Growing up, I was surrounded by Bollywood music, intricately detailed salwar kameezes and lots of curry. I loved everything about Bengali culture. But, growing up Bengali also meant Eurocentric beauty standards were the norm. Fair skin equated to beauty. Being light skinned was considered the number one factor of whether or not a girl is deemed attractive. It felt like the worst thing a girl could be was dark.
In Bengali households, girls are taught that the lighter you are, the prettier, leading to a childhood of insecurities and lack of comfort in my skin. Commercials of bleaching products like Fair & Lovely were advertised constantly on Bengali TV channels. In these advertisements, girls with dark skin were unable to get their dream job or their dream guy, but once they began using Fair & Lovely, and inevitably got lighter, they magically were rewarded with everything they'd ever wanted and more. This standard of beauty was ingrained in my brain and I found it beyond challenging to embrace and love the skin I was in.
As a young girl, I spent hours googling things like "DIY skin lightening masks" and browsed through hundreds of websites looking for masks I could make with items I had at home. I used masks composed of turmeric, milk, and rice flour. I used raw papaya on my face. I tried lemon, cucumber, aloe vera, ANYTHING, that these websites told me would help me become lighter. I even used Fair & Lovely, at only nine years old, in efforts to be a lighter skin tone. I spent days crying, wondering why God had punished me with dark skin. I spent years questioning my beauty and hoping that one day I'd be light skinned. I spent months trying to scrape the darkness off of me. Nothing ever completely worked. I viewed my skin tone as a disease, that I had to get rid of.
In my head, being fair was the epitome of beauty and being dark was synonymous with being ugly. I spent so many summers indoors, so I wouldn't tan. When I did go outside, I made sure to lather my skin in sunscreen and try to cover myself up as much as possible, so that no part of me could get darker than I already was. There were years of aunties exclaiming how kala, dark, I had gotten. My sister and I were even distinguished based on our skin color. She was the shada, light one and I was the kala one. It was horrible to have my insecurities constantly brought up to me as if it was just a simple talking matter.
I wasted so many years, trying to live up to this impossible European standard. I wasted my precious childhood feeling insecure and defeated because of my desire to be lighter. Because of my need to feel beautiful and deep-seated belief that beauty meant being light-skinned, I didn't realize that beauty is so much more than the color of my skin. I was blinded by this so very wrong thought process that I and many Bengali girls have drilled into our heads at a young, influential age. It took years of self-hatred and insecurities, to finally discover that beauty is not, and never will be, defined by Eurocentric beauty standards. This view is problematic and it's time to address this standpoint that South Asian cultures have on skin color.
It's time that us brown girls love the skin that we're in. We have melanin and we should be proud of that. We shouldn't listen to anyone or anything that tells us that being fair means being lovely. No one range of skin tone should ever be deemed beautiful or hideous. Being literally any skin tone is beautiful and we shouldn't be made to feel like only one shade is.
Who said beauty was defined by skin tone and made Eurocentric beauty standards become our perception of attractive? Who said we had to continue to feel uncomfortable in our own skin because we're not light skinned? We have the ability to question what beauty really is and the strength to go beyond years of instilled values and our culture's definition of lovely. We have the ability to redefine beauty. We're all beautiful, regardless of the color of our skin. It's time to break free of the Eurocentric beauty standards holding us back and embrace our exquisiteness and truly love the skin we're in.