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.

18 thoughts on “Unfair

  1. You raise a very important point. This country is obsessed with slim, fair and beautiful people. Very shallow expectations of people. There are many dark skinned people who are considered elegant and beautiful. People need to start seeing what’s beneath the surface.

  2. Well said! And with all the activism going on to promote feminism this is something that needs to come in the forefront…the subtle or rather blatant discrimination because of colour needs to stop…

  3. Well written. You have raised an important topic. No one can be more racist than my grand parents. They say boys want fair good lookin girls (zero dowry). It is sad too. Someone very close to me claimed that dark good looking girls will look better if they are fair.
    Well halle berry, jada pibkett smith, zoe saldana will only be average of they are fair, as far as I am concerned.

  4. It’s funny you brought up this point. I was just discussing with my friend how “westernized” India is trying to become, while losing its true identity, and how we, the Indians in New Jersey, are actually keeping the true culture of respect and festivals alive.
    I’m just worried how India will come to look in the next few years. How different will it be from the rest of the world?

  5. Beautifully written 🙂
    I absolutely love your writing. It carries across the point very nicely 🙂
    My best friend in college is a dark skinned girl. I never mentioned anything about her skin to her, not because I dint want her to feel bad, but simply ’cause I dint see the need to. She’s beautiful I tell her, whenever she sprouts the question of being pretty-enough but she thinks I’m joking. She puts it off as, “you are fair and you wouldn’t know the burden I bear.” . I feel sorry at having to see my friend go through such lows in life based on a trifling factor like skin color.
    Every time we pass by a group of immature fellow classmates, they tend to pass comments like, “ooh look the Beauty and the beast.” and I absolutely loath it when my friend ducks her head and pretends not to have heard that. If it was not on the college premises, I would have probably punched their guts out.
    It’s not just the one’s who are dark-skinned (No-offense) or are bit on the heavy side,who suffer due to such Immature culture of ours. Even the “pretty” ones do.
    For example: I was minding my own business and enjoying the nice summer breeze with my goggles and shorts on. A group of ‘lowly rogues’ pass by in a bike saying things like, “ooh look dieting is the hip nowadays. Gives you quite the attitude.” I was baffled. I’ve been naturally thin since my birth and people just cant seem to accept that…People cant bend their thoughts around what’s cool. “Cool” hmmp such a petty and vain word.
    Why are people in our country so obsessed with being thin,fair and beautiful? Why be so shallow? What’s wrong with being who you are?Because I’m certain that not all of us are Robert Downey. We might believe ourselves to be as talented and as deserving as he is, but truth be told… truly deserving people dont judge what they deserve nor are they mindful about the color or about the metal of the trophy that they receive.
    I just needed to get that out of my system.
    Thankyou for sharing your thoughts with us Krishna 🙂

  6. I heart you Krshna! There. I said it. I look forward to all your posts because everything you write speaks to my soul. Your stories take me on emotional roller coasters and I cannot wait to get back on the ride again. On the whole, this particular reply probably comes across as really creepy but it just needed to be said!

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