Would you believe me if I told you?
Would you believe me if I told you that your crooked teeth shouldn’t stop you from smiling; or that your long legs don’t mean no high heels; or better yet – that neon colors pop on that ebony laced skin of yours?
I bet you laughed and said yes in that head of yours.
Yet you know what’s sad? That, that is not the reality for the most of us.
I hail from South East Asia- Malaysia to be specific. I am about 5 feet 7 inches, brown as your favourite chocolate mousse, skinny as well as lanky and, at least in my opinion, average looking. Nevertheless, I found myself crowned as a local beauty pageant winner back in 2014. What should have been a week of joy and myself drowning in well wishes was in fact a week of shock and a pile of hate comments.
Oh and did I mention, I’m Indian?
Growing up Indian, whether in India itself or abroad, you will be conditioned to think that being any shade darker than snow itself is bad or even a curse. As a kid, I was pretty confident of myself and the way I was, but it all came to a halt when puberty hit. All of a sudden, I was constantly reminded that the color of my skin and its very existent should be my only focus.
I kept receiving whitening creams and the Indian holy grail of saffron and turmeric. What little confident I had faded into nothingness. My entire high school experience was me juggling between jokes about how I’m not visible in the dark and how white my teeth are against my skin’s color. I always laughed it off because what else could I do at that point in time? My relatives told me I should stay in the shade to which I never heeded, thus it made sense why my schoolmates would make fun of me too.
Carrying this insecurity, I went to college and even then it wasn’t easy. Ironically the problem wasn’t in college but rather out of it. While I still had relatives who told me bright colors never suited me, there a handful of Indian movies to remind my mates and I that boys like fair girls, that white is good and black denotes evil. Of course when I said it then, “Why do the villains have to be dark skinned?”, I was just treated like white noise, yeah WHITE noise.
You see, I was doing fine till I was constantly reminded and told that being dark was a problem. After being conditioned as such, everything that surrounded that topic was difficult and painful even when my good mates told me otherwise. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror and find anything worth looking at. I stayed away from the camera for years. It got harder and harder to put myself out there pursuing my interests because I was always terribly insecure.
I never liked this version of me. I suppose that’s one reason why my mates pushed me to participate in the pageant. The journey of the pageant in itself was truly amazing but what happened after I won was the real teacher.
I had to battle trough snide remarks, crude comments and uncomfortable fake smiles. I would go home confused and regretful for winning. My 12-month reign took a turn about 6 months in. I honestly don’t know what exactly changed for me but I was more confident by then. I started believing the stuff that I was preaching to other girls. I started paying attention to myself. I was now forced to stare at myself in the mirror to draw my eyeliner and I realised the depths of my features as days went past
You see, I wish it didn’t take me a pageant and a crown to tell me I am doing fine regardless of my appearance. I am who I am, all brown and wonderful. Sometimes I wish I had realised it sooner so I wouldn’t have been plagued with the anguish and despair. I had failed to see that my success and happiness did and shouldn’t not correlate to my appearance but rather my hard work and drive. I had little girls, career women and men thank me for reminding me that they’re beautiful just the way they are. I am humbled by the experience I had because it got me pushing for a change and acceptance. It gave me the opportunity to work with activists like Fatima Lodhi of Dark is Divine. It taught me that almost every form of hate starts at home. It showed me that institutionalised anything is toxic and ought to be remedied as soon as possible.
If only there was a one cure for all, eh?
Since 2014, since winning, things have changed. Women of color here, have constantly been championing the beauty of melanin and self acceptance. I am so ever happy that young people today have a handful of individuals inspiring them to just love themselves. Furthermore, with the rapid growth of technology, influencers worldwide have joined forces to push for this acceptance. Nevertheless, this needs to reach a wider audience.
Why? Because there are still girls, like 14-year-old me, in rural areas whom by films and gossip who still believe brown/black is bad.
There are still people who refuse to look beyond the color of one’s skin. They are still people who attach unneeded stereotypes to the color of the skin. Hell, I still know people who only want to marry fair! We’ve come too far as an evolved society to regress for reasons of hate of any kind and especially as something that is irreversible like the color of your skin. I’m not asking you flaunt it all or shove it in someone’s face that you look good.
All I’m asking, is for you to love yourself unconditionally and to accept yourself for you. Then share that acceptance with everyone you know. Remember, you can’t be denying yourself the happiness and peace that which only you can provide for yourself.
So now, tell me,
Would you believe me if I told you, that you look finer than wine just the way you are?
Words by Moganasundari M (Queen M)
Photos by Kishori Patnaikk, Fazdlee Isa and Miss MalaysiaIndian Global