Learning what ‘fair’ does and doesn’t mean

“In five steps your skin will be fair and lovely.”

My skin was neither fair nor lovely. My skin was dull and disgusting.

Or so I was told.

Starting from the age of five when I first watched a fair and lovely commercial. It was subtly ingrained into my brain that darker skin is worse than lighter skin even though I wasn’t fully aware of the meaning behind the commercial. Back then, my biggest concern was outrunning my friends to the swings.

In second grade, after seeing an innumerable amount of Fair and Lovely commercials, I finally understood what they meant. I was told by my friends that my skin looked like the color of “s**t” which was why they did not want to play with me.

From that point on, my problems shifted from everyday concerns to my skin and I was determined to solve this problem, at all costs.

I would scrub my skin extra hard in the shower hoping that the layers of brown would peel off, leaving me fair and flawless. I would avoid playing in the sun during lunch breaks because, as the commercials had told me, the sun would make me darker and less likely to get a spouse. I would miss out on playing with my cousins at the beach, as I sulked in the shade, pretending that I was afraid of the water.

And as much as I tried, I could see no improvement in my skin.

Then came fifth grade, the most pivotal moment in my life. I was off to a boarding school in the mountains. New school, new me, same skin. Although by this point, I had slowly progressed out of hating my skin.

This transformation had occurred slowly and subtly. The main reason was the content of my entertainment. When I was younger, I was limited to watching TV shows that cast all-white or lighter-skinned Indians. All the models and actresses made me believe that pretty meant fair, but now, I had access to a variety of shows that involved all sorts of people of color, including people that looked like me. I was introduced to the idea that darker skinned people can also have major roles in film, not just as the side character or the ugly stepsister. I finally saw myself represented on screen in a positive way.

By the time seventh grade rolled by, my past concerns were just a mere memory. The older I grew, the less concerned I became. And although this was healthy for me, I failed to realize that the production and endorsement of fairness creams was still very glaring in India. In fact, the fairness cream market was an estimated $450 million in 2014.

Then sometime in ninth grade, when I had surrounded myself with colorful TV shows, I heard some people making fun of a girl because of how dark she was. Their “jokes” were mostly remarks on how they couldn’t see her in the dark and how they couldn’t tell if she was wearing tights or not. Ironically, I understood that people don’t actually care that much about another person’s skin. Yes, they did make fun of her skin, but if they were comfortable enough to do it in front of me, it meant that the joke wasn’t supposed to be taken that seriously. I realized that unlike the commercials, these people weren’t making these jokes to put me or that girl down, but rather, provide some sort of entertainment, though somewhat derogatory, for themselves.

And now, in 11th grade, I have almost come full cycle. I no more see myself as different or needing to be fairer. Although I’m still not 100 percent proud of my skin, I have accepted who I am and learned to live with what I was given.

But the harsh reality is that this issue still continues. As India’s internalized colorism still persists as a huge problem, fairness products and the entertainment industry only further nurture it.

I only started to feel insecure when I first saw these commercials and TV shows. Had I been introduced to a commercial or TV show that promoted or even just included darker skin, I wouldn’t have felt the need to change my self.

Fortunately, I was able to explore the world of social media and entertainment in which I was able to see how darker skin isn’t any worse than lighter skin. But for some kids out there, they may be still in the phase where they feel like they need to change their skin, which is why I think that, first and foremost, there should be an equal representation of all kinds of color on TV.

India is a country with a range of colors, so it shouldn’t be too difficult a task to equally represent all colors, rather than just dominate with lighter skin.

Since the entertainment industry helped ignite colorism, it should also hold responsibility and help mitigate it.

Because for some kid, being fairer still means being lovelier.

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