Practical Ways to Change Your Language About Dark Skin

MP_Nina Shoot_032819-25.jpg
This picture that showcases some of my lovely melanin was taken by my friends over at Mallari Productions.

tldr: If we can be mindful of our passing comments regarding light and dark skin, we can then choose to be a part of the narrative to change what it means to have dark skin.

I was just a kid at the time and I was binge watching The Twilight Zone amid summer break. Back then summer vacation meant lounging in my ice cold basement and clicking through television stations with my brother. To stumble upon a marathon of The Twilight Zone was always a treat. Though I’ve watched countless shows over the years, The Twilight Zone remains a favorite of mine because the deeper messages it has taught me about life. But of all of the episodes I’ve watched over the years, one stood out to me the most- ‘The Eye of the Beholder’.

*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD* You’ve been warned… 

The episode details the horrid tale of a woman who was plagued by her “ugliness”. Little children would cry when they saw her. It felt as though it was impossible for her to exist in society because of how ugly she was. Despite countless surgeries, she remained hideous. However, though she was plagued with ugliness from birth, this episode began with a sliver of  hope- she was getting another surgery.

The entire episode is intentionally filmed to avoid the faces of actors, including the woman receiving surgery. It is only at the end of the episode that the viewer sees the faces of people in her world; the people considered beautiful. The creators of the episode intentionally showed people who’s facial features distinctly differed from our society. I remember being horrified at what looked like pig snouts in place of noses and facial deformities that defined the “norm” of beauty. And the woman classified as ugly, who made children cry, would instead be considered gorgeous by our culture’s standards. The episode ends with screams of people crying over another failed surgery for this woman and my realization that this stunningly beautiful woman believed the lie that she was ugly because of how society defined beauty. Sound familiar?

Most people get it- the ways in which our society speak about having dark skin is not okay. The lack of representation of people of darker skin tones within Bollywood and media in general is frankly disturbing. Instead of seeing women of medium to darker skin tones being portrayed negatively, as touched on in “Why black people discriminate among ourselves: the toxic legacy of colorism“, we are absent in Bollywood. The void of women who look like me in the media communicates that people like me are not even worthy to be portrayed negatively. Darker Indian women are not to be seen as representative of what it means to be Indian, even a negative portrayal.

It sinks into our subconscious mind and teaches us what is beautiful. I think most rational people can all agree that this presentation of women of dark skin is insane. In fact, countless people expressed outrage over the appearance of the finalists for Miss India, confused as to how a country as diverse as India could somehow only have light skin women as finalists for a pageant queen.

In the same way that there are microaggressions across race, there are small ways in which we speak that perpetuate certain stereotypes and ideas surrounding what it means to have medium to dark skin tones. Ladies and gentlemen, we are counteracting years of Euro-centric culture and media. I don’t think that we’ll always be politically correct. But I’m writing this post because our language is important. It matters because the way we speak to each other has power; especially the comments we make in passing.

I’m creating this blog post for the people who want to “do better” but might not know how to do so. Because as much as I’d like to say that it’s only immoral people who say hurtful things, I’ve heard the statements below from an array of people. Some people who I respect and trust, others who I look up too. Colorism runs deep but I know we can do better. Below are some practical ways to change your language about dark skin and why it’s important. 

“I thought she was beautiful, not just because of her color.” 

“I thought she was beautiful” 

The problem with the above statement is in its construction. The use of the word “just” implies that by virtue of this person being a lighter skin tone, she might be pretty. And the issue with saying this is what it insinuates of people of a different skin tone. I get it, our brains have been fed images over and over again of women with ivory skin being described as beautiful. Maybe you feel deep down that this person may be pretty just because they have light skin but please be mindful of how saying this can be perceived by someone who doesn’t fit that ideal.

This brings into question- is it wrong to innately find light or dark skin attractive? I don’t think so. But when we speak we must be cognizant of the privilege of having light skin and accept that the norm is not that people love and appreciate both light and dark skin. The norm is instead glorifying light skin while shaming those who don’t fit that ideal. For that reason a passing comment of admiration of someone just because they are light skinned can come across as hurtful.

