– Gaargi Jamkar SYBSc
Welcome to the first part of a new series called ‘XYZ’ here at Kathaa! We invite all of you (Yes, YOU) to come and share a life changing/vulnerable experience you’ve had and you would like to share with others. The best part: You can publish ANONYMOUSLY!
Usually, whenever I meet someone for the first time (older generations), their first question to me is ‘are you South Indian?’ or ‘are you Madrasi?’
I’ve had plenty of experiences where people would never initiate a conversation with me in Marathi (my mother tongue) just because they assumed I was South Indian.
As a child, I never understood why this was their first question to ask me or what difference it made. Growing up, I realised that they were referring to my darker skin – Just how twisted was that! First of all, why do we stereotype South Indians with a certain skin colour and secondly, why is that your first question the moment we meet? You might argue that ‘most South Indians do have darker skin’ but the way it’s referenced to me was always very derogatory. It was always pity they felt when they got to know that I am in fact Maharashtrian. (‘Wait, you’re Maharsahtrian and still you have such dark skin? Oh god!’)
From a young age, I was introduced to a plethora of ‘विशेष टिप्पणी’ (‘insightful comments’ ) from relatives and strangers on how to ‘improve’ my skin colour. From rubbing lemons all over my body to using turmeric/sandalwood paste on my face – unsolicited and unwelcome advice was always given without invitation. Watching ‘Fair and Lovely’ ads always brought me to tears and all I prayed to God was for fairer and whiter skin. Even when I pictured myself as an adult, I always imagined myself with whiter skin. I have bad pictures and even worse repressed memories of myself at school functions or family events, where my makeup was completely butchered. Why you ask? – The shade of foundation used on me was the same as for everyone (obviously lighter and fairer).
It was only around ninth grade when I was able to accept my skin colour and could finally see myself as ‘beautiful’. It was also around this time that I found out that Lord Krushna had the same skin colour as me. He was definitely not sky blue! As soon as I began loving myself for my skin, my confidence rose but that did not stop the profusion of various remedies to ‘enhance’ my melanin. I became prey to a series of disgusting comments like – ‘You’re pretty for a dark skinned girl’ or ‘You have such beautiful eyes, if only you had fairer skin’. Such comments somehow didn’t affect me anymore because I got used to them.
This however, changed recently when I had to get my makeup done for a family function. Trust me when I say this, – you may be the most secure and confident person in the world but leave it to Indian parlour ladies to drain every ounce of confidence from you.
As usual I was asked if I was Tamil (I said no, I’m Maharashtrian) and I relished the look of confusion and shock on their faces. They now knew that gossiping in Marathi was not an option so the conversation stayed light and civil. I was shamed for the moustache I had, the blackheads on my nose and the acne and dark spots on my skin. I paid no heed to their comments but silently cursed society for its shallow constructs. Then, I was slathered with a foundation shade that was at least three shades lighter than my natural skin tone.
When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t recognise myself. For the first time in a few years, I hated the way I looked. Suddenly, it hit me as to why I was so averse to putting makeup on my face (Not because ‘I’m not like other girls’ but because of the trauma of literally being ‘whitewashed’).
This time however, I was firm. I told the lady that this was not my shade and was far too fair for me. She replied saying that this was the ‘darkest’ shade she had with her (Duh, should’ve seen that coming) and that because there would be lights on me, it would eventually balance out in pictures.
I was fuming with rage at this point. I stormed out of the room and went straight to the bathroom. Every time this had happened to me before, I chose to stick to my makeup and not make a big deal about it. Every time I was taunted for my melanin, I cried out of sorrow and unluckiness. This time however, triggered something inside of me and I decided that I had enough. I washed my face and removed all the makeup without hesitation. I cried while doing so, not from sadness but from anger and fury building inside of me. I refused to care about how people would react or if the parlour ladies felt insulted. (Yes, everytime when my makeup was done and I was unsatisfied with it, I sucked it up only because I did not want to insult or offend the parlour lady- twisted but true)
I realised that even when I love and accept my skin, others will NOT. Even when I have already accepted my skin with open arms, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune to shaming and taunts. Even today, I still cry when someone insinuates something hurtful with reference to my colour, but I finally have the guts to tell people on their faces that it’s NOT okay. There are days where I hate how I look; but the misery on those days is far less than the happiness I experience when I feel pretty.
What matters most is that I am proud of my skin and how I look. I am ‘tall, dark and handsome’….well maybe ‘short, dark and handsome’ but that’s an insecurity to unpack another day.
Note: For this article specifically, the author wanted their name to be published but you can totally write for this ANONYMOUSLY! Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested!