freckly.
Some of the top models in the world have lovely tan and dark skin. Models such as Tyra Banks, Lisa Hyadon, Naomi Campbell all have dusky skin and they have been admired to be the most beautiful women.
As for me, I have found immense joy and thrill by doing adventurous sports. I am not going to stop myself from venturing into these sports under the sun simply because of the fear of becoming tanner and being further criticized by my aunties.
Indeed, it is remarkable how diversely beautiful we are. We should celebrate and embrace that diversity amongst ourselves, rather than get morphed into an archaic and myopic perception of beauty. Let us be diversely colorblind.