Updated: Jun 17
Imagine an eternal red rose or enchanting yellow of daffodils turns white! Or that charismatic rainbow after the rainfall does not fall into seven rays of colours! How will you describe nature's beauty when there is no colour diversity? Don't you think that what is naturally red or yellow or any colour cannot forcefully be made white? Isn't it that everything is beautiful in its own way with its own shade of colour? Then why have we come to believe that all human beings should have the same complexion, and that too fair only? Why on earth have we nurtured this extremely toxic ideology of white being supreme over black and other shades, especially when nature has given each of us our very own shade that perfectly fits us? Why do we hesitate to accept it? Why is being dark-skinned considered problematic or regretful for many of us?
Perhaps all of us have gone through or seen this detestable deed of colour-shaming in our surroundings. Surprisingly, women are no longer the only victims, but we also force men to throw themselves into the hell of colour discrimination. To understand how devastating the situation is, we don’t need to go very far as there are real-life experiences, especially of women living around us.
I am a gold medalist, but people are only concerned about my dark skin tone. I am financially independent, but my cousin still rejected my rishta because he is not ready to compromise on his mother's dream of having "gori-chitti bahu."
I am a perfect housewife with two beautiful kids, but I always got advice for whitening creams/injections, or else my husband may lose his interest in me.
These are some of the horrifying stories we have heard from our loved ones or, often, ourselves, have been the victim of this dilemma. When I am writing it down, I have mixed feelings of despair and frustration about how come this Gora-rung obsession is still alive in the 21st century? How on earth can we judge people based on the colour of their skin? Everyone deserves basic humanity. Well, this is a harsh reality and has a deep-rooted impact on our social and moral values. We have seen this narrative taught in our homes, schools, offices, and everywhere. A fairness cream was probably the first cosmetic we got permitted to use when we were kids. That was a time when getting ready for a shadi event by just applying a fairness cream was enough to be deemed "beautiful." Fairness creams looked all fun and normal during our teenage years until we realized the sadistic mentality behind this ill-fated perception of white people dominating brown ones.
Historically, we need to understand how and when people started to believe that being white is a sign of beauty, dignity, and supremacy. Most people believe that the history of colour-shaming is as old as the colonization of South Asia and South East Asia by Europeans, but it started way before that. That was the time of white dominancy which ultimately trickles down to the 21st century in the form of our obsession with white skin. This white complexion has marked itself as the symbol of power and beauty, which the brown ones always lack according to their own narrated philosophy.
Despite us chanting the motto of women empowerment, biased representation of women in all forms of media, featuring attractive models with flawless white complexion overshadows women coming from diverse cultures, shapes, backgrounds. The ever-growing skin-whitening cosmetic industry is another reason behind society's nonacceptance of brown girls and imposing demand for a flawless fair complexion.
This deep-rooted cultural norm to glorify white over dark skin has also become a way to associate people with a particular social status. Women with more tanned brown skin often get stereotyped as belonging to the underprivileged and poor class. While on the other hand, a lighter skin tone is more a sign of a luxurious living style. This concept hints at why many brown women are always looking for multiple ways to achieve a fair tone. Moreover, the representation of supremacy of white women via media further fuels this humiliation of brown women.
We all have seen morning shows flooded with home remedies and whitening formulas for young, dusky girls as if being dark is a shame. It's unfortunate to see young boys and girls running over to salons for whitening facials or trying out desi-totkas to avoid dark-shaming or pity jokes. So horrifying is the ill-mentality that people are accustomed to believing that they are lesser beings and somehow deserve this humiliation and mockery, often from their own families.
According to the Global Industry Analyst report, there seems to be a rise in the global skin-lightening industry worth $4.8 billion. We all have witnessed a hoard of such whitening products all across reputable stores and beauty salons. And with time, the skin whitening method also evolves from creams, powders, masks, serums to injections and God knows what will come next. It is an estimation that by the year 2024, the skin whitening industry will be worth $31.2 billion.
You may think of this as an exaggeration, but many women intentionally or unintentionally are inclined to have a more fair complexion despite knowing the potential health risk associated with the chemical ingredients of these products. Yet, we need to understand that one cannot escape the natural process of ageing, where along with getting old and weak, our skin gets blemished, wrinkled, and dull. In disregard to what is naturally bound to happen, these products claim to challenge the process of ageing. In reality, the ‘astonishing’ effects of those creams won't last long and will soon vanish after their usage is discontinued.
