Dark Skinned Reality
The child of migrant parents, I grew up walking in two worlds, fitting comfortably into neither. In the 1980s beauty role models who looked like me were non-existent in the western society my family made their home. They were equally absent in the culture of my heritage.
My family’s regular vacations to India took me from one alienating world and dropped me into another. One where women were expected to be Fair & Lovely, where children were sent out to play with dire warnings of the sun’s power to pejoratively blacken, and where marriage proposals were bracketed with caste, education, and particular shade of skin colour.
In an Indian household in Australia, I walked a perpetual cultural tightrope. Even if I could have ignored or hidden the cultural differences, with my dark skin and thick black hair, I was never going to fit in with the Kylies and Sindys at school, and finding fashion and beauty idols that looked anything like me was nearly impossible.
There were no Disney princesses, no fairy tale characters, and no mythological figures that weren’t terrifying that I could look to for validation.
There were no women who looked like me in Dolly magazines, or on Neighbours. In very white Australia, I grew up black, but not black. Neither indigenous, nor African American, I was still the dark-skinned minority. I felt greater affinity with Iman and Grace Jones, both African women, than I did with much lighter skinned Indian women like Rekha or Sridevi; both South Indian women. My identity was shaped by a perpetual quest to attain a beauty that would forever be out of my reach; my skin was never going to become white.
Who I was, who I am, how I move through the world, have all been shaped by perceptions of me because of my skin colour, and my perceptions of myself reflected back to me from the blindingly light-skinned world I inhabit.
Confusing time but absolutely lovely writing. I loved the line – my perceptions of myself reflected back to me from the blindingly light-skinned world I inhabit.
Thank you, Kalpanaa.
I love the way this piece, like you, carries its sense of self from setting to setting, never quite finding a place where it is reflected back at itself. Also I want to hug you but that might just be because you give really excellent hugs.
I will gladly accept all hugs from you! I miss your hugs terribly. The place I wish we’d spent more time in is your town. It’s so like my town in so many ways.
Thank you for sharing this. I love the delicate push and pull of it. Wanting to be yourself, but feeling the need to identify with someone else. It’s something that most people would identify with. Beautifully written.
Thanks for your thoughtful reading and commentary, Danielle. I really appreciate that you saw the push-pull of the different forces here.
This was a very moving piece. And I agree that the change has to start with our communities.
This happens to most of Indo-Pak sub-continent people. It is sad but inevitable. I want to read more of your experiences living in Australia, please write.
Thanks Bozdar. Sadly, it’s an issue that affects more than those from the subcontinent. Anti-blackness is also rife within our desi communities. I’m an inconsistent blogger, but I do come back to it periodically. Thanks for the encouragement.
I remember my childhood days when an aunt chided me for drinking tea as the brownish black tea leaves would darken my not-so-fair skin. Drink milk : as the advice meted out to me.