A Girl, Dark And Beautiful

‘This is it. This is my last time dressing up for another man. The next man who says yes to me, I will marry him. No matter what,said ‘A Girl’ to herself. Growing up in India, I have come across several women who have gone through this mortifying phase in their life. ‘Meet the Bride’ is a pre-scheduled event most in their marriageable age go through, arranged by families who are looking for a potential partner for their adult children. At times this episode can be traumatic. This is so common that it is normalised in our society and many people say, ‘none of those who came to see you will ever remember you. So why do you feel so upset?’ It is not the case, everyone remembers everyone they met, especially most remember those who rejected them for the very many silly and heartbreaking reasons. Much has changed due to the advent of the internet yet no much.

The only tolerable pathway by society standards for marriage, always arranged. I know, I fell in love and to marry the man of my choice was quite a task. Trust me. And arranged in the ’90s and even today, it means dolling up to be eye candy for about twenty minutes in front of ‘A Man’ and his entourage. Oh! They are ‘A Man’s’ support, who are there especially to access you, grade you and check you out.

‘Why don’t the boy and girl step outside? These are modern times, let them get to know each other’, said an elderly man. ‘A Girl’, by now, has already seen thirty-six men. She stepped outside to the verandah and No. 37 followed her, she was cold, disheartened, unenthusiastic, and knew what the outcome would be. ‘If this person also rejects me, I will for sure remain a spinster, a burden to my siblings and family, a lifelong sob story for all’, said ‘A Girl’ to herself. One cannot blame her for feeling this way because she has served tea, answered questions from every entourage before, and did get to know all 36 men in this same verandah. And all said, ‘we will let you know.’ 

‘A Girl’ knows, ‘It’s my dignity I am letting you play with. My self-respect.’ The waiting game is on. Day 1, no response. Day 2, no response, Day 5, no response. With a heavy heart ‘A Girl’s’ mother will push her father to make the call to ‘A Man’s’ family and seek their response. ‘Oh! We thought we called you. We have been busy seeing so many girls, we must have missed calling you. And our boy, he prefers a much fairer girl. Your girl is beautiful, she will find someone soon.’ ‘A girl’ after her fifth rejection experience, stopped expecting, so as usual, she did not foresee any other response from No.37. This time no one from her family was bothered, they too had given up.  

A cousin of a cousin called, ‘the boy liked our girl. They want to know what our answer is.’ ‘A Girl’ without a second thought said, ‘yes. It’s a yes. I will marry him.’ Her mother immediately said, ‘but he is very short, shorter than you. To that, ‘a Girl’ said, ‘maybe he is in the same boat as me. I am fed up with hearing from every other person the reason for rejecting me, ’my dark-skin. I want to marry him and we shall never discuss his height further.’  He was not just short, he was inches shorter than her. Within a few months, the marriage happened, ‘kullan & karumbi,’ (the shortie & the blackie) that was the nickname given to them by their family members. ‘A Girl’ survived it all, it’s now twenty-two years and she is now the mother of two beautiful kids, a strong and supportive wife, and a working woman. We will catch up with her later. 

I am sure I would have also been rejected for my colour and weight. I never had to go through such an ordeal. I am not sure how I would have coped in her situation. But ‘COLOUR’ has always been the central part of my growing up too. You introduce your sisters and the first question all ask, ‘Are they your real sisters?’ Are you seriously asking me that? I always felt the cringe every time someone told me, ‘Oh you are this person’s daughter. You are so dark. Your mother is so fair.’ And my father is not. Dah! Why do people just feel so comfortable commenting on a person’s complexion? What gives them the audacity to be so spiteful? 

Recently read a post that shared the story of a girl’s struggle growing up being labeled, darkie and her struggles dealing with colour discrimination right from school to workspace and the difficulty finding a groom due to her dark complexion. The comment section was full of support except the comments were by all means wrong. One read, ‘she was a confident person. I am so happy that a man has agreed to marry her despite her colour. I am happy that finally she is getting married,’ another, ‘she is so lucky that the guy agreed to marry her, he has such a good heart.’ What !!!

We are conditioned at a tender age to believe ‘dark is NOT beautiful’. You are born into a society that accepts you only if you have fairer skin, a lighter complexion, and pale lips. When I was a baby my mother used to scoop the cream from the milk, mix it with powdered red sandalwood or turmeric and apply it on my face to make my face lighter. I know. Yes, it happened. She meant well. ‘Times were different’, we said then and ‘times are different’, we are still maintaining it now. Even though my parents never once said anything about my colour, it caused them anxiety. On the other hand, my relatives, cousins, and a few friends have always enjoyed commenting on my back, ‘how dark she is and how sad it is that she is not as beautiful as her sisters’. It was painful. It took away my confidence and it was hard to stand tall and not show your real feeling. I have seen how differently my sisters were treated and how I was treated, it always bothered me. It confused me then and it still does. 

