South Asian communities are keen on the image of beauty having relation to being "fair and lovely." Eurocentric beauty standards and traditions have often led to a vast statistic of young brown teenage girls to feel insecure about the melanin they were born with. I've never unraveled this concept of relating paler skin with more beauty. Growing up, I've had the "privilege" of living beneath a light colored complexion, as relatives, family friends, and even strangers, have often glorified the color of my skin. I was introduced to a concept called "light-skinned privilege."
A dark-skinned girl would write about the adversity she faced as she tackles a society that shames her skin and worships European beauty features. She'd recount how she overcame this shallow mentality by learning to love and accept her dark skin. To provide an interesting twist, I am writing from the perspective on the other end of the spectrum, as a "light-skinned" brown girl, to acknowledge the fact that my skin gives me privilege in a society that has been internalizing colorist values for generations on end, and why this toxic mentality is harming brown communities.
In a metaphorical and comprehensible sense, it may be simple to compare "light skin privilege" to "white privilege," or colorism to racism. Both are systematic preferences for individuals who are of a superior trait, color, or race, giving those people societal advantages in regards to their possession of the ideal physical attractiveness standards. Colored men and women are systematically oppressed by colorist or racist means; sometimes, unfortunately, by both at the same time. But colorism, compared to racism, is an anomalous social issue that occurs every day, something I've recognized since I was nine years old.
It was nearly 100 degrees. The concrete of my backyard burned the soles of my feet and the air was laced with intensified humidity. But still, it's summer. No one stays in their house; folks practically lived in the outdoors. We cooked, conversed, slept, and ate right on our own property. The people of my culture spend every day living in the ambiance under the sun, so why is colorism such a normality?
It's because my people want to embrace their sun, but are pressured to hide in the shade. My nine-year-old charismatic self completely ignored this. I played freeze tag, rode my bike, and played games under the sun all day, until one day, my mom said to me:
"Melissa why you run in the sun all day? Your skin will turn black!"
She expects me to spend more time in the shade than in the sun. If I am in the sun, I must be fully clothed, even in 100-degree weather. Wearing a tank top and shorts while being in the sun is utterly scorned upon. It is dangerous, detrimental to my well-being, not because of the fact that I'm exposed to an excessive amount of harmful UV rays that can potentially cause skin cancer, but because my skin tone will become darker, and my "beauty will fade."
To avoid any misinterpretation of all this, I'm not whining about how "difficult" it is to have light skin. I'm not saying that those with light skin can be oppressed just as much as people with dark skin. Because they can't be. It's not the same. In reference to my racism analogy previously mentioned, saying people with light skin can also be oppressed in colorist communities is like saying white people can be oppressed in colored communities. This is completely false. The concept applies both ways; the same way minorities cannot systematically oppress white people is comparable to dark-skinned people not having the privilege and power in society to discriminate light skin people.
When a girl is shamed for her dark complexion, encouraged to bleach her skin, buys foundation a few shades lighter, invests in the popular "Fair & Lovely" skin cream, idolizes magazine cover models who are only of light skin complexion, learns that men in colorist communities prefer light-skinned women over dark skin, this is known as real, systematic oppression. This is a problem that is highly underrated.
However, there are no creams used to make a person of lighter complexion darker. No one is pressuring me to stay in the sun so I can be darker. What my mother had said to me was not systematically oppressive at all. It was said in a tone of admiration and caution, not a tone of distaste and discrimination.
I've read works addressing social injustices such as racism and police brutality, sexism, and homophobia, but can barely recall one that touched upon colorism. Today, I've used my "light skin privilege" as a platform to speak out against colorism and to raise awareness on the problematic cultural notions instilled in the minds of young girls in colored societies.
In other words, love your skin! Love the color of it, please. No matter how dark or how light you are. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it.