32°C heat. Let’s talk about race.

ceramic pots with different coloured dyes, from black to brown to dark grey.

More specifically, lets talk about colour.

Walking with a friend in central Mumbai, 32°C and it feels like my skin is fizzing and bubbling from the heat. She is dressed in jeans, a full sleeve top, canvas pumps and a long scarf, which covers everything except her eyes, but it’s not tied in the usual ‘hijab’ manner. I casually asked if she was covering her face because of the traffic and pollution. Her reply shocked me.

It’s because of the sun. She did not want to darken her bone brown shade of skin.

How we perceive ourselves and how we let other peoples perception of us affect our own self-image is both amusing and frightening. I’ve been a victim to allowing other peoples prejudices affect me, but not so much that I need to cover myself head to toe to avoid darkening my skin in 32°C heat.

Is it a simple matter of realising we can accept or deny other people’s ideas of who is the beauty and who is the beast? Which box we are shoved into and which box we choose to dance in?  Do we even have a choice if the imposition of what is beautiful has been super-imposed on us for several years? The idea of what is beautiful has been present for centuries, but to what extent did it affect people during that time? Before advertising, how mad were we when it came to beautifying ourselves?

The idea of what is beautiful can sometimes have too much power over an individual.

I lived in Liverpool for a few years and had a fair few friends who were normally a cloud pink-ish shade and would visit the tanning salon three times a week to then eventually come out a bone brown shade. My British-South Asian friends of various shades of skin from cameo brown to friar brown, also visited the tanning salon before a big occasions in order to ‘even’ out their skin tone. I’ve read this recommendation as a beauty regime in many Asian newspapers and glossy magazines over and over again.

I was aware of ‘skin-lightening’ creams and lotions as I had seen the adverts on the Asian television networks and the products in the Asian shops in the UK. I never thought it would affect an individual so much for them to cover their entire body except for their eyes.

Then I began to look more clearly. There were a lot more women covered in this manner, some even with evening/opera gloves which are sold as ‘skin-protection’ gloves. Why did I find this idea of someone covered from head to toe in 32°C  heat, more shocking then a person religiously visiting a tanning salon three time a week? These women most probably used skin lightening creams too which harms the skin but so do tanning beds. It was just not a ‘normal’ thing for me to see.

Then I noticed the billboards advertising ‘fairness’ creams for men. I guess there is no sexism in this particular market.

What about the historical and present day influence of the British Raj? Could this idea of ‘white’ being the ultimate staple of beauty still be present if there had been no British rule in India? Probably.

I wanted to be darker. A browner shade as a child. Rustic brown kind of shade.

Going through a few rough patches I understand now beauty is mostly about confidence. When I use to read such ideas in magazines, I use to think it sounded like an old cliché and how it was airy-fairy nonsense. Some of my rough patches is the same nonsense of me allowing someone to define me, but on the opposing side. I wanted to look more ‘Indian’, more like a ‘paki’. I remember as a child a lunch lady asking me if my father was called Albert and me looking at her thinking how odd she was that she didn’t realise my parents were from India. A few more cruel comments from others made me realise that I didn’t look ‘Indian’ enough.

I did not know what to say to my friends remark. Hindsight being a bitch I wish I would have said, but we all bleed red don’t we?’ or ‘we are a bit of a nutty species.’ Trying to keep the skin as white as possible on one continent, and maintaining a strict regime of darkening the skin on the other side. Instead I said something uninteresting and thought to talk about it more at a later date when we knew each other better.

(Photograph for this post – taken by 16:9 Clue @ http://bit.ly/1BqzHZy)



© Sofia Amina