My Brown Skin And I
Updated: Aug 18, 2018
Growing up as an Indian girl has definitely brought its up’s and down’s. Although I only visit India every two years and have lived all of my life in Africa, I feel extremely proud of my Indian roots, culture and traditions. My parents have always pushed me to explore the different aspects of our culture, mostly in a non-overbearing way. In fact, the older I get the more I find myself learning about our history, literature and politics by myself.
However, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Being an Indian woman comes with it’s own share of problems. We are still expected to behave, dress and talk a certain way in many social situations but that is an article for another day. One of these issues is the unhealthy obsession for fair or light skin. Yes, that’s right. So if you aren’t Indian, Asian or haven’t heard of this idealization, let me break it down for you. Many countries that were colonized by European countries equate beauty with white (or western) features. More so, having power in society is often linked to having power in the “western” world. Thus in order to join in on the globalized world, countries are adopting this “western body”. For India this means having fair skin. This led to the invention of fairness creams in the 1970’s, which is now one of the biggest industries in Asia. Basically, this industry thrives of our internalized racism as a nation. Not only has this industry lead to the shaming of dark skin women and the promotion of unrealistic beauty goals but is a health hazard due to the harmful chemicals contained in these products.
As a child, my skin tone never bothered me. I guess part of it came from the fact that I was always surrounded by an endless palette of skin tones when growing up in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana. That being said, I do remember Indian aunties warning me not to spend too much time in the sun at kindergarten or I’ll become “dark”. It only got worse as I got older. Living in Tanzania meant I was constantly at the beach every weekend, A.K.A prime sun tanning time. To be honest, everything at that age went in one ear and out the other and I didn’t care what aunties had to say about my complexion. I just wanted to swim and have fun with my friends. By the time my family relocated to Botswana, swimming was one of my best sports. I spent almost a minimum six hours a week training during primary school and some of high school. I can tell you this, it took years to get rid of that awkward swim suit tan lines (but my strong core exists, HA!). My body was easily five shades of brown.
One amazing thing was that my parents never cared about my skin tone. They supported and pushed me to play all kinds of sports even if it meant their relatives lecturing them about how tanned I was getting and its consequences for my "future". By the time I was going through puberty, I was very aware that being fair meant being beautiful. I slowly started applying sunscreen constantly every time I left the house. I’m talking SPF 30 AT LEAST on my face and SPF 50 on my legs and arms if they were exposed. I remember how many Indian girls (including myself) loved taking photos with Snapchat filters because it made us look slightly fairer. Eventually I stopped swimming lessons due to school becoming more vigorous and insecurities about my appearance. I started taking great care of my skin, lathering myself in special Ayurvedic body oil to help achieve and maintain a “healthy, fair glow” every week. Slowly I got tiresome of this habit and had better things to do with my time.
Flash forward to moving to Philadelphia for university. This was definitely an experience that changed the way I saw myself as a woman of colour. I never thought I was the prettiest girl or whatever, but I was quite confident with who I was and how I looked. Like any freshman, I was bound to experience all kinds of changes. For me, this unfortunately included how I felt about my appearance. I was suddenly aware of how brown I was. This isn’t something I talk about often, at least not until recently. Despite being part of a very diverse environment back home, I always had a familiar Indian community around me. Being a new student at university meant that I didn’t have that community around me (yet). I was surrounded by people that checked the list for all the social beauty standards and I felt like a sore thumb. Every where I went I saw beautiful girls with the ultimate “western body”: the white, blonde, small nosed, perk breast and long legged body. No skin discolouration, visible cellulite or stretch marks, unlike myself. Every Frat party I went to made me feel more invisible and unattractive. Guys seemed to only be attracted to that “western body” and I had no one around me to express this dilemma to at the time. It also didn’t help that boys seemed to stereotype my sexuality due to my dramatic pixie cut. My short hair does not mean I’m a lesbian, boys. The guys that did approach me did so because I looked “exotic" and would tick a list of nationalities they have “experienced”. Anyways, I spent a lot of time questioning my identity as an Indian woman. I started to feel slightly ashamed of my brown skin. I guess this is where my make up journey began. Until then, I only wore jet black eyeliner paired with smokey kajal. Soon, I made my first trip to the make up section at the Rite Aid store on campus. I picked out a medium coverage BB cream that was a shade or two light (and ashy af) for my skin. To be honest, I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel pretty (shame on freshman Andrea). I can tell you this, I cringe when I see my freshman photos. I assure you that my reasons for wearing make up have drastically changed!
The good news is, sophomore year changed everything. I was blessed enough to move in with my two closest girl friends, who are practically my sisters now. Both of them are also Indian but we couldn’t be more different when it comes to our personalities, backgrounds and appearances. We are the perfect example of various shades of brown. Somehow that made our bond and journey as Indian girls in a foreign land even more unique. I’m going to be a little bit vain, we are the ultimate Girl Gang. We know everything there is about each other, which means we know each others strengths and weaknesses. We spend a lot of time building each other up, making sure that we are being the best individuals we can be. We openly talk about our flaws but that also means we talk about what we find beautiful about each other. Inside and Out. I can tell you this, I am in complete awe when it comes to them. To me, they are the smartest and most beautiful creatures to have walked the earth. During that year we spent hours discussing our personal experiences with colourism and issues with beauty standards. And that’s when it hit me. If I can find the beauty in their shades of brown, why can’t I find the beauty in mine? Our differences brought us together because it showed us that it’s perfectly okay to not follow the social and beauty norms expected from Indian women. Their love for being Indian reminded me of mine. There are many shades of brown. There are many shades of Indian. Each one of them beautiful. And that is how That Desi Glow started. I couldn’t be more proud of my bronzy-beige melanin filled skin. In fact, there is something patriotic about having my shade of brown resemble the colour of strong masala chai served on the streets of India.