Priyanka: We Are Not Our Skin

Priyanka is an advocate for women and a software developer from Mumbai, India.

Skin positivity has always been very difficult for me. I’ve been struggling with acne for as long as 18 years now. I started with skin positivity because I just wanted to be out there and share myself with people. Cassandra was the only girl I had ever seen do that. At first, I didn’t do it because I thought that people might say something nasty to me. In the beginning, my posts were informative, but as I learned about other people’s stories, I got more into skin positivity. At ten, I started to get a little bit of acne, but by the time I was 15, it was full-blown.

Nobody around me had it like that. However, I still never stared at myself in the mirror or wondered what was wrong with me until people started getting attracted to my friends and not me. Then I thought - “Oh, my God. My skin is so oily. I look so much different than my friends.” My friends started to get into relationships, and I did not. I started to feel lonely, and that affected my self-esteem. I stopped talking to people, and it became difficult for me to make friends. I was always an introvert, but I was never uncomfortable going out, but suddenly I was. I started to get bullied, and on top of that, having dark skin is not considered good-looking in India. I remember being 3 or 4, and already hearing people talk about fair skin so that also had a huge impact on me.

When I was 8, I had to go to a new school, and a girl pointed me out. She said - “Who's going to be friends with her?” After that, I stopped making friends. Remembering that specific incident makes apparent how bad this treatment was for me. This treatment was just because of the skin color of my skin, not even because of its texture. As I was growing up, I did make friends, but sometimes they criticized other girls in front of me. In turn, I would then get very stressed about what my friends might be saying about me when I wasn’t there. That constant worry really hurt my mental health and because I feared getting judged, I could not trust anyone. As I got older, the judgement didn’t stop. When I started going on dates, guys always made it a point to call out my skin (as if I didn't know that I have dark skin or that I have acne.)

When I was 17, I went on a date with this guy, and he said - “If you were beautiful and fair, I would date you.” Now, just think about the impact that has on a 17 year old girl’s mind. But still, people used to tell me that my acne and incidents like this were all in my head. They would tell me that I have acne because I think about my acne. When I was 23, I met some really nice friends, but there was still something inside of me that made me feel like I was lacking. I had a really bad loss of interest in things. Although there were things that I liked, I didn’t understand the point in doing them while having dark skin or acne. I just felt as if I would still never be up to the mark. However, that slowly started to change when I met nice people.

Fortunately, they helped me understand what I like about myself and that I am someone.

It was still difficult though. When I was 25, my parents started looking for me to get married. I went to a marriage fair, and the only thing I was hearing was - “She should be fair. She should be slim.” All of the people there assumed that they wanted fair skin women, and at that moment, I felt as if I was being made fun of and offended. It was an intense experience for me. In India, there are more people who have brown skin, and yet, they decide to comment on dark skin. It seems like you’re only complimented when you have fair skin. For that reason, I would avoid conversations with other girls sometimes because skin always came up somehow. I stopped using Facebook for the same reason. If I see light skin girls being admired on social media, I’m automatically going to compare it to myself. Seeing that type of thing makes it even harder to accept myself and my skin’s deep brown tone. No one has the same skin color, so social media content like that is very toxic in general.

There has just always been this expectation for girls to be fair. If there is a guy who is a dark color, he might expect a female suitor to still be very much fair, and he wants to impress a fair skin girl. If you have an arranged marriage, you are more anxious as a dark skin girl to go in front of his family and meet them - even if they are dark skin. When I tried to get into relationships they said - “I don’t prefer you because you have dark skin or acne.” After I turned 23, I stopped getting feelings of attraction. Every time someone asked me about getting married or getting into a relationship, it used to give me panic attacks or anxiety attacks. However, I was very composed when I actually went on a date or met a family. But as soon as I went home, I felt so much mental pressure that I used to start crying. The topic of marriage just used to make me so anxious. My parents always ask me to get married, and I feel very repelled.

While there are a lot of social expectations on women, I’ve actually never been denied an opportunity because I was a woman, but it depends on where you live. I’m from Maharashtra, Mumbai, and I didn’t grow up in that environment. But, there are some sexist societies in India where women have to tone themselves down, and they do not have much of a voice. Even though I’ve faced so much for having dark skin and acne, that type of discrimination has never been a problem for me.

However, I’ve still faced a lot of classism. India has progressed a lot, but we still have the caste system even though it was abolished by the constitution. It still exists socially if not systemically. Although there are a lot of inner caste marriages, men have told me that they cannot marry me because I’m from a lower caste. However, some would still act possessive or suggest getting physical. From a very young age, you are taught views about people from other castes and about who you should marry. A lot of people don’t even accept that someone from my caste can be as smart, but I’m actually leading a team of guys at my office. I’m very grateful that I’ve met people who value my input and appreciate my qualities enough to lead a team, but there are indirect assumptions made about me. However, their assumptions don’t take away the responsibility that I have to my own caste. I want to advocate for equality and inclusivity.

I think those toxic, classist, and colorist standards are a major reason why the system is so unaccepting of acne as well. But even though we can’t control our skin, we should still try to follow our dreams and to achieve the things we want. Trying anything new always used to give me anxiety, and I stopped myself from growing. But, someday soon I will be on my own and just be happy.