During my childhood, because of how I was treated, it was instilled in me that having a lighter complexion is beautiful and bleaching your skin is the only option to look brighter. In India, our advertisements stipulated we need to use fairness cream to look smart and fairer so you will get selected for an interview. Your promotion depends on your brighter, fairer skin. Your marriage happens when you have fair skin. So, we were all conditioned to question our very own existence. 

My first facial was when I was seventeen. Those times, it was, ‘we can make you fair, bleach before facial. We can bleach your hands and feet and shoulders and make you brighter.’ The usual saying within the beauty parlours now, ‘it’s just to remove your tan and the glow happens only if you bleach your face’. Earlier I used to believe it and that 10 to 15 minutes the bleach is lathered on your face, it’s the worst sensation, ‘a small price to pay to look fair’, said my beautician. I stopped bleaching my face when I turned twenty-six. I am comfortable with my skin, content with my colour, with myself and I have accepted myself for who I am. So no matter what anyone says about my skin tone it does not bother me. I have learned to ignore and not be affected by it. But if someone denies me a seat at the table because of my colour, I will not accept that. That’s a different story altogether. 

Did ‘a Girl’ who married her No.37 have a happy ending? ‘I am not sure if I would have said yes if it was not for that scary feeling that I had at that time. I thought I would end up alone. Rejection after rejection took away my dignity. I felt like an object. My worry was I will be a burden for my family and siblings. My husband is extremely fair but short. If he were taller, I am sure he would also have rejected me. I know that for sure because my mother-in-law always reminds me ‘he would have gotten a much fairer girl than you but he was short and we could not demand’ I am happy but I am not. If I had the confidence I have now, I would never be worried about being single. I know now, I could have made it but I did not know then.’ said ‘A Girl’. 

One might think this colour discrimination will end with ‘A Girl’ in her family at least. No!!! You thought wrong. Unfortunately, it’s a cycle. Her kids, one is fair as their father and the second, dark like their mother. The fairer child is treated well within the family, and the darker child has so much anxiety, lack of confidence due to the constant bullying within the family. Our society has got a lot to answer but where do we start? Is there any way this can change? 

We live in a time where calling ‘hey, you idiot’, ‘not you dumbo’, ‘you retarded’, ‘you good for nothing’ are thought to be normal. Especially with children. Some say it’s just fun. I have seen and heard some folks call their kids, ‘hey darkie, pass the salt, at home and in front of others very casually. They feel the child has no feeling, ‘my child is strong, it doesn’t bother them.’ They don’t think for a second that the child is putting on a brave face but inside they are struggling. Next time, your child will be called the same word you called by another person and the name will stick on. You as a parent should know better. It’s not too late, make a change within your own four walls and maybe we can see a change. Educate yourself and make life easier for your loved ones first. People start the conversation at home.

The only alternative is to speak up, call out and constantly share stories about our experiences from our lives so we create awareness amongst our kin and friends about our struggles about matters of colour. It matters. If someone says, ‘you are beautiful even though you are dark,’ call them out. Tell them what they are stating is unacceptable and discriminatory. Just call people out and question their intention. When you see people treating one person better than the other based on their colour, call them out and root them out of your life, (if possible) if they continue doing so. Yes, it sounds simple. Because it is that easy. All we have to do is take one small step, raise our voice and speak up. If you have the platform to voice your opinion, raise awareness. Stand up for what’s right. Keep your stories coming, and never stop.   

2 thoughts on “A Girl, Dark And Beautiful

  1. Our race seems to be so obsessed with beauty and the standards of beauty. Indians specifically have had 200 years of slave-like attitude towards the British which should have heightened our fixation on fairer skin. I am myself dark with no endearing facial features. Stepping into my 40s I acknowledge that beauty never mattered (well except for arranged marriage) in different aspects of life.
    The point I am arriving at is – we need to accept good looks as one of the qualities that a person can possess. And there are other qualities an individual can have in varying measures – like intelligence, eloquence, grace, and entrepreneurship. Not everyone embodies every quality, and it is fine.
    Not everyone is pretty and it is ok. That is not the end of the world. If it is affecting your love-life we better get another love life. Let’s not be fixated on looking beautiful.

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