South Asia, I have a question: Who’s the fairest of them all?

Mirror, mirror on the wall – who is the fairest of them all?

The one with the palest skin, of course.

Have you ever turned on a Indian channel and there’s an advertisement playing?  You see an actress who appeared to be “dark-skinned.” In this particular ad, she is planning to meet her friends for a social event. [I’m giving you an generic example. There are tons of them like this on YouTube.] She looks depressed. People make comments about her skin. One of her friends recommends Fair and Lovely. This friend says this product helps you be your better and prettier self.  Then the advertisement switches to the “results” where we see the “dark-skinned” actress before using the product and suddenly looking lighter and “prettier.” All of a sudden, this actress is happier, and making friends at the social event.

The moral behind the advertisement was that you needed to look prettier to be your best versions of yourself. And frankly, that’s the most dangerous mindset anyone can have. Unfortunately, it’s one of the prominent issues in Asia especially in South Asian countries.

There is an underlying colorist tendency here that gets manifested in simple everyday behaviors and larger social situations as well. Initially, light-skinned people of color in South Asia are inherently favored and praised – even when they haven’t achieved anything of extraordinary feat in schools, colleges, etc.  Whereas light-skinned people of color (POC) enjoy a preference and favoritism when it comes to jobs, relationships, and the like, all because they are generally considered “superior” or “more attractive” as compared to their dark-skinned counterparts.

One LA-based Pakistani photographer, Simrah Farrukh, wanted to challenge that mindset with her project. Here is what she had to say:

This photoshoot is dedicated to all the South Asian women out there who are often underrepresented in media simply because the color of their skin doesn’t fit South Asia’s unreasonable, fair&lovely, eurocentric beauty standards. As we all know, colorism is huge in India and Pakistan. Our society has come to the point where people talk about fighting oppression and uplifting women, but no one actually does anything about it. In this photoshoot I wanted to help represent darker skinned girls in the media, and address an issue through fashion photography. 

I’ll start with an introduction to these wonderful ladies. In the first set of photos we have Anita Kalathara who is an actress and whose family is from Kerala. A little fun fact about her is that she played young Mindy Kaling in the pilot of The Mindy Project. Alongside her is Maya Chakra whose family is from Bangalore and Hyderabad. Maya is a reiki and Qi gong practitioner. In the second set, we have college students Rushika Patel, Shreya Tumma, and Nidhi Bandrapalli. All these girl’s families come from different parts of India: Gujarat, Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh, and Hyderabad, respectively. This is shown through their outfits where they are wearing more traditional styles specific to their states. All of these girls did the photoshoot with confidence, beauty, and glow. 

Not only did I photograph these girls to represent them more in media, but I did this because i am lighter skinned, and just because an issue like this doesn’t affect me, doesn’t mean that i should or am going to stay silent about it. I have light skin privilege and I want to use it for the good by helping others.

Little girls grow up with their mothers bantering them about their skin color and how a man would never want them because they’re too dark. This does not help a girl’s self confidence, and it’s important to teach them from a young age that they’re beautiful and worthy in order to prevent them from being a self conscious teen. It’s also important to teach other girls that are lighter skinned to support these girls. In high school, a South Asian boy my friend had a crush on said that she was “too dark” and basically implied that’s the reason why he wouldn’t want a relationship with her. Comments like these are what destroy girl’s self confidence, especially when they’re young, vulnerable and lost. Support and help your sisters!

With the rise of young South Asians taking their pride in jewelry and colorful clothes to Instagram, it’s important not to romanticize the culture. Every culture has it’s good and bad, and although it’s totally fine to appreciate and be grateful for the good, we shouldn’t be silent about the bad especially if we are privileged. While our own South Asians are constantly romanticizing our culture, but not acknowledging it’s dirty laundry they are also promoting social marginalization. Women are treated horribly, LGBTQ isn’t a thing (especially in Pakistan), and more of our afro-south asian brothers and sisters are murdered on the streets the longer we stay silent. Instead of bringing light to these issues, our culture keeps quiet. 

Lastly, an artist disclaimer: When approaching this photoshoot I did not want to objectify darker skinned girls nor become some sort of lighter skinned Pakistani “white savior”. Neither did I want to benefit from this project in any way. I simply wanted to help bring representation of darker skinned girls into the media, so that somewhere in the world, when a girl of the same skin color comes across these photos, she too can feel that she is a work of art.

Please show some love to all the wonderful models on Instagram:

@AnitaKalathara

@MayaChakra

@Stumma

@Rushikaaaa

@Nidbandra

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My name is Sonia. I am 25 years old. Currently living in USA. Recently graduated with master's in social work. I'm now pursuing to complete my licensure exam. I've decided to start an official blog, Traveling Lipstick about my interests, and hobbies so I hope this blog interests you!

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