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    27 Jul 2016

    14 Beautiful, Confident, Indian Women Confess What Their Dark Skin Means To Them

    "...I realised that half the world made such an effort to get what I am naturally blessed with."

    The Soup interviewed 14 Indian women, all of different ages and professions, on their experiences about how they were treated for having dark skin.

    “I have no trauma attached to growing up with dark skin," Meera Ganapathi, editor at The Soup, said. "However, there were evidences all around me. In school I’d see light yellow faces betray nights of thickly applied turmeric or cakey talcum powder."

    "When I moved to Mumbai at 21, for the first time I was made aware that my skin is 'dusky' that I am 'dark but pretty' or once condescendingly I was called 'kaali'. At that time I put it down to geography and lack of understanding. However, now I realise there's a larger problem than geography if I can't find a deodorant that doesn't want to kill the melanin in my underarms. Nearly every cosmetic is pushed to the hysterical tune of 'Lightening Whitening Brightening', even Shah Rukh Khan wants me to believe that fair is handsome and the other day someone made a cream that would whiten our vaginas. Which is why Soup interviewed dark-skinned women who are very happy in their skin," she added.

    Mandovi Menon, 26, editor and co-founder, Homegrown

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "I was a pretty serious athlete and I was always in the sun. These feelings haven't changed over time either, so the idea of trying to be fairer completely contradicted everything I love doing the most. Skin colour has never been a cause for concern in a superficial external way, it's definitely a marker of identity for me but I suppose I haven't had any insecurities about it. In fact, I've always really loved the colour of my skin, if only from an aesthetic viewpoint."

    Madiha Ali, 28, student

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "I've been real lucky. I grew up in an environment where I was always showered with love and attention. In fact my sister who is fairer often jumps up in my defence if anyone considers her the prettier one. As for my mom, she has never bought any face creams to make me fair. She thought (and still believes) that her little one is perfect."

    Nikhita Chinnari, 21, financial analyst

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "Everyone seems to be chasing a fair saviour to procreate with and make fair babies dipped in milk and rice flour. Barring four years in Orissa, I lived my whole life in Bombay. I was never made to feel conscious about my skin while growing up which is probably why it never affected me. I've obviously been teased and called 'kaali' but I'd grown indifferent to it simply because I knew it didn't matter. In fact I'd feel the same way if I had electric pink skin."

    Megha Ramesh, 28, copywriter

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "I was teased in school. I remember feeling so dramatically awful in school that I think it has to some extent bruised my self-confidence permanently. I want to tell my younger self that it's okay. It could have been much worse, kids are born fighting through a lot more. I was stupid to cry in the shower; feeling ugly - all because someone said I was. There have been times when I thought it'll be easier to be fair, but I've gotten used to myself and grown to love myself. I like that blemishes don't show up that easy on my skin. I like that turquoise eyeliner really pops and red lipstick stands out. White skin is normal and over. Chocolate, caramel, toffee - it's all in."

    Mariette Valsan, model/actor

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "I remember an incident where I wasn't allowed to audition for a hair commercial saying I didn't fit the look. I was puzzled and proceeded to ask what look they were going for and the casting director let it slip that I was too dark to do the commercial. Which was hilarious and outrageous both, because I was auditioning for a HAIR commercial. And then again, recently, I was shooting for a TVC and the clients were American. They came up to me and said I looked absolutely beautiful on camera and my skin tone shone. They said they paid to get spray tans for a tone similar to mine. We laughed about it then but the moment stuck in my head when I realised that half the world made such an effort to get what I am naturally blessed with."

    Megha Ramaswamy, 33, artist/filmmaker

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "If I could speak to my younger self, I'd tell myself it's a long journey to security and understanding but always be comfortable calling yourself a dark girl. You're not wheatish or dusky or like chocolate. The opposite of fair is dark and that is normal and lovely too."

    Aishwarya Arumbakkam, 28, photographer/filmmaker

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "There is so much literature you know, in Tamil, old and new that represents dark skin as something that's sensual and beautiful. Apart from this I don't remember that skin colour ever featured as a topic of discussion while growing up. I think I had a good support system and a position of privilege that insulated me from this issue. And honestly, I have a lot more real concerns in my life regarding work, health, lifestyle etc. I'd rather spend time thinking and feeling about that, because dark skin is just a natural part of me."

    Lavanya Kannan, 28, photographer

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "Society is more vicious about colourism than I thought as I was growing up. This is maybe because I was shielded from any irregular comments because of the attitudes of my parents and so I never took it very seriously. My sister is paler than me, and I never felt discriminated by my parents because of it. But right now, perceptions of beauty have shifted. But I still don't believe that people have never liked dark skin, I refuse to believe that."

    Smrithi Rao, 30, associate manager, Myntra

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "Most of my so called 'trauma' was self induced. As a kid I was fascinated by the idea of fair skin. It was probably because you'd hear elders or watch movies that associate beauty with being fair. I've gone through a phase where I obsessed over being fair. So, this one time a friend mine in school suggested we sandpaper our skin to make it fair. So we made all necessary arrangements. But just in time my mom caught us. She sat me down and told me what I was about do would have been extremely harmful and achieving fairness should never be my end goal. It didn't make a lot of sense then but in hindsight I am glad I got caught. Now I wish I could tell my younger self that it's OK. It's OK to be dark-skinned and I should focus on building relationships, a sense of humour, being a good person and on expressing myself better."

    Vinitha Shetty, 25, blogger/brand manager

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "Growing up I was made to feel so ugly by both the kids around me and my relatives. I would not want to go out as much, or smile too wide as I hated my black gums, I wouldn't wear dresses because I was conscious of my dark knees. I have overcome all that only through time. And more importantly, I no longer care. But now when I think about it, I feel a deeper part of this problem is the lack of representation. When I started my blog, I was pleasantly surprised to get so many positive reactions from other dark-skinned young girls over how I could carry off bold colours and so on. It was great to hear. And I can't quite believe I am saying this but I love my skin colour and the way I am right now. I didn't think it would be this easy after I turned older."

    Yasmin Ponnappa, 32, model/actor

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "My mother would constantly harrow me about playing in the sun. Always harping that no suitor would marry me. I overcame it by 'not giving a shit'. I'm quite resilient."

    Sangeetha Thomas, 28, VP Goldman Sachs

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "I was very influenced when I read the story of Waris Dirie (I read about her in a story published by Reader's Digest as a child) and was deeply influenced by her attitude and wowed by her beauty – I was secretly happier that I was dark after reading about her."

    Shovona Karmakar, 26, photographer

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "When I was 19, I did a 365-day project where I photographed myself every day and tried to understand every nuance of my body, face, hair and ultimately my identity. I started this project right after a break up with someone who didn't accept me for the way I looked, but as the project drew to a close, it became much bigger than that. I started to understand my heritage and my uniqueness. I am very comfortable with myself today, I know I am different and I am very proud of it."

    Shilpa Colluru, 33, brand consultant

    Priyadarshini Ravichandran / The Soup

    "I never really thought about the colour of my skin until I went to college in Delhi. That's where I was discriminated in subtle ways about not just my skin colour but also for being South Indian. I guess that's when I looked at women like Nandita Das and Konkana Sen and felt proud about being dark skinned. I'd tell any young girl I know that skin colour doesn't matter. What matters is that you love yourself and start feeling confident."

    Some of the responses have been edited for length. You can check out the original post here.

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