THE EUROCENTRIC BEAUTY DISEASE:
Regardless of variation in faith, caste, language, or hometown, most South Asians can agree on one thing, and that’s the idea that fair is indeed lovely. Being Indian, it’s no secret that we admire whiteness as the optimal ideal of all that’s superior, good, and beautiful. Growing up, I knew that fair was lovely, white was better and “dusky” or “wheatish” was undesirable simply by the way relatives talked about my skin tone, the lack of dark skinned hollywood and Bollywood actresses, and because going up in Canada, the western representatives of beauty all were white skinned, blonde haired, blue eyed goddesses, something I was far from. I remember never being told I was pretty growing up when other light skinned counterparts were constantly complimented, being told to stay out of the sun, being bullied in school for my dark skin, being called dark chocolate and that I looked like the colour of shit, being called black, as an insult, and being told to use fairness creams to bleach my skin. I really couldn’t understand this Indian obsession with whiteness especially considering the fact that Indians are rarely white.
It boggled me that we worshiped Krishna, otherwise known as Shyaam, meaning dark skinned, yet taunted our own dark skinned people. It amazed me that we were so ashamed of our dark skin, we refused to paint our Shyaam Krishna with brown skin, so we painted him blue instead. Maybe it represented our internalized blues with skin pigmentation and deep inferiority complex. As I grew older and learned more about the history of India, I knew colonization was a culprit. Colonization has turned whiteness and Eurocentric beauty standards into the global beauty disease, where people of colour, like myself, would be plagued with toxic ideas of white beauty we would never be able to achieve.
How does it work? Well Eurocentric standards of “beauty” have been forced into other parts of the world like India, through globalization, western media, colonialism, and Eurocentric power, domination and superiority. More importantly, what does this mean? European people colonized India and exercised their power over brown skinned Indians, based on racist ideas of world domination and white superiority. Indians were seen as savage, uneducated and less than, so this justified white domination over them. This also caused power dichotomies based on race and skin colour, and internalized racism. The master’s were white skinned, so naturally dark skin meant inferiority.
Through colonization, white people, particularly white men, became the global prototype of what it means to be human, and therefore the global prototype of beauty. Even after the British left, the mind’s of Indians remained colonized, the true marker of successful colonization. To this day, Indians still have a throbbing colonial hangover, internalized racism and an inferiority complex, which says English is best and whiteness reigns supreme. It’s no wonder Fair and lovely is one of the biggest cosmetic companies in Asia earning a huge fortune annually. And for those who can’t afford it, a concoction of toxic household bleach and cream seems to do the trick.
The Indian diaspora carried fragments of this colonial hangover and colourism into the places they inhabited, and in those places, they perpetuated. Even growing up outside of India, in a small city in Canada, these biases about skin colour still held weight and impacted by life. They did not stop with the British’s departure nor with the migration of Indian people outside of India. In fact, they still live strong in almost all Communities of South Asian people anywhere in the world.
How did this lack of confidence/esteem affect you?
To state frankly, I hated myself. I mean how can you value yourself as a person in a world that subconsciously tells you the colour of your skin is symbolic of difference, otherness, exoticness, darkness, evil, night, inferiority, low caste etc. I didn’t fit in anywhere, whether that was in the Indian community, or in Canadian society. For Indians, my skin was too dusky. For whites, my skin was too other, too foreign. I was too dark for here, and too dark for home. It definitely led to identity confusion and self esteem issues for me. Everyone wants to belong and feel valued, and when you don’t get that from your own community based on a factor like skin tone, which you have no control over, it feels extremely unfair. I grew up feeling like I had been dealt the worst cards in the deck. I was a daughter, and on top of that, I was dark. A dark daughter. I internalized this dark skin inferiority complex for much of my early childhood and teenage years.
What advice would you give to someone going through the same struggles as you did/are going through?
At some point, you get very tired of hating yourself based on something you don’t even control, even if you wanted. You begin to realize how “unfair” it is to be treated poorly based on your unfairness, and you feel immense anger. When you’re there, when you’re ready to decolonize, it will feel liberating to let it all go. I’ve never felt a better feeling than the moment I decided I don’t want to hate my skin anymore and I’m going to unsubscribe to Eurocentric ideals that were never meant for me anyways. Resisting Eurocentrism and coming to terms with yourself is a battle but it’s possible. Whiteness is not a life long subscription. You can opt out at any time and move towards a path of self acceptance, care and love. That’s the only advice I’d give anyone facing the same colourism struggles I went through and still go through today.
Pooja Patel is a Psychology student, content creator and fashion enthusiast. You can follow her work on IG and Twitter @thepoojaproject or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org