I would like to start by apologizing to all the people that I may offend with the title of this piece, but this is a subject I feel quite strongly about.
Growing up, I must have heard this sentence over a thousand times, both in English and in Tamil. This phrase has been on my mind for so long, especially pertaining to why people feel the need to say it. I have never been insecure about the colour of my skin and for those who know me personally, I have never complained about my skin colour either. I am comfortable in my skin, and personally I wouldn’t want to be any other colour.
Even though I have heard this comment so many times before, today I feel the need to write this article because it is time to put a stop to this type of communication. I am aware that creating this piece alone won’t make a substantial change, but I do hope that the individuals reading this and relate to this will want to put a stop to these kinds of statements by spreading the word. Or if YOU, yourself have said this to someone, then maybe you would consider restructuring your sentence by simply saying “You are pretty”, “You are beautiful”, rather than “You are pretty for a dark skin girl.”. Stop!
Recently I went to visit my family, and on this particular visit, they were all engaging in a myriad of different topics. The room was made up of mostly women discussing the latest Tamil serial gossip, unreasonable period cycles, new trending saree’s and fashion. The most prominent topic of the day was how to become fairer. As the conversation flowed, and everyone began to pipe up with the names of creams they were using as well as specific home made therapies, I decided to interrupt and say, “Why aren’t you guys happy in your skin?”. Some people simply smiled politely at me, while others responded that they were content were but still tried to become fairer. One particular aunt looked at me pointedly and said “You don’t need to worry Cathy, even though you have dark skin, you are pretty”. My first reaction was to retort “Awwh thanks, I must be really lucky then, because imagine, iI was dark skin and ugly”. My aunt smiled at me not knowing how to react. She didn’t understand that I was being sarcastic but she still laughed nervously anyway.
This is just one scenario, and since this type of situation as happened to me so many times, I’ve stopped keeping count. For as long I can remember, I have heard comments like this thrown not just to me, but also many other dark skin girls in my family and within my friends circle. Luckily, I come from a strong unit of friends and family. Together we have helped each other realize that the problem isn’t US it is THEM. But it doesn’t stop at comments directly regarding my skin. People often say to me, “Because you are dark skinned, I don’t think that colour will suit you” or ” you should wear bright colours so that you stand out”. For generations and generations these are the type of comments people feel entitled to direct at dark skin people, whether they are male or a female, and this attitude needs to stop.
On my mum’s side of the family, most of them are all light skinned, except for myself and my aunt. My aunt, who is my mum’s sister, has always been a big inspiration to me from the time I was a little girl. She never placed restrictions on what colours I was allowed to wear and she would always wear bright, bold colours herself. When she was growing up, she was made fun of and people would make similar comments to her about her skin colour but she told me that she never let it affect her. She didn’t care what people thought of her skin tone. In fact, because she was the only dark skinned sibling among her brothers and sisters, she wanted my mother to have a dark skinned baby, as this baby would be the first grandchild in their family. She prayed so hard that her prayers were finally answered and a few years later along came me! My sister on the other hand, who is of a fairer skin tone, always gets all the glorified comments such as “Why don’t you act in a movie and become an actress or become a model?”. However, there have been times when she has also received the odd comment that “For a Tamil girl, you’re really light”.
Because of my Aunt’s influence, I have never been insecure about my colour or felt like I needed to be a different tone.I do not avoid wearing certain colours just because I am dark skin, and I am not scared of being in the sun. Over the years I have learned to look after my skin, not to become fairer, but to ensure that my skin is healthy. I have never used fairness creams and I have not undergone any treatments to become lighter. I have friends who come from different ethnic groups. We are all different colours and none us treat each other differently due to our skin tones. I have also been fortunate to have good Tamil friends who don’t recognize someones self worth by the colour of their skin, Coincidentally, most of them are beautifully dark skinned.
Shadeism, social and economic discrimination based on our skin tone is indulged in our culture as well as other South eastern parts of Asia. Colourism and racism are two different things since it can happen among people in the same racial clan, against those of certain ethnicities and castes. People are conditioned into thinking that having a dark skin tone is UGLY. However, so many of powerful people in the world are dark skinned; Suresh Sriskandarajah, Martin Luther King, Nandita Das, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama, AR Rahman, and even Super Star Rajnikanth.
In all honesty, I just want to share my experience and get this message across. I do not know if my post will make an impact, but for those of who do choose to read this, I hope it does change the way you think about skin tones. If you are dark skinned, like my Aunt taught me, I implore you to always be secure and proud of what you are wrapped up in.
Unapologetically a Dark skinned Tamil Girl