For a very long time, "paal pola*" (translation: milk-like) skin has been a desired feature, especially for women. The incessant casting of fair, North Indian or even European leading actresses has only reinforced the notion that in order for a Tamil woman to be deemed beautiful and worthy, she must have light skin. What an expectation for a generally darker skinned race, eh?
I’m not supporting North India’s love for light skin. However, considering that most of them are on the fairer side, I don’t think liking light skin is akin to "self-hate" for them as it would be with the Tamil community.
Needless to say, this mindset has detrimentally affected many girls who grow up watching these films. It leads to insecurity where girls ponder if they are "not good enough" just because their skin is more rich in melanin than the film heroines’. To make matters worse, there are some men that unashamedly ask for "fair brides".
This is not to state that women do not commit acts of shadeism, as it is common for some Tamil aunts to exclaim, "OMG you have tanned!", as if it is a bad thing. However, this fetishization of fair skin has also negatively impacted some lighter skinned girls.
Target of unsolicited and offensive acts
First of all, it is patronizing to place our value on our skin colour. “It's OK if she doesn’t get into college. She has light skin. She’ll be fine.” No, it doesn’t work like that. Women should still get an education and try to get a job. Positive discrimination is still discrimination.
Furthermore, thanks to Tamil cinema’s fixation with damsels with light skin, many girls are subject to harassment on this basis. In Colombo, if you go out with your female cousins, I can assure you that the lightest one of you will be heckled with catcalls, wolf-whistles and requests to enter stranger’s cars.
Almost every family member will tell you this. The first time someone grabbed, elbowed, forced their hand in my mouth (what was that even about?!) and yanked me, I was with four other female relatives. No one even looked at them.
I asked my aunt why this was happening to me. She told me that it was normal for fair skinned girls to get hassled like this. When I told a guy about this incident, he had the nerve to laugh at me, telling me I was not even aware of my own light skin privileges. I do not see these acts of objectification as "privileges".
It is also common to have Tamil aunts come up to us and pinch and rub our skin to see if it is authentic. At times, it feels like being a zoo animal. But that is the least of our woes when compared to the trauma some guys of our community put us through.
Almost every time I rejected a Tamil boy (read: puerile man), I would be hit with ”You arrogant, fair skinned *****, you think you’re all that? You are only rejecting me because I’m dark. Ha!” No, it is actually your misogynistic, controlling behaviour and