As a few hours old mum, I had barely learnt to hold my baby, and in walked the first visitor to my hospital room. I still remember the first thing I was asked by that person: “How is he so fair when you are dark?” I remember being speechless, not because as a microbiologist and genetics being my favourite subject, I couldn’t find the words to tell her all about the way genetics works and the miracles of a recessive gene. But because
I couldn’t believe that skin colour was the first thing that came to the mind of a 55-year-old woman on seeing a 5-hour-old baby.
Though, this was not my first tryst with the skin colour obsession. Everyone was preoccupied with the baby being fair ever since they knew I was pregnant. I remember every person from my grandmother to an aunt I barely knew, tell me what things I should or shouldn’t eat to ensure the baby is fair. Though, I just ate what I felt like which is basically chocolate ice creams, chocolate cakes and pastries, which makes me wonder how come my son was not born chocolate in colour.
But I digress, like I said, my tryst with skin colour is a very long one. Being a dark kid who liked to play outside in the sun, my skin colour was always the concern for people around me. Cream recommendations and makeup tips were a part of any gathering I attended. I need to state here that I have never applied makeup in my life. But I have had people tell me to do so to appear one shade lighter.
I wanted to ask them would being one shade lighter make me twice as intelligent?
No. Then maybe it would suddenly give me super powers or the ability to sing like Lata Mangeshkar? Well, no. Ok, then maybe applying makeup would make me a good actress, or a talented artist? Again, no. So why do I need to appear a shade lighter than I actually am? Oh, maybe it will change my flat nose into a perfectly sharp one once the makeup is on. What? You think I am joking? If you were exposed to people’s obsession with fair skin for as long as I have you’d realise that it is a joke.
Which brings me to another point, why is being dark so bad. I mean, we have this pigment that reacts to the amount of sun we are exposed to. We live in a country that is hot and sees a lot of sun and that means we are exposed to more sun than most. And we should be thankful for that, I know of people who crave to see the sun for days. But I’m rambling again. The point I am trying to make is, we can’t control the genes, we can’t control the sun, yet we try to change our dark skin to a fairer tone. It is such a futile attempt, isn’t it? So basically, corporate houses with everything to gain create a negative body image based on a person’s skin colour to sell products that won’t work because those products can neither stop the sun from shining nor alter the genetic makeup of a person. But we are made to believe that dark is bad and fair is beautiful, to the extent that fairness is important to get work, win competitions, be a good actor or a sing, basically, fairness is the most important quality to achieve anything in life especially if you are a woman.
Now just imagine if NASA had a ‘fairness’ clause while selecting astronauts instead of sheer brilliance, would Sunita Williams or Kalpana Chawla have made it? Would people like Maya Angelou have made it in a world where it was important to be fair to write good poetry? What if Oprah Winfrey, M S Shubahlakshmi, Whitney Huston or Shilpa Rao were told they couldn’t do what they did because they were not fair. Does all this not sound ludicrous to you?
Then it is high time we stop this lunacy created for the benefit of a few. No one needs to be fair to do what they need to do. Fairness isn’t even a quality, then why do we make it one? Dark is beautiful. In fact, every person is beautiful, irrespective of their skin colour. We need to stop judging people based on their appearance and start judging them based on what they say and do, based on how they think and how they react, based on how they treat others. And the next time someone tries to tell you that you can’t be successful if you are dark, laugh as hard as you can because that is the biggest joke any person could crack.