‘You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone’ – Maya Angelou
I am a brown Indian girl. Or am I brownish? A coloured woman? Maybe chocolate skinned? Black, to accommodate those who say they don’t see colour? Asian perhaps? Or don’t my eyes meet the ethnic standard? A median shade of cocoa possibly? Wait wait, I got it. I am indistinctly dark complexioned. Yes. That’s the one.
Alright then. Now that we got sarcasm out of the way let’s begin. The reason why I start with indecisiveness about my skin tone is because my colour has been the definition of me and my life for as long as I can remember, and this was by no means a good thing. And I specifically say tone and not colour because, even in the land of ‘brown’ people, we like to feel better about ourselves by means of discrimination. If it wasn’t for others I wouldn’t even have given my colour a second thought.
What I mean by that is that my skin colour is simply my skin colour, like my leg is simply my leg. A part of me that seems insignificant until you lose it or someone makes a point of discussion out of it.
The first time I became conscious of my skin colour and that it was considered as something deviant or of lesser value was when I was about 7 years old. What was even more remarkable was that it wasn’t coming from colourless people but from my own precious family. I overheard a conversation between my aunts and mother about a cousin of mine that needed to get married before she got too old.
She was 23.
They were all in the kitchen hovering over fresh produce and pictures of her. I heard my aunt say: “…and she may not have gone to university but she is very ‘sapha’ (which literally means clean, and in this case referred to white) and looks like Mumtaz”. Now, I knew Mumtaz to be a Bollywood actress from the golden days but I just thought she was a pretty girl with dimples. I learned that day however that she was a pretty dimpled ‘sapha’ girl, which I assumed was something I had to take into account. And I did.
If it wasn’t for others I wouldn’t even have given my colour a second thought. What I mean by that is that my skin colour is simply my skin colour, like my leg is simply my leg.
All through my childhood and adolescence being pretty meant being white or whitish, ergo clean, and if you weren’t that, the next best thing was to be smart. Luckily my parents put a lot of stock into my sisters and I receiving the best possible education and being the smartest (different kind of pressure and different post) in class. By focusing more on our educational development and praising us for our intellectual achievements we at least had control over our own futures, thus saving my siblings and I from a life of superficiality.
And did it work? Not quite.
We turned out to be more preoccupied with looking fabulous than anyone else. To some extent focusing on my mental development did make me reasonably confident about myself and what I was capable of achieving, but here’s the thing; I actually wanted to immerse myself into all things makeup. I wanted to be 80s and 90s cool. I wanted to wear cute crop tops and coloured jeans , match them with my ‘LA Gears’ and have everyone stare at me. I wanted to be superficial because superficiality my friends was the most important thing for me when growing up.
Why? Because I am a girl. The type of girl that likes to be acknowledged for her looks. It’s fairly straightforward and to state it more plainly, I wanted people to think of me as pretty.
Now can you imagine what it must have been like for an indistinctly dark complexioned girl like myself to try to be pretty when by worldly definition I could never be it? It was impossible. So before brown was considered beautiful in our free world I felt compelled to think of myself as plain. To make things worse I had to wear makeup for colourless people, which resulted in me being grey for the grueling length of my younger years. I felt like the only one left out of the beauty pageant.
This is not a pity party and I am not trying to get any sympathy for my forlorn teenage years. I just think it’s such a shame that I spent my young and bubbly years thinking that I wasn’t pretty enough.
I wanted to be 80s and 90s cool. I wanted to wear cute crop tops and coloured jeans, match them with my ‘LA Gears’ and have everyone stare at me.
So to all you beautiful brown girls, Indian or not, who live in a society that proclaims white skin as the ultimate truth and a prerequisite for happiness, it is not. You are your own truth and you are your own happiness. And if you’re darker than I am, all power to you. And if you’re lighter than I am, all power to you too .
This isn’t about me but this is about you and everyone else that deserves to feel like they are worth the world. I want for you a life of confidence and strength, and I honestly wish I’d had that attitude about myself then that I have now. It would’ve saved me from a lot of unnecessary grief.
You might have noticed that I use words like colourless and superficial in my story; I have a good reason to do so. A lot of you won’t appreciate me using colourless as a synonym for white and others will be annoyed with me for saying that caring about what you look like is superficial. I apologize.
It’s not my intention to be rude or disrespectful, I merely want to point out that we should pick our words carefully and think before we act. Seemingly insignificant thoughts can turn into words that may hurt. Being categorized for the sake of distinction and comparison is the way of our world, but I think we took pointing out our differences to the extreme and use it to demean others. And this is not right.
I feel like most of us take for granted what we have, and even in a country like Holland, one of the richest most liberal and democratic countries in the world we do things that aren’t right. Here we have bigots, wife beaters, child molesters, religious fanatics, murderers, rapists, thieves, fascists, sexists and I guess we even have a mob (aren’t they everywhere?) We discriminate, exclude, ignore, abuse, oppress and harm. Even in our privileged country, where our political, economic and social standard is among the highest in the world, we misbehave. Somehow we seem to think that borders mark the line of different species. Like we live in a human zoo and each country is a pen with a race of their own supreme beings on display.
