Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Unattainable Beauty Standards

This article is more than five years old, but it discusses a phenomenon that I've seen my entire life: colourism. As a child, I didn't realize that it wasn't just limited to the South Asian community, but spanned many different communities of colour. It wasn't a shock when I did notice, because I was so used to the idea already. It seemed normal. Shitty, but normal.

I wasn't a "fair" child. I wasn't really DARK, but I definitely wasn't fair. I remember my mother instructing me not to go out in the sun too much, because I would get too dark. For the most part, though, I just went on living my life. I wasn't ever too concerned with beauty ideals, for reasons that are a subject for a different post. However, when I started university, I considered myself towards the darker end of the spectrum. I would never have defined myself as fair, like my mother.

Growing up, I was mostly exposed to other North Indians, and didn't meet very many South Indians, but there were a lot of South Indians at my university. The girls started commenting on how fair I was, in reverent and envious tones. It was jarring, and confusing. At first, I thought they were insane, because I so clearly wasn't fair; I was more along the lines of average. But I was, in fact, a lot lighter than the people who were saying it. It didn't make a difference to me, but it did seem to make a difference to all of them.

Why the difference? I think the article makes it clear.

She goes on to cite dusky Indian female film actors Kajol Devgan and Rani Mukherjee as examples of her conviction, "If you are dark, then dark is the best."

This is Kajol, taken from here.

And this is Rani, taken from here:

Both of these women are about as dark as I am. The article presents them as dark, in much the same way that I was always considered dark as a child, but still attractive. However, this puts them at the "dark" end of the spectrum, effectively erasing women who are much darker. Since skin colour is very much related to perceived beauty in Indian society, the implication is that anyone darker can't be beautiful. The flack that those girls must have gotten for being dark must have been so much worse than my mother telling me not to play outside and hearing an adult comment on how much darker I was than my mother a few times.

It's like the brown version of the paper bag test. Basically, I grew up around people who were lighter than the bag and got labelled as dark because I was the exact shade of the bag. But the whole principle of the bag is fucked. It's a ridiculous and stupid parameter for beauty.

Obviously, I want it gone. But I really can't blame people for buying into it when it's framed as something that is economically beneficial. So how to get rid of it? Beyond emphasizing whenever it comes up that it's a pile of shit.