I can recall countless instances in which I would be confused and ask my mom why a certain person was also described as beautiful when they weren’t to me. The response was always something along the lines of how they actually really weren’t but they had light skin so naturally some people would find them beautiful just for that reason. This taught me that you might be pretty just for having light skin and maybe ugly just because you don’t. That’s an issue. Why can’t we find the beauty in both? Why can’t we praise both? Why can’t we see beyond the color of a person’s skin?

“Don’t stay out too much, you’ll get dark!”

“Put some sunscreen on before you go out into the sun so your skin is protected!” 

In all the years I’ve been told to not stay out in the sun or to avoid the sun, it has never been because my skin needed sunscreen or because of skin health. It was all because of the vanity of how I might look worse with dark skin. Hello, people- are you kidding me? Skin health is super important and totally disregarded. In fact, some people risk the health of their skin in attempts to bleach their skin to become when society deems beautiful. By telling our our daughters and nieces to stay inside to avoid tanning, we are communicating that how we look is more important than actually living our lives! I’ve seen people petrified of their skin tanning. People who would go to lengths to avoid the sun touching their face while sitting in a car or they would steer clear of standing outside for prolonged periods of time. It’s not just medium/dark women, I’ve seen women with light skin chained down by the expectations of having light skin and doing whatever it takes to maintain it. When we engage in this behavior we remained bound to fit this narrow ideal of what beautiful looks like and this is a reality for light and dark skin women alike.

“She would be so pretty, but she’s so dark”

“She is so pretty, all that melanin glows” 

You don’t need to qualify someone’s beauty. They’re not pretty for a dark girl, they’re just pretty. I would often hear my grandmother described as a dark beauty. But growing up I never felt the need to add “dark” to that compliment. Her almond eyes, defined nose and gentle smile were not beautiful despite her darkness. She was just beautiful. Period.

Someone recently commented on one of my videos in excitement about how my melanin was starting to show more because the sun was out. I never heard someone refer to my skin color that way. Why do we think that by being dark this somehow negates someone’s beauty? What if instead we saw it as something that’s actually beautiful about a person?

“We couldn’t understand why that gorgeous girl married such a dark-skinned guy.”

“We couldn’t understand what a gorgeous girl married a guy who didn’t think was so cute!” 

When you choose to use the word dark as synonymous with ugly or “less than”, that’s a problem. Why is that language normalized? What if I were to say- she’d be so pretty if she were not so toned and in shape? He’d look so much better if he wasn’t so confident and comfortable in his body. The way we chose to place the word “dark” in sentences teaches the meaning of that word to our future generations. Dark does not mean ugly and needs to stopped being used as a synonym for unattractive.

Closing Thoughts

The reality is that dark, medium and light skin are all beautiful. People were created by God with different skin tones for a reason. Instead of perpetuating the message that light skin is beautiful while dark skin is not, let’s empower fellow men and women to love themselves more. The alternative is chasing this one beauty ideal that leaves so many women feeling insecure.

I remember hearing as a kid how my father had the lightest skin out of all of his light skin siblings. This was a point of pride. But he was also described as foolish because he didn’t care for it and his ivory skinned darkened over the years to a now tan color. When I asked my dad about skin color, about why he married someone darker than him, like my mom, he explained that he thought brown skin was beautiful.

There are people willing to risk the health of their skin in order to fit into the mold of what society calls beautiful. Being honest, I’m not normally a fighter. I often grow tired of fighting the current of what society desires and part of me wants to just accept things as they are, conform and change my skin. But the reality is that I can’t change my skin to fit this mold. I refuse to bleach my skin to be just a shade lighter, to attempt to conform to the idea that being “fair” is lovely while still not even reaching that goal. I also don’t want to because I’m growing to love my skin- even when it tans in the sun.

My father’s attitude was confusing to me because he in many ways held power by naturally having light skin. He had something that other people desperately tried to get through bleaching and staying out of the sun. He threw away this status because he didn’t care for it. My hope is that all of us can be more mindful of the influence that our culture has on our perception of beauty. The woman from The Twilight Zone episode haunted me. It’s a radical choice to believe you’re beautiful in a society that tells you that you’re not. But you might just be right.

