Living Beyond Our Skin

I live in Kolkata. Kolkata is a cosmopolitan area within India, but colorism is still a huge issue here. Growing up, I was fairly tan, and because of that alone, people made me feel like there was something wrong with me. On top of that, I had acne.

Even though my skin has come a long way, people still ask me  - “Are you fine? Do you need some advice?” People are constantly trying to make you feel like you’re not good enough in your own skin. In South Asia, beauty is a very important thing, and even people close to you might try to make you feel like there’s something wrong with your face.

I was constantly compared to my elder sister because she was fair, and she never had acne. People used to tell my sister - “She doesn’t even look like your sister. Is she adopted???” When asking, they would make these horrible faces. Their attitudes made me feel incredibly bad, but my sister would jump to my defense. She was always on my side. As the fair one, she knew that she held the privilege and that it was ultimately up to her to defend me. My mother is also quite fair so I was constantly compared to her as well. People would say - “She doesn’t even look like your daughter. Is she fine? Is something wrong???” My mom would tell them to leave me alone, but it was still difficult, and there were days where I let it affect me. 

I used to get so offended, but I just kept smiling. But at times, I would go home and cry my eyes out. I just felt like I wasn’t worthy or good-looking. I would think to myself - “God, why wasn’t I born fair? Because that is the only way you can be pretty or good-looking.” I never saw women who looked like me conceptualized as beautiful. I either saw white women on TV or brown women in Bollywood who were fair. 

That’s why I say that people of color, especially those who have deeply toned skin, need real representation. They need representation that makes them feel seen, not images that are shown just for the sake of inclusivity. Brands should also present affirming images of people with acne. We need this so women like me don’t go through so much shame to the point that we despise ourselves.  

While I was growing up, self-image was a very painful thing for me. Plus, I didn’t even know how to stand up for myself. When it came to elders, I believed that I should respect and take in their opinions. But now, it has come to a point where I don’t pay any attention to their comments. I don’t care now, but as a child, it truly used to affect me. The journey has been quite long, but I don’t let people disrespect me now. I give it right back to them. I’ve noticed that when I stand up for myself, people get offended, and I don’t know why. 

People would tell me to use skin-lightening creams. There is this mentality that you can only be beautiful if you are fair. And if you don’t match up to that, you have to apply bleaching creams like Fair and Lovely which are extremely detrimental to the skin. For that reason, the more progressive Gen Z and Millenial audiences have bashed the brand left and right. However, rather than taking down the brand completely. They changed the name to “Glow and Lovely” …as if that changes anything…. The ingredients and the idea behind the brand are completely the same.

I believe bleaching is still popular because fair skin signifies not only beauty but presentability within many parts of India. Even today, this idea is still deeply ingrained and widely uncontested. I think that the day this changes is the day people will stop consuming the product.

I never used Fair and Lovely, and this was mainly because of how bad my acne was. I had very oily skin so I used to wash my face like five times a day without using moisturizer to avoid breakouts. However, this caused me to break out even worse. I was 12 when I first got acne, and I was extremely ashamed. On the other hand, acne has changed the way I treat people. I don’t judge people because of how they look because I know how that feels. I have social anxiety from acne and from the judgment of others. I did not like going out. I didn’t have any friends, and I was very timid because I didn’t like myself. And as I mentioned before, there was no representation to help me with this. 

Cassandra was one of the first people I saw who had acne. I was like - “Oh my gosh, is this woman actually talking about her acne? How is she so comfortable with her skin???” That was the first time I didn’t feel alone. That was the first time I felt like there wasn’t anything wrong with me and like I was doing fine.

That’s why I’ve made a comfort zone on Instagram where women like me can be comfortable and talk about their journey. All in all, women are constantly told to be a certain way. We’re told - “Be this way, talk this way, sit this way, and walk this way.” But we can use social media to fight against this and to show people that they’re not alone in their struggle. I’ve spoken with women who have messaged me saying - “I don’t like looking at myself.” We deserve better than this so I feel like I have a responsibility to be their voice and to be there for them. I want them to know that they are not alone. Skin doesn’t define our worth, and we can go on to do the things we want in life.