By Kaveena Anantha-Siva and Vaishnavi Ragipani | UNSW FABSOC
Colourism is discrimination by skin colour which permeates intraracial communities where the privilege of lighter skin cements inequalties in opportunities, success and wealth. The following piece stems from our personal experiences as dark skinned South Asians and our relationship with beauty and self acceptance. We acknowledge that our specific experiences may not be universal but redefining beauty and self acceptance is a process many of us are on.
The first metrics of beauty many of us absorb often do more harm than good, and while it takes a while to unlearn it is worth it to realise your enough.
As you grew up away from your home land, South Indian movies were a way to stay connected with your culture and had a much more profound impact on you than you would have thought. You would watch movies after movies with light skinned protagonists and only see dark skinned actors in minor, comic relief and villainous roles. It was only after so many movies when you began to envision what beauty looked like and that face was always fairer than you. And for that chapter of your childhood and the few after, that it was standard you could not achieve.
At 10, you really felt the differences between you and your friends. Whilst them getting ‘dolled up’ consisted of a smear of lipgloss and some mascara, yours included an hour-long powder session on your face. Dance recitals were the worst. And while you were never interested in looking ‘pretty’, you couldn’t shake those backhanded comments of “you look so dark”. The tone really said it all.
Sometimes it can be easy to shake off the build up of these small moments but when it comes from the people around you – it sticks. Meeting the extended family was always a time you loved, but as you grew older, subtle comments turned into backhanded advice on ‘how to get one shade lighter with this recipe…’. Your family of course had good intentions but all you internalised was that you’ll always be a shade too dark from being beautiful.
Then one day, it hits you. This is something you’ve possibly known all along, yet failed to realise can apply to you as well. Hours of YouTube videos on how to love yourself never seemed like a reality you could attain. But as you scroll through social media looking at beautiful models who meet typical Euro-centric beauty standards, you come across something different. A dark skinned girl. Still beautiful, but different to anything you’d seen before. More similar to the face you see in the mirror everyday.
The realisation is instantaneous. You can either live the rest of your life feeling bad about something you can’t control, or you can work to uplift yourself and rebuild your own confidence. No one can do it for you.
And so you do. You explore creative arts. You write. You experiment with makeup looks. You look to social media influencers who look like you. You embrace your natural beauty. And slowly, but surely, you start to celebrate the wonders of your skin.