The age-old conversation on colourism and its implications on Indian society is one that we find ourselves revisiting time and again. It is a conversation that adamantly continues to exist despite tireless efforts and progress that we think we’re continuing to make. The reforms too, appear to happen in waves and in the troughs, this very conversation is lulled into a whisper.
While in recent decades, we have witnessed the limelight being rightfully directed towards talent and voices that subvert beauty standards and rigid boundaries set by society, there is still a haunting whisper of colourism that continues to linger in our society. Earlier, we asked readers what it’s like to be dark-skinned in India and the responses were a blend of empowering and heart-breaking. However, the one thing that every response carried along was the slightest hint of hope. A hope to see a society and subsequently, the country wake up to the changing times and break archaic norms that reduced beauty and individual capabilities to an individual’s skin tone.
To assess how far we’ve come and how much further we’re yet to go, we asked our readers once again what it really means to be dark-skinned in India. Have we truly made the kind of progress that we think we have or is it all a promising facade behind which this defunct practice is still being passed on?
Here’s what our respondents had to share. (You can read the earlier version of this series here.)
The ‘R’ Factor
Growing up in India meant being exposed to a pop culture and media that consistently tried to portray a defined beauty standard that preferred lighter skin tone over the rest. This form of conditioning, however, is deeply ingrained into our minds in terms of how we should groom ourselves, what the world considers attractive, and how we must all strive to fall into those restrictive brackets.
While mainstream media in the west is slowly being receptive to the change that the audience of today demands, India’s representation of skin tones and complexion continues to lag behind.
“There was a huge influence on me because of pop culture. All the actresses in Indian cinema were fair. I didn’t find anyone who looked like me,” shares Rithika*, a respondent from Hyderabad. Representation knowingly or unknowingly plays a vital role in how people and communities gain acceptance and acknowledgement and the failure of Indian media to do this has proven detrimental for thousands of dark-skinned Indians, who still struggle to embrace their skin colour.
Regressive practices such as brownface, which involve the deliberate darkening of actors’ faces using makeup continue to be implemented in mainstream Bollywood films and series, which despite the outcry of large portions of its audience are still stubborn to change their outlook. Showing actors with brownface in cinema eventually became directly linked to the character’s economic and social backgrounds, who were most often than not from a disadvantaged community. Such practices consciously or unconsciously became the flag-bearers of colourism in our country.
An Adamant Prejudice
We’d like to think that as a country we no longer witness incidents that directly take a jab at a person’s appearance and skin colour. Navneet, our respondent from Kullu lets us in on the challenges that he had to personally endure growing up dark-skinned.
“I think I was just five years old when everyone in my school started calling me ‘Kali Mata’ and making fun of me. I remember washing my face with soap so many times because I wanted to be fair-skinned and acceptable. Even some of the teachers didn’t like me because I was dark. Guys wouldn’t like me for the same reason. I felt like an alien.”
While movements such as ‘Unfair and Lovely’ took the world by storm in 2015, the implications and the effects of it were short-lived. Amidst severe backlash the former skin-lightening brand Fair & Lovely received, it was recently renamed Glow & Lovely in order to redirect its brand approach and values towards its audience. Several instances in the recent past have proven that India is open to change. But the one question we all still grapple with is, where does change begin and what does this change mean?
What Does Change Look Like?
“In my immediate vicinity, I have noticed a change. People take into consideration that words can be hurtful and piercing, so the experience for me has been alright. But this does not remain the same for the rest of the country, where these backward thoughts are at an all-time high in areas such as careers, marriage, and more. I would just like people to be kinder, that’s all. Just think of what you’re saying, and how the next person will perceive it.” says Meghna, a writer based out of Bengaluru.
The sensitivity and awareness that Meghna reveals too, is largely limited to certain sections of society that aren’t exposed to systematic conditioning and ostracisation based on skin colour. In several disadvantaged and lesser-developed cities and towns in India, change still looks different and maybe even stagnant.
“The trend is certainly changing, but in some places, it’s still the same. I think one of the main reasons is colourism on television. Many beauty cream advertisements promise to make you fair in just seven days. There should be more dark-skinned people on TV, like in movies, daily soaps etc. They should be an awareness program, that tells people that beauty has no definition, that it has no colour or size. Everyone is beautiful just the way they are.” signs off Navneet.
Feature image credits: Manasi Patankar for Homegrown
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