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Am I Caramel? Mocha? Espresso? I have no idea which Starbucks drink I am, nor do many makeup consultants. I’ve been a makeup lover since I was 14 but I’ve never been shade matched correctly because being a brown girl, few really understand the tonal complexities of my skin. I guess it’s no surprise that darker foundation shades seem to be endangered especially in our local drugstores. On second thought, it really should be shocking how under-represented darker skin is.

I’ve always been hyper-aware of my brownness because of the lack of awareness from everyone else. The darkest drugstore foundation is 5 shades too light, nude bras look ashy against my skin, band-aids draw even more attention to my bruises and the list goes on. These are just some of the ways society establishes the norm and disregards the minority. My brownness has been sidelined and unfortunately, the younger me accepted that as fact, which made me despise my tan complexion and I longed to escape my skin. 

My desire and desperation for a fairer complexion quickly turned into an unconscious prejudice towards my own brownness. I was as young as 10 years old when I was introduced to the product (unfortunately) loved by many South Asians, ‘Fair & Lovely’. 23-year-old me would describe this absurd product to be an effect of the superiority of eurocentric beauty standards manifested by British colonisation but 10-year-old me was over the moon at the discovery of this ‘skin whitening’ cream. I used it regularly and surprisingly (not really), it turned out to be a complete scam (not to mention toxic) — I was still brown!

I gave up on whitening creams but with the rise of social media during my teenage years, I “upgraded” to photo editing applications. Before posting a photo of myself on social media, I would increase the exposure and brightness to give myself a fairer complexion. I now look back in shame but at that time, it was truly an obsession. These internalised prejudices against my brownness had been bubbling up in me for years so unlearning them did not happen overnight.

As I got older, I started educating myself to understand this prejudice against dark skin. I began to realise that eurocentric standards of beauty dominated our society and it was ingrained in us to look through that eurocentric lens of attractiveness. With this knowledge, I started correcting myself whenever I had negative thoughts about darker skin. I also had to change my perspective of how I perceived myself in relation to society. Before, I would think I was ugly because I looked different from the majority but now I see myself as someone who does not have to conform to society’s beauty standards in order to be seen as beautiful.

My journey to self-acceptance was one hell of a roller coaster ride but it was all worth it because I can now proudly and confidently say that I am unfair and lovely.

Shona Menon

Nanyang Tech '22

English undergraduate, Social Media Director at HC Nanyang Tech and freelance copywriter. Find me at @shonamenon on Instagram.
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