 

 

Advertisements

Adventures in Capris

 IMG_6089

My first day in India I got ready for sari shopping wearing a pair of capris and a short sleeve t-shirt.  I didn’t think anything of it.  My mom definitely did but seeing as how I considered my attire modest if anything I ignored her requests to change.  If I wore the same outfit in America, I doubt anyone would think twice about what I was wearing.  I expected the same from India, boy was I wrong.

I should have known better, fresh from taking Anthropology class last semester.  Unfortunately, I really didn’t.  The minute I stepped out of my cousin’s car into the streets of India, I was met by dirty looks.  Stepping into the clothing shop I felt like a piece of meat… that was green and forming mold.  I’m pretty sure that my capri and short sleeve t-shirt combination was the equivalent of booty shirts and wearing a bandeau in America.

I couldn’t believe it, my mother was right.

Coming to India I couldn’t believe how different yet exactly the same everything was from America.  Sure they had unrealistic advertisements covering the walls of the city.  But their ads had women with fair skin, deep eyes and models who were even normal size from time to time.  I was shocked to see advertisements with women who weren’t particularly pretty to me.

I was shocked by how different life is for the average person in India.  I found myself sad for my parents who were forced to change their entire life upon coming to America.  They wanted to live in the land filled of milk and honey, paved with streets of gold.  But as I sit in India and think of what I have and what many people in India do not have-I realize the main difference is things.  The people here do not seem less happy because they don’t all own expensive clothes.  Different things make people happy.

I think about my church filled with India people.  A generation of immigrants who were born and raised in India with different values and standards.  Then I think of myself, someone born in America.  Someone who’s definition of love, beauty and an acceptable standard of living contrasted to everything my parents were taught.  I somehow developed a new level of understanding.

I was surprised to learn about the types of music that people enjoyed.  I always thought that something like music was simply universal.  I never understood how my mother didn’t appreciate the songs I enjoyed.  She was just primed under a different culture and mindset.

Ironically as I sit and type this listening to “Both of Us” by B.O.B I find myself laughing at the things that are important to people in America.  The things that are important to myself even.

I can’t believe I’ve only finished one day of my journey to India.

The reason I waited so long to write this post.

This is a little bit of an explanation post, to explain why lately I’ve been so MIA and why for the first time in a while I think this blog is a little bit dead.  I had the amazing oppurtunity to go on a mission trip to Guyana from August 16-23rd and ever since then I’ve been too afraid to make a blog post.  I find it so funny because up until this point I had written all my other posts in hopes of reviving my blog so I would have people excited to learn about my trip.

But now that I have actually gone to Guyana I’m so afraid of actually writing a post because I want to describe my experience and give it justice.  I even wrote out almost a full post about Guyana only to accidentally close the tab.  That post didn’t really matter much though, I was just forcing myself to write.  The thing is right now I think I’m reading to write this post.  Or I really hope that I am ready to write this post.  One can only hope right?

Okay.  First, why Guyana?

I was thinking about this question for a long time recently.  Guyana is not my home country, India is my mother land.  But lately I’ve been learning a lot about Guyana and more so about Guyanese culture and I was amazed by it.  I found it so odd that I could go here and feel like the people living in Guyana were just like me yet completely different at the exact same time.  I could go into what I’ve learned as of now about Guyanese culture but I’ll wait for another day to write about that.

So I was learning about Guyana and then my mom comes to me and tells me she’s going on a trip to Guyana.  I asked her if I could go expecting her to say no, and she did.  But shortly after she said that ticket prices dropped and that she could now take me with her.  I went thinking I would be the only 19 year old going in a group of 30+ pastors.  But what ended up happening was a group of 4 of us “younger” folk signed up and we had the perfect amount of people to run a VBS and lead worship in Guyana.

From the get go we were told we were in Guyana for missions work and not for vacation.  That was still a really weird principle for me because Guyana felt like India to me and all the times I’ve been to India in the past, I’ve been on vacation.  We were definitely not slumming it though.  We had the opportunity to eat Guyanese or Guyanese “chinese” food every single meal of our stay and I loved it.

It’s funny because when all four of us young adults were asked what part of Guyana we disliked the most it was always the mosquitos.  The mosquitos and bugs just attacking you out of nowhere while you’re attempting to sing on stage.

