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#MelaninPoppin’: Let’s Support Women of Colour

Edited by Sophia Savva

Numerous communities shame women of darker complexions for their deeper skin tone. In contrast, the women exhibiting lighter skin receive respectful treatment and are perceived to be beautiful in the beauty industry. Due to this differential treatment from others, several women struggle with being confident in their own skin. This is evident particularly in the South Asian and the African communities, where women of darker skin tones believe that they are not equal to the women of lighter skin tones.

In her paper ‘I Like Your Colour!’ Skin Bleaching and Geographies of Race in Urban Ghana, Jemima Pierre exposes how African women engage in bleaching practices in order to establish skin that they feel beautiful in—lighter skin. The article investigates how there are vivid portrayals of brands encouraging “BODY/WHITE” for a beauty campaign in a country that is recognized as taking pride in their black skin. Furthermore, the women utilize two harmful substances—hydroquinone and mercury to bleach their skin. The former chemical contributes to lighter skin by diminishing the melanin-producing cells which aids in the removal of the primary layer of skin. The latter substance prevents the production of melanin and alleviates higher pigmentation, leading to whiter skin. Both of these chemicals have negative affects for the skin—irritation, spots on the skin and various diseases.

In the South Asian community, at a young age, girls are taught that they are beautiful if they’re “lightskin.” If a girl was born darker, she was taught to stay indoors so as to not reveal her skin to the sun or to utilize products that will bleach the skin so that it can become lighter. The lighter girl never endured nasty jokes in the hallways, while the girl with a deeper skin tone experienced cruel jokes pertaining to her skin. At family occasions, the girl with the lighter skin tone can wear any colour saree, while the girl of darker skin always had to wear dark colours to match her skin. These were all true occurrences that I witnessed growing up. Although I am a South Asian girl, I am a girl of lighter skin tone. But, the issues that my friends and family experienced are what I want to share. I’m here to tell their stories and to help diminish the norm in various South Asian and African communities that only “lightskin” girls are beautiful.

I decided to speak with two South Asian university students, Megan and Serena, to learn more about their experiences with prejudice toward darker skinned girls in the South Asian community. 

Megan, University of Toronto Scarborough Campus

Her Campus (HC): Can you please describe your experience as a South Asian woman with a darker complexion? Please describe various examples of experiences you have endured while growing up.

Megan (M): In terms of beauty standards, I never felt it as a kid. But I have felt informed and aware of how I was different from other people, I felt the difference when I grew up. For example, I experience it more in university. Like, when I go downtown, when there isn’t a minority group, you feel the difference by the way they act and look at you. Are you seriously treating me this way because I’m a darker complexion? I don’t think a lighter South Asian woman would feel like that. Literally. my mother said, “Because you’re darker, you need a lighter skinned boy to marry.” I was like thinking, Why would you say that? Parents do tell you that. It’s sad when it’s family members. When people teach you this, you internalize it.

HC: Yes, I’ve seen this happen a lot, especially in the South Asian community. In relation to that, would you consider yourself confident in your skin? Why/Why not?

M: I would say that I’m happy. I’m thankful because I have friends around me that tell me how good I look. But, depending on my skin colour, as soon as I get darker, I don’t feel beautiful. So, am I 100% confident? No. I’m not and it sucks but, when I got into university, I felt it so much more. I am not confident… I think it’s social media, it is such a big factor, it tells you, “If you’re light, you’re beautiful.” But in American society, tanning is seen as beautiful. Even in terms of relationships, you start to eliminate choices based on colour. Like, I would not choose a light skin boy because of my dark skin. Also, the colour thing, I don’t gravitate towards certain colours, like I love white and I want to wear it but when I do, I think it does not go with my complexion.

Serena, Ryerson University

HC: Can you please describe your experience as a South Asian woman with a darker complexion? Please describe various examples of experiences you have endured while growing up.

Serena (S): Personally, I was always dark and chubby. It was two things together for me. I was more concerned about my weight in elementary school but in high school, it was my colour because my friends were lighter. I’ve always been self-conscious of the makeup and clothes I wear. I stick to my black and white. If I was to wear red, I would look fobby, and by that, I mean like you look like an immigrant. Those are the names I’ve been called and that stays with me forever. I felt it a lot in high school because, every one wants the light skin, skinny girls. I don’t like going to hot countries and I don’t think I’ve been to my mom’s homeland because I will get darker. I always wore long sleeves and pants for the same reason. Culturally, it has always been “lightskin girls are pretty.” Being dark skin…it was a disadvantage growing up. In the brown community, if the girl is darker, they think that the girl isn’t worth it. I’ve tried the bleach products that you’ve talked about and I’ll wash my face three times a day.

HC: Yes, I’ve seen this happen a lot, especially in the South Asian community. In relation to that, would you consider yourself confident in your skin? Why/Why not?

S: I don’t think I’m confident, I lack confidence in a lot of things especially appearance. Social media is a lot better at projecting darker skin than back in the days. That’s a step forward. My confidence level has grown but, I would say my colour does play a role. If my shoulders are dark, I don’t want to wear a sleeveless shirt but it’s super hot outside. Sometimes I don’t like wearing white due to the contrast in colour. Because, I’m always comparing myself and parents would compare you too … I mean, my confidence… it’s not perfect.

Why should a dark skin girl be shamed for her skin because her skin has more melanin in it? Why should a dark skin girl always feel devalued next to a light skin skin? Why should a dark skin girl grow up with no confidence, and the belief that she isn’t good enough?

Melanin skin is rich, brown and beautiful.

To all my women of deeper skin tones, let’s embrace the colour of our skin. Let’s show them our unique colour. Let’s glow together. 

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