Amplifying Our Voices
"In our South Asian communities, very often the trauma from facing colorism that our mothers and grandmothers’ experience exerts itself in the words they say to us. This however does not by any means make the process of perpetuating this colorist mentality okay."
I never realized my own privilege. When I was a young girl, I was praised for my lighter skin tone. I would hear an overflow of compliments from the people within my south Asian community over literally the most superficial aspect of my features. On the other end, I would hear my cousins and friends with darker skin tones being specifically shamed and being told they are at a disadvantage. I would hear them being told things such as “stop going out in the sun you will get darker” and “oh she’s not fair skinned? That is going to ruin marriage prospects”. People even went on to tell their children to put “tomatoes on their faces because it works to lighten the skin tone”. These words were never said to me, but unfortunately were words that many of my friends and family have had to hear.
In today’s climate, many of us are aware and understanding of colorism that goes on in South Asian communities. It is also important for us to understand that this issue goes beyond the generations we see. Our mothers were told to enhance their beauty through skin lightening creams and would wear foundations lighter than their skin tones on their wedding day to make themselves appear lighter. In our South Asian communities, very often the trauma from facing colorism that our mothers and grandmothers’ experience exerts itself in the words they say to us. This however does not by any means make the process of perpetuating this colorist mentality okay.
Looking back at it, I regret every single moment I stayed silent while hearing my friends and family being shamed for their darker skin tone. That inevitably made me a part of the problem. Even accepting the praise and compliments on my skin tone is a contribution to the colorist mentality. We need to change the idea that lighter skin is a standard of beauty. We need to change a mentality that has been passed on through generations. We have the power to change this. We need to amplify our voices. Young darker skinned girls need to be told their skin is beautiful. If we hear words of colorism we need to speak up. If we hear a mother say anything offensive about her daughter’s skin tone, we need to tell her that it is not okay. The entire business of “skin-lightening creams” needs to come to an end. Our words can change this lingering issue plaguing our community.
One of the most important things I realized is that even those who are praised and complimented for their lighter skin tone need to speak up and not just willingly accept those compliments. Lighter skin tone is not a standard of beauty and this message needs to be amplified in our words and actions. Looking back, I cannot take back the moments I literally accepted colorist beauty standards. What I can do today is amplify my own voice and challenge the South Asian beauty standards. And hopefully one day, we can ensure that the generations of young girls in front of us do not ever feel disadvantaged by their skin tone and always feel beautiful in the skin they’re in.