She always knew she was dark skinned. She had known it for as long as she could remember.
She was barely two. Ramu uncle was visiting their home. Oh my, look at you! How you’ve grown! He beamed, looking at her sister, Last time I saw you, you were as tiny as an ant. They both laughed.
And this is the new one? he said, bending down animatedly, as if to get a closer look. How is she so dark, cheta? He asked, grinning as he turned to look at his brother, hope you’ve started saving for her dowry.
Everyone at the table laughed. She was too young to understand the joke. But old enough to realise she had been made fun of.
As she got older, she grew more conscious of her complexion. Her cheeks burning with embarrassment when the fairer girls would complain about their tans after the summer vacation, Look at me man, I’ve become so black. Sometimes, she’d count the number of children who were darker than her in class, thankful she wasn’t one of them. She’d wonder if she was pretty. Atleast among the other dark girls?
She grew to be unforgiving of herself. I’m too dark to be the female lead, she’d think, refusing to participate in the auditions for the school musical. They’ll give it to one of the pretty girls anyway. She’d much rather join the choir and lose herself in the rows and rows of children, as they sang the inaugural prayer. She watched the lead get ready backstage, wondering what it would be like to slip into that frilly gown, wear a tiara and have the teachers fuss over her hair and make-up.
The years rolled by, bringing more advice, remedies and cures with it. Bathe in milk and cream beta, the aunty at the PG would say to her when they ran into each other in the lift. ‘You should try the fairness treatment’ the girls at the parlour would declare enthusiastically. But ofcourse, no one was more enthusiastic than the fairness cream companies. It made her wonder if there was something fairness creams could not achieve. Not just Fair skin in 5 weeks but also your dream job, the adoration of your peers and 100% success rate (previously 0) in finding true love.
Over the years, matrimonial pages in the morning Hindu had graduated to matrimonial websites. Modern statements like Caste No Bar adorned many matrimonial profiles of 21st century India. And yet, there it was. Fair. The secret to every happy marriage. Right beside educational qualifications, professional designation and personal interests.She scrolled down. Profile after profile. Fair, modern, well-educated bride needed for fair, modern, well-educated son. Caste No Bar.
The worst was when they felt the need to console her. You’re not that dark, her friends would say. And you have such lovely hair. You know, supermodels like Naomi Campbell are dark skinned. They say even Cleopatra was dusky. Every now and then, someone would say ‘you’ve become fairer’ or ‘you’re so pretty despite being dark’. She would thank them, often forgetting that they weren’t really compliments. Of course dark skin doesn’t measure up. Everyone knows that.
It makes me wonder why India’s obsession with being fair is so widely accepted. That aunties and parlour girls giving advice on how to be fairer is never considered insensitive. Simply well-meaning.
That fairness cream advertisements flood all forms of media, and that people can openly demand a ‘fair bride’ without being embarrassed. That there is nothing fair about little girls wishing they looked different, shying away from their interests and worrying about finding love.
Over the last few years, fairness cream ads for men have become disturbingly rampant. Taking us one step closer to spreading the woes that once plagued only half of our population. Now, men and women, together, can wish they looked different. Understand what it’s like to stare into a mirror and wonder if the cream is working. Demand fair brides and grooms with equal enthusiasm. And believe that flawless, fair skin is the one thing getting in the way of their path to career success, popularity and finding true love. So atleast in that, we’ve achieved gender equality.
But then again, it’s only fair.