shreya [1 of 2]

“I’ve always struggled with the feeling that I’m judged for my outer appearance, because it was something I was made conscious of at a very young age. There was an article in the The New Yorker once titled “The Looks You’re Born With, & The Looks You’re Given” – something like that – and although I can’t remember the contents of the article, I do remember reading the headline and thinking, oh yeah, that resonates with me. As a child I really feared being given attention or praise or value because of my appearance. I had been exposed to various cultures in which appearance was judged by different beauty standards and I resented it. I suffer from a mental illness, clinical depression and bipolar disorder, and that has made me unnecessarily struggle with my self esteem, overall mood and attitude towards life. There have been times when getting out of bed became too difficult and mirrors were quite unforgiving. They didn’t make me feel too great about myself, especially since I wasn’t leading an active lifestyle – something that naturally took a toll on my physical appearance.

I was born a very fair, Indian kid. And that means I’m a goddess, because in India, fairness equates beauty. It’s some kind of sick, strange colonial hangover, it’s painfully unfair and blatantly racist. I’m also a Northern Indian, so it means my features are more Caucasian, as I’m supposedly of Aryan descent – a very awkward, and politically disastrous descriptor to be tied to. People would tell me to stay out of the sun, and praise me for my skin colour alone. I found it abnormal and extremely hurtful as I grew older. A whole beauty industry runs on fairness products, and even today girls who are not born fair are considered unlucky and non-marriage material. As if marriage is some kind of achievement, as if that makes them any less worthy. It’s disgusting. The attention it warrants is gross.”

Shreya Tanisha, 22, is a recent graduate of The University of Edinburgh and previously studied at the University of Arts London and Architectural Association School of Architecture. She’s lived in over seven different countries, and can confidently identify as a third culture kid, despite having a strong passion and interest in Indian society, where she was born and currently lives. She believes in art for social change.


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