Colourism in the Tamil Community


Does colourism exist in the Tamil community?

It most certainly does. How often have we heard comments about our skin colour, or sympathetic remarks about someone who could be beautiful if they were only a little fairer?

Once, during a family party when I introduced my daughter to an elderly woman, her first comment was that it was too bad that my daughter was not as fair skinned as me. Is fair skin still a highly sought after symbol of beauty in this day and age?

If you are from a Tamil household, you are no stranger to relatives passing judgement on your skin tone at some point or another. If you are darker-skinned, you may hear suggestions on how to lighten your skin or defensive comments from your family about how you were born with milky light skin but it has gotten dark from being out in the sun. On the other hand if you are light-skinned and even get the slightest bit of tan, you will often hear remarks about that too.

I am constantly teaching my daughter that skin colour doesn’t matter and she has beautiful skin just like someone else with a different colour skin. However, these constant remarks from others, especially in the summer months when she gets much darker, have an impact on my little girl as it does on many other children. Children internalize a lot of things and often bring them up at random times. “Mommy I like your skin, it’s so nice and light” said my 4 year old daughter one day, expressing concern over her skin colour. She even commented that my skin was “nice and peachy.” Where does she even get these terms?



With constant remarks about skin colour and the need to be light-skinned, what are we teaching our children? It breaks my heart to hear kids talk about their skin colour and appearance as they are still developing their perceptions on beauty.

Are there even proper terms in Tamil to describe someone’s colour? For example darker skin is usually referred to as “karuppu” (black) or “niram kuraivu” (less colour, not very accurate when you think about it). How about the equivalent of “tanned.” All the words I can think of mean dark skin or darkening of skin. I would love to be enlightened on this matter if someone knows of positive terms to describe tanned skin.

When light-skinned non-Tamils get a tan they usually hear positive remarks such as “Wow you are glowing, what a great tan, have you been on vacation?” This is not the case for us though. When I hear comments that I have gotten darker from being out in the sun, I often want to scream out “should I stay locked up inside”? The comments on skin colour may also start as early as when the baby is born, when relatives start to remark on the baby’s skin colour.

I know quite a few women who worry about their dark skin tones. They have been made conscious of this their whole lives due to the “light skin” standard. The media and community standards on beauty have always been based on a preference for lighter skin and a slimmer physique. We are not the only community with this perception but we need to start recognizing the fact that skin colour is not a reflection of someone’s character or beauty.

The point is not to disregard colour altogether and teach children to be colour blind. Instead of teaching our next generation superficial values about skin colour, we should teach them about diversity and inclusivity. We should teach them to recognize, accept and respect differences in people.

The next time you hear someone comment to you or your child about dark skin, you can try responding with one of the following:

  1. Applaud them for pointing out the obvious (this is more effective if you clap your hands really loudly and say something like “Wow kandupidicheteengal”
  2. Tell them not to worry as it’s only temporary and will wash out soon.
  3. Agree with them and tell them they are looking a bit dark themselves these days; is it something in the air? Are they sick? Regardless of how light or dark they are this will surely set them off in a panic.

Jokes aside though, we need to start pointing out how ridiculous these comments are when we hear them. We can definitely do so in positive ways. For instance, politely thanking them for the observation but state that skin colour is not very important to you or your family. Comments about skin colour have a negative impact on children and adults alike over time; especially when children realize that their skin colour is something they cannot change and become unhappy for not conforming to societal standards. We can help children develop positive feelings about their skin colour so that they will grow to recognize and appreciate differences. We should teach them to accept people of different colours and understand that no colour is better than another.

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Saumea Thayalan

Saumea Thayalan

Saumea is a full-time working mom of two. Saumea is also a self-professed DIYer who loves to reuse and repurpose things in creative ways. In between diaper changes and dealing with random meltdowns she loves yoga, writing and bargain shopping.

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6 thoughts on “Colourism in the Tamil Community

  1. Where does this lack of self respect & promotion of self imagery come from? Was it 4,000 years ago when the Aryans invaded our Fatherlands starting with our sophisticated & urban Dravidian Indus Valley Civilisation? Or, was it during simlar Nazi like land grabs, annexations & colonisations of enslavement & contempt by Britain in the last few hundred years? Australians have the highest rates of skin cancers in the world being predominantly immigrants & immigrant descendants with no melanin brown or black skin protection against the tanning & killer Aussie sun but they are adapting like the Natives have done over 60,000 years. Keep it real!

  2. Is that even a question? Look around you. Look at the successful politicians in Tamil Community, look at the successful doctors or other community leaders. Their spouses are usually fairer than them. This sends across a message to men. Success is when you get a good career and a fair woman as a trophy. And I am going to spill the beans here. Darker tamil women tend to be also more ahem, ahem easy. I cannot blame them. If you keep on seeing fair-skinned woman getting more recognition and getting much more attention, your self-esteem would suffer. So, you know what a low self esteem woman does when she meets a guy…right? Politically incorrect but I am just eliciting conversation here. Don’t shoot the messenger darlings. Let me do a villain laugh here. MUAHAHAHAHAHMUAHAHAHAHA!

  3. I am puzzled by this phobia that the people of India have about “fair and lovely”.  I have visited India several times and I have noticed that most people look down upon people who are dark skinned. This is emphasised by television stations and in the movie industry. You will not find a single dark skinned girl reading the news on TV stations or playing the leading role in movies, including in the film industry in Tamil Nadu and other south Indian states. The powers that be always promote the idea that being dark dumps you to the bottom of the ladder and that you must play the part of being the “bad person” or the criminal. I grew up in a society where we promoted black consciousness and “black is beautiful” ideology. We never subscribed to the idea of being subservient to any one. It seems the people of India have not discarded the colonial mentality that was thrust upon them during the dark days of colonial rule. I want to say that the people of India must discard their colonial mentality and promote a human culture. The human rights campaigners in India must stand up for the rights of all people and not allow themselves to be dictated by “fair and lovely” culture.

  4. I can’t help but notice, you, yourself having airbrushed your own good self into good old ‘fair and lovely-ness’. 
    Nor can I help but notice all the beautiful people depicted on this website who are also heavily Aryanised for nose, bone structure and skin tone. This website claims to be  a Tamil website but when is it really going to portray realistic Tamil men and women? Why are they using White and North Indian models to sell things that are often uniquely Tamil?  We are undoubtedly a black race, but there has to be at least a few black beauties in amongst us, surely? Come on now…..

  5. This is a weird issue to me… I have not been pursued by tamil men much, in fact I am usually the one pursuing tamil men while they act shy and play hard to get. I am light skinned though so this is not entirely true for me. I think most men will look for the equivalent of the dumb blonde in our community which is the fair girl who doesn’t display signs of any sort of intelligence. Because intelligence is intimidating to some men, and it’s not really about fair skin at the end of the day. They just want a nice girl who will cause no problems for them. I was talking to my male friend about this and he mentioned that technically i shouldn’t have trouble dating in the tamil community because of my skin color and my features that people have said pretty (that’s not me saying this)… but unfortunately the bigger issue for me is that some people are intimidated because of my intelligence, or rather the fact that i’m not going to hide it, I don’t necessarily flaunt it in people’s faces. 
    My friend who is darker than me, is extremely popular with the tamil guys, she’s loud, fun, charming, and manipulative.. men love that manipulative nature in some women, because she’s difficult….

  6. What I have learned about my ethnicity is that Jaffna Tamils are highly educated and hard working human being. British knew who we were.

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