This is a hard one. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I’m afraid of what I’ll feel when I hit publish, and I’m not sure if there is a right answer. Like many areas, there are many shades of grey… and honestly I’m not sure if there’s a pun there.
I’ve written in the past about the strive for “fair skin” in India. Yes, some Americans have a desire for the perfect tan, but there are plenty of not-so-tan or naturally tan individuals to say that while there are people who strive for a tan, it isn’t an issue of a “must have tan” or you’ll be discriminated against.
Is it okay to perpetuate someone else’s bias?
That’s where we are right now. My kids are cute. I’ll admit it. They both have enjoyed some modeling, but it saddens me that there are some super cute kids who aren’t getting the chance to model because they don’t have the right skin tone. There, I said it. Complexion. Fair skin. Skin lighteners for pre-teens. These are things my children’s friends face.
It is one thing to hear of the cases of US college photoshopping diversity into the student body into their college brochures (that was an issue back 15 years ago when I was in college, and it is still an issue I’m sure), but perhaps it is another thing to bring in dark haired Canadians and Russians to pose as light skinned Indians, right?
When we were in Kochi earlier this year, my husband and I were commenting on all the bridal jeweler billboards (hoardings as they call them there) that showed clearly Russian/Eastern European women on them. Yes, I know, I can’t assume that those specific photos weren’t of people who were of mixed heritage, but I’ve been on shoots with non-Indians posing as Indians. Is that okay? There are hundreds of non-Indians married to Indians living in India, but why aren’t there Indians modeling the bridal jewelry? Are they promoting the co-mingling and marriage of Indian men to non-Indian women…
or, is it the desire to showcase the desired fair skin?
This morning, while my daughter was getting ready for her school’s super late Halloween dress up day, I allowed her to have a bit of make up (against my otherwise better judgement… but most kids wear make up, at least Kajal aka Kohl on dress up days.) So while adding some sparkle she commented that one boy in her class has fairer skin than she does.
For a few moments I didn’t even know what to say. Do I ignore it? Do I comment? What is appropriate? I asked her why that mattered and she said it didn’t. But she said it. They are comparing. Then, in my 6:10 am tiredness told her that “you know if you’re back in the US no one will know what you mean by fairer skin, right?” She said no she didn’t know that, but this is one thing about raising cross cultural kids. Earlier this week she was crying and screaming a bit and begging for her hair to be dyed black. She basically was cursing the fact that I gave her “ugly” hair and that it wasn’t black and straight like “everyone else.” I think the only issue of “fair skin” comes up with Snow White, and even then, some argue it isn’t all about skin. But here, in India, it is.
When you have kids, and especially kids who may not look like most of their friends in blatant things like hair color, you have to face the fact that there will be struggles. There will be instances when you’re like why, oh why, am I facing this? So I did remind my daughter that we all have things we don’t like about ourselves. Plenty of people dye their hair to get her hair color, and I own a curling iron to get my hair curly at times! Of course, last night as we prepared for her to dress up as Elsa, she was begging to dye her hair “white” so I know it is passing issue, but deep down, there are issues of defining beauty.
My daughter is who she is but there are a half billion or so girls here in India who are comparing themselves to the models they see that are nothing like them. There are so few “wheatish” skinned models and TV stars, much less dark skinned models. Now I know there are times when an “international” look is needed, but I have to ask when there’ll be demand for regular skin tones in Indian modeling jobs. Just check various model boards (plenty of them on Facebook) and I’d bet that 90% request “light skin” “rich looking” unless the part is that of someone down-trodden. Is this merely a fair skin bias or just asking for what people ‘perceive’?
Fair skin = rich looking?
Perhaps when Fair and Lovely and all the other whitening creams aren’t all over the place, the dolls for girls won’t be white kids, the variety of skin tones found between north, south, east and west, will be showcased. Instead of this desire for always fairer. I mean, even I, with some peach under tones and plenty of freckles have been offered skin lightening products and actually at Shopper’s Stop the make up lady refused to give me foundation powder that was the shade I wanted. She refused to give me anything other than level 1. Perhaps I was too polite and figured I’d mix it since I was in between shades, but this desire to look whiter than I am, to keep kids away from the benefits of the sun all to have more desirable skin, has to stop.
In the 8 years of reading matrimonials, skin color/complexion is still listed but at least it seems like the ads are changing. But, are the attitudes?
The thing is, when it comes to a bias, is it possible to be here with our kids as they are and not perpetuate it? Beauty is something that all cultures strive toward, that all people have a different definition. But, when beauty isn’t just skin deep, can we really change perceptions that easily?
The other part is that culture and beliefs are always changing. Yes, there are bigger issues out there in the world, and my child is just one of billions.
I don’t have an answer. My daughter at least enjoys modeling – but there are definitely more “cans of worms” to be opened in this discussion… and I’m looking for wisdom and guidance.
What do we need to gain internal acceptance? A commercial free life? Is that possible today? Or, is it a matter of more individuals rebuffing bias, even if the bias is in our favor?
Here are some articles to read on the topic: