May 20, 2024

Like Priyanka Chopra Jonas, I Reflect On The South Asian Community’s Obsession With Fair Skin

As a result, I would always miss out. The picnic sessions in the park to make the most of a rare hot British summer day, the idyllic stretches of beaches on holiday, the after-school hang-out sessions with friends — I would mostly give them a miss all because I was too scared to tan if the sun was out and about to ruin my life supposedly.

I also have unfortunate memories of moving to Dubai in my early teens for a few years, where the sun is relentless year-round, scorching right through you. Unescapable, unavoidable. That is when I vividly remember being introduced to fairness creams and using them religiously. A thick white gloopy mess with an engulfing potent smell that was arduous to rub in and would form into a clammy drizzle down the side of my face whenever I would sweat it out in P. E classes.

«What the hell is on your face? ! » a classmate once asked me in horror in front of everyone. Embarrassed as I was at the time, the cream’s long-term payoff seemed worth it. I was white as a sheet and loved it. Yes, I cringed as I wrote that.

The consequences of exposure to a society that championed lighter skin followed me extensively throughout my teens and twenties and manifested in different ways. I had a delayed response to forming healthy social connections with friends as I had spent crucial years saying no to invites solely because they were in an outdoor setting. I also struggled with the idea that men could find me attractive just for being me because, for most of my life, worthiness was based on physicality. I also firmly believe the shunning of the sun from my life contributed to the persistent demise of my mental health. We, in the UK, don’t get enough warmth as it is, but being told to stay away from it when we did get our two weeks’ worth in the summer, really contributed to the dazed melancholic slump I was constantly in. You need vitamin D to thrive, and I had such a severe lack of it in my life.

It’s only since I hit my thirties that I finally embarked on the journey to heal and forge a positive relationship with how I perceived myself physically. I had to unlearn that my darkened skin in the summer didn’t mean I was «unloveable» and «ugly», but it meant that I was enjoying my life on my own terms, whether that meant going on a long hike in the sun or enjoying a deep, meaningful conversation on the beach with a friend. Finding that sort of beauty in your life is what truly makes you beautiful.

As a society, we have a lot of things marketed at us to make us feel insecure, but I’m glad that today’s generation has social media, which along with its many cons, has its pros, one of them allowing young Brown women to openly discuss their relationship with themselves, throw away the outdated beauty ideals and champion their natural skin. Meanwhile, in 2020 the company Unilever changed its Fair and Lovely skin lightening cream (the one that took over my life as a teen) to Glow and Lovely to celebrate a more “diverse standard of beauty”. However, that change was criticised, given that there was no focus on why skincare brands profited from perpetuating colourism for years in the first place.

On the back of that, it’s important to note that old habits do die hard. Case in point, a poster for a new Bollywood television series, The Archies, last year showed the majority of its young lead actors with digitally lightened skin tones, which caused a massive backlash. It’s safe to say that the issue of skin-lightening within the South Asian community has a long way to go before it officially becomes a thing of the past.

And if you’re wondering, being introduced to skin-lightening products and feeling the impact of being seen as «white» as possible is something I wholeheartedly do not blame on my parents. If you think our generation had it bad, I cannot even imagine what the generation before us had to endure regarding impossible South Asian beauty ideals. I’m just thankful for coming to the realisation that my worthiness doesn’t lie within my skin colour. Plus, I have no time for colourism at the moment, as I have found myself in the midst of other skin concerns, such as adult acne, so if you have any tips for that, please send them my way. But, in the meantime, I shall be freely enjoying myself in the sunshine, with SPF slathered all over me, of course. And I’m pretty sure, with her envy-inducing career, Priyanka Chopra Jonas is having the last laugh at colourism critics.

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