Recently, we saw a backlash for an advertising campaign of whitening products that purposefully maligned the idea of women's success with being fair in complexion. That not-so-lovely cream featuring youthful models having tons of makeup and flashing lights on their faces have become a source of obsession for youngsters. However, after being criticized for years, they have finally moved from the idea of fairness to glow. But do you think this minor change is enough to eradicate this toxic mentality? Certainly not!
Many known celebrities from the television and film industry have endorsed skin-whitening products by campaigning for them over the years, ultimately influencing their millions of followers on social media to follow what they're supporting. It is so alarming because these are the public figures who, if they had not thrown themselves into selling such hideous state of mind just for the sake of money, had the power to change the narrative in favour of brown people.
Ironically, we support the significant cause of "Black-lives-matter" to fight against racism in the western world, knowing that we own no space or courtesy for brown skin. Such a double standard that condemns racism while getting along with white obsession depicts an ugly picture of our hypocritical nature. We always love to jump on the bandwagon to be in the limelight without realizing our role in igniting the whole scenario; that's how it goes!
The obsession with white skin is not only limited to Pakistan but the whole Asian culture. It has become a pervasive notion that white skin is more attractive than tanned one. Unfortunately, to own a fair complexion and puttinh layers of makeup on the face has become essential to be called beautiful. Especially in this era of social media, where whatever we do, wherever we go, we need to go through the ritual of posting, sharing, and getting likes. The concept of beauty has become very superficial. This obsession with getting the 'white look' is disgusting and even more disgusting is doing all those crazy remedies for maintaining that tone and wrapping it under the name of skin-care routine. Our craziness has just moved to another level with extraordinary efforts to attain a perfect skin tone and body shape.
Also, what is most depressing is the regressive mindset of an older generation who had themselves been the victim of skin-shaming but have now passed on the same toxic culture to the younger generations. The same women who face criticism from society because of that 'kaali-rangat' have passed on this white obsession to their sons and daughters, and the rishta parade to find gori, chand si bahu has ultimately brought us the same ignorance of the past. We, as a society, have nothing but rejection for the dusky people. That's why people with darker skin have to struggle to mark their presence in this polarized society. On the contrary, we have many opportunities for people who get privilege just because of meeting the so-called beauty standards of our community.
But now is the time to fight back this toxicity and wear our skin with pride and dignity. Instead of asking for people’s acceptance, let's be less apologetic and confident beneath the skin shade we own. We need to confront small-minded people who look down upon brown people as lesser beings. It is an era of aspirational marketing where both media and brands have played a damaging role in sensationalizing things detrimental to human health. In recent days, we saw an advertising campaign of nicotine-containing products (you all know the name very well!) endorsed by several leading singers and actors. They did not only support the brand but even came up with a whole music show to sensationalize nicotine addiction among youth. Owing to this irresponsible behaviour of media personnel, how and from whom can we expect to fight against this social stigma associated with brown skin! How will we see a social boycott of such whitening formulas when we have firm believers who are biased towards fair complexion?
Such brands will continue to promote their fairness cream among the Asian brown population, but it's high time to abandon this colonial ideology. This hatred against us prevails because we allowed it to. We didn't do anything to nip this evil in the bud. We are the ones whose negligence and silence allow this toxic mentality to plague us. But not anymore as we, the proud dark-skinned wonder women, need to discourage anything labelled as "whitening" and stop businesses from making money by inciting hatred and disdain against us.
Teach your daughters and sons that being dark is not shameful, but bringing someone into darkness through our derogatory words and gestures is. It is important to resist and eliminate the culture of mockery and embrace what is not in our control. We all are allowed to pamper ourselves, to improve our physical appearance but not at the cost of exploiting what is God-gifted. There is nothing wrong with taking care of oneself, but going to extreme lengths to attain those typical beauty standards set by society will leave us exhausted and in constant disdain. We all deserve to be loved and appreciated in the way our God has made us. Let us all begin to overcome our self-doubt and start loving ourselves; the rest of the world will resonate with us soon.
Aatqa Ali is an in-house writer at Perspective.