Here we have bigots, wife beaters, child molesters, religious fanatics, murderers, rapists, thieves, fascists, sexists and I guess we even have a mob (aren’t they everywhere?)
The criteria that people use for race are based entirely upon external features. We are conditioned to recognize differences and the only reason many people notice them is because we’ve been taught to focus on what we don’t have in common, more so than anything else. It’s that simple. The differences that set us apart are cultural, not racial. There is no such thing as race. We are all made of the same stuff. There’s no denying this fact. It’s science. Wrap your head around it.
If you think I’m ugly because you don’t like my colour that’s fine. I might think you’re hideous because of your blonde hair . Does it matter? No. As long as you don’t think that you’re worth more than I am and vice versa and we don’t act on it, who cares what anyone thinks? I’d be lying if I said I don’t care at all. I’m not made of stone. I don’t like it when someone says something unfriendly or criticizes me. It bothers me at times and it can be hurtful, but an opinion about what my body and mind is made of and what I should or should not do with it goes in one ear and out the other.
Except for when my mom speaks. I care what my mom thinks. How can I not? She’s my mother. I let my sisters bash my unflattering outfit. Why? Because I value their ugly truths about my ugly outfit. When I’m with my dad or uncles I don’t wear revealing clothes. Does that make me a submissive woman? I don’t think so. What it does make me though is someone that takes into consideration the feelings of those I care about, but apart from that I don’t give a flying flute about anyone’s opinion. In the bigger scheme of things, when you know you have one life to live and know that there are people that are actually missing an arm or a leg, does it really matter what someone else thinks of what you look like? I think not.
In everyone’s defense though it is natural for people to want to fit in and be part of a group. It’s even required for healthy social interaction and development. It is not weird or weak to want to be part of a community. It is normal. We need people to learn from. To teach us what we care about and what we’d rather not engage in. We need the group dynamic to grow and be our best selves. We need each other and each other’s opinions. But there’s a difference between being constructive about things and being downright rude.
When I’m with my dad or uncles I don’t wear revealing clothes. Does that make me a submissive woman? I don’t think so.
Your looks are part of who you are and everyone is concerned with what they look like. If they say they aren’t they’re lying. Everyone (I’m sure that there are some rare exceptions) cares about their appearance, we just have different ideas of what appearances should be about. I grew up feeling fairly good about myself but was very conscious of my colour and unfortunately experienced prejudice because of it too many times.
That I’m indistinctly dark complexioned I consider a bonus. What are my options anyway? That I think I’m worth less than someone that is lighter or whiter or whatever? No. I can’t afford it. It is either accept God’s version of myself, or fight, alter and mistreat it. I neither have the time nor the energy to ponder over someone else’s opinion about how God made me. According to Her I’m perfect.
I have been blessed with parents that thought I was smart as well as beautiful and they never said I was too dark or not light enough. They never said that my colour was a dirty shade of shit . I was perfect in their eyes and I felt that. My father has dark brown skin and reminds me of roasted coffee beans. He also smells like it. My mom is caramel toned. Like the third layer of a Mars bar. Really pretty. I am an in between tone and rather cute myself.
My real height of confidence is now. As a young girl I had many moments in which I felt like the prettiest girl in the world, and being able to wear pink dresses and fuss over my hair truly made me a happier child. It was good for me. It made me more confident and secure in my own skin. I needed it but I’m quite sure pink dresses aren’t for everybody.
This isn’t about compelling people to live by some sort of pretty code. This is about self-love. About a genuine sense of fabulousness.
One that is healthy and doesn’t dissolve at an instant every time someone says something hurtful or mean. Loving yourself is about knowing yourself and that takes time. Take that time. Don’t postpone loving yourself. Make the effort right now and start simple. Tell yourself, every morning when you wake up and look at your sleepy self in the mirror, ‘I am fabulous!’
It is either accept God’s version of myself, or fight, alter and mistreat it. I neither have the time nor the energy to ponder over someone else’s opinion about how God made me. According to Her I’m perfect.
The best gift you can ever give to yourself is the permission to feel dear in your own skin. To feel cherished. To feel that you are perfect the way you are.
I’m the last person to tell you that it’s easy, especially when you don’t know how to love yourself. And when everyone around you is anything but positive and uplifting it can be extra challenging, but there’s really no other way than to ignore the negativity and change the dialogue with yourself. I’ll tell you about how I changed mine in WAR, but for now try to focus on being kind to, not only others, but especially to yourself.
Self-love is a very powerful feeling because it entrenches acceptance for all. It’s the one spiritual pact that you need to have with yourself in order to live a life of sincerity and true joy. Cherish it. Enjoy it. Treat it as the rare gift that it is. You are enormously blessed and your body and mind are not to be trifled with.
Sending you a bucket full of fabulousness all the way from here to wherever you are.
Originally published at meandmrdarcy.com