My Skin Color Does Not Define Me

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

“Oh, wow! You look like your skin’s gotten lighter!” were the first words out of all my relatives’ mouths when I visited Bangladesh. Everyone expected me to say “thank you” as if it were a compliment. I’ve always known that within the South Asian community there is a negative connotation attached to being dark skinned, but as I grew older, I realized how much it affected me and my self-confidence.

In my native tongue, “Bangla” is the word for both fair-skinned and beautiful. Other than my parents, almost everyone in my extended family has made me feel like I’m inferior because of my darker skin. Since I was little, I was told by relatives not to play in the sun because it would make me darker. I was told not to wear certain colors because they made me look darker, and that it would be hard for me to get married. I was told to use “Fair and Lovely” (a skin bleaching cream) and given “tips” on how to lighten my skin.To this day, my uncle greets me with “Hey Kali” which translates to “Hey dark-skinned girl.” Whenever I complain about this, I am told “You are dark skinned. What do you expect?”

I am perfectly fine with being dark-skinned, but not with being treated like I’m not good enough because of my skin color. My uncle has told me and my dark-skinned little cousin numerous times as a “joke,” to stay away from his fair-skinned daughter because we would somehow transfer our “darkness” to her. Attempting to get sympathy would only make me seem like a drama queen who didn’t know how to take a joke. As if making someone feel like they aren’t good enough and belittling them since their childhood because of their skin color is a hilarious subject. It seemed that the only way to get some recognition from my family was to do well in school. To this day, I’m known in my family as the smart one while all my fair-skinned cousins are the pretty ones.

Although I was made to believe that there was something “wrong” with dark skin and that I should aspire to lighter, I have realized that skin color does not define beauty. I have learned to love my skin, but sadly, I have encountered many beautiful melanin-rich women who have let society ruin their confidence. Once I was at my cousin’s house and someone made a negative remark about her skin color. As I was leaving, I saw her in the bathroom scrubbing her face with soap until it turned bright red. I asked her what she was doing, her response broke my heart; she quietly replied, “I have to be lighter so that I can be pretty.” My five year old cousin has already been conditioned to believe that she’s not good enough because of her skin. This cultural obsession about skin color must cease. That is why I adore campaigns that fight against the idea of colorism, such as the “Dark is Beautiful” and “Unfair and Lovely” campaign. Both of these campaigns are continuously gaining considerable support on social media.

My experiences being dark-skinned in a South Asian family has helped me in different ways. The constant discomfort that I faced led me to work as hard as I could in my studies, extracurriculars and personal hobbies in order to prove my worth to myself. I imagine that if I were not dark-skinned, I would not know about the colorism that exists in South Asian culture and I wouldn’t go on to be an advocate for campaigns such as “Unfair and Lovely.” To make my own stand, I hope to start a blog dedicated to my experience with colorism in the South Asian community in order to help girls who share my struggles and educate those who are not conscious of it.

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