That’s another thing about Guyana, before going there I had this high resistance to singing in public.  I didn’t want to sing anymore.  But when I went there it wasn’t about me anymore, they needed singers and I could sing.  End of story.  It reminds me of this post I meant to write before leaving for Guyana but was yet again too afraid to write.

God doesn’t call us because we are qualified, he qualifies the called.  God wasn’t asking me to have the voice of an angel or amazing presentation skills.  He asked me to be willing to go and speak for him when the opportunity arose and he asked me to not be afraid to sing his praises.

And this kind of leads me to the close of this post,  life post Guyana.  I realize that there are so many things I have yet to tell all of you about Guyana but I feel like whenever I tell someone something about my mission trip there, I’m losing a piece of it for myself.  That sounds really selfish but don’t worry I will share it all one day.  But if I want to get at least one post up, I need to know I’m still keeping pieces of the story for myself.

So, what now?  What happens to life after leaving Guyana?

Life after leaving Guyana was actually not hard to transition into, yet really hard at the same time.  I found myself not even really sure of what to do with myself entirely.  On the way to the airport back home to America everyone was saying how they would miss Guyana so much but I was too afraid to miss people.  I told the people around me to stop because they wouldn’t really miss them.  They might miss those around them for a little snippet of time, but that’s all.

This was yet another thing that I was wrestling with and its something I’ve only recently come to terms with.  I live in the city and meet new people everyday that I will never see again.  And this put a toll on me emotionally because I grew up in a small elementary school and a relatively small high school.  It hurt too much to miss all these people around me.  I told myself to stop missing people to feel better, but how could I really?  I was losing my empathy and love for the lost by marginalizing those around me.

As of right now I’m still struggling and dealing with what my life really is post Guyana.  What is my purpose anymore?  And do I leave all the problems I saw in Guyana and default that I’m just a kid too young to help.  I don’t think I can do that.

This is all for now.

Mattering where it counts

This past month, one thought has been consuming my mind.  I’ve gone to far too many church services where God comes last.  It’s sad, but I had felt as though it was true.  Many times, it was my own short coming, expecting someone to coerce me into the presence of God.  That is why when my parents let me know that we were taking a family trip to New Jersey and sitting in on the NACOG conference, I was far from pleased.  In fact I think I was even dragging my feet a little bit to go.

And at first, I didn’t really like it.  The hotel I was placed in was 2 miles from the conference center, so most people were shuttling back and forth.  The conference center itself was really tiny and my expectations were low.

Plus my parents were so intent on eating the Indian food that they had packed, they actually drove out and brought a microwave for the weekend to heat up their food.  Oh how I wish I was joking.  Surprisingly Double Tree by Hilton does not have microwaves or fridges, or at least the location we stayed at.  However they did have cookies available at the front desk, it was a fair enough trade off for me.
But lets get back on topic, the conference.  So the thing about God is the fact that he meets us regardless of all these things that feel such a big deal at the time.  He reaches down to his people, if they were willing and welcome to him, and that’s what really matters.  And none of these other things really mattered.  I mean it would have been nice not to shuttle across back and forth, but this conference counted where it really mattered.

At this conference I felt such an anointing from God.  My iPhone started getting cluttered up with notes from sermons.  Pastor Zack Cherian spoke about the woman with the condition with blood during the last evening session.  And as he compared her shame for her sickness and necessity of her chasing after God I found myself completely in awe of how God could reach me so perfectly through the words of a stranger.

And after that meeting, so many people told me that they met God, or more so really met God for the first time.  When you grow up in a Christian household, as many of us at the conference do, you take the presence of God for granted.  By doing this, we are doing such a disservice to God.

This wasn’t a conference where everyone skipped out on the meetings and ran to socialize, this was a conference that forever changed the lives of the people who chose to get involved.  It wasn’t a mountain top experience, it was a launching pad where we can use what we learned.  I learned to stop waiting for tomorrow to meet God, but to pursue him and grab unto the hem of his garment.

Because the amazing thing about God is that if you ask you WILL receive, but first you need to ask.

You’ll never be anyone but yourself, and that’s amazing.

I felt the sudden need to write about this and considering that its 1 in the morning and I doubt I’ll be able to fall asleep anytime soon, why not write?

I’m reading a book about an Indian girl who grows up in a middle class mostly white suburban neighborhood and struggles to blend in.  In example, the life of Nina as well as the protagonist in the novel Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier.  I don’t want to really ruin anything for those of you who want to read it, but I will tell you that the protagonist is not happy with herself.

She’s so desperate to be anything but herself that she blends in more and more.  I couldn’t help but think, “How sad is that?”  Instead of embracing what makes us unique as human beings we long just to blend in.

It reminded me of something I struggled to realize when first entering college but now feel so happy to know.  I’ll never be anyone else except who I am, and that is amazing.  It’s an amazing feeling to accept yourself for who you and understand that not everyone will find you endearing.  And that its okay not to like doing things that other people enjoy doing.

I remember thinking beauty was something black and white.  Either you are born with a pretty face or you’re not.  But that’s not true, not even in the slightest.  A pretty face means you are pretty but being beautiful means being beautiful inside and out.  Finding that in a person is hard to do.

Psalms 139:13-14 reads

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

You are created the way that you are created for a reason, never doubt that, even for a second.  Because more than developing piss poor self esteem and self worth, you are demeaning God’s work.  God created you to be you for a reason.

So I find myself tempted to alter myself and to fit a mold that will blend in with everything else.  But God created me to be different.  I will never stop loving to take pictures to capture random moments, or even fight for women’s equality in seemingly stupid ways.  It’s who I am.

And I never want to be anyone but myself, because I am amazing.

Day 19: Something you miss

I miss my cousins in India so badly.  I miss my family in India.  I just miss India.  Like I mentioned in my last “30 Day Challenge” post, India is my favorite place to be.

I miss the way being in India makes me feel.  It’s always hot and I struggle not to sweat.  I’m not quite sure why I do that, sweating is natural but I try to find the coldest room in my house and just lie down. Sometimes when I’m in India I try to avoid India.  Everything tastes different in India.

The ice cream has this weird consistency.  I remember going to Carvel in Bangalore and eating ice cream that actually tasted like ice cream and feeling so excited.  My cousins were bewildered by the taste.  The “American” food is spicy and the Indian food is always fresher.

What I find so funny is that the morning the picture above was taken I was bitterly crying.  I was a sophomore in high school who was visiting India for only 2 weeks during my spring break.  AP Exams were coming fast so I was going through all of India and still doing homework from time to time.  My papers for studying had fallen from the truck of my car into a ditch and were almost ruined.  I was bitterly crying because my homework meant so much to me.  It was so stupid now that I look back at it.

We were staying with my great-uncle.  He was one of those people who seemed really hard and unapproachable but loving and like a teddy bear all at the same time.  He saw how upset I was and ironed out all my papers so that they were dry and almost as good as new.

That was the last memory I have of him, and can have of him.  Because he died before I could visit him again.  I think he’s what I’ll miss most.  If my mom gave him “american” money he always thought it was a big deal and kept it on display.  He loved us, he really did.  And I still don’t feel like he’s really gone.  Because dying doesn’t really mean someone isn’t there for you anymore.  They live on and on as long as you care enough to remember them.

I miss India because as angry as I felt at times, my aunt could always find a way to make me look at a situation in a completely different light.  I remember watching a podcast and hearing how a man was asked if he regretted studying physics in college now that he was doing business.  He said no because math has a way of teaching him to look at a problem and look at it from a completely new way and find a way to solve it.

That’s what my aunt did for me.  She would look at me and suddenly I felt so stupid for becoming angry at something small, she killed me with her kindness!  I was only 16 when I visited India but I remember telling my aunt that when I got married, if she couldn’t come to America I would get married there.  And I remember seeing her almost cry from joy.  She was happy that I still remembered her, how could I not?

I’ll always miss my family in India when I’m not with them, and my family and friends in America when I’m not them.  It reminds me of my grandma who always tells me that when she’s taking care of my cousins in India she misses me and my brother so much.  And when she’s with us, she misses my cousins so much.  All she really wants is for all of us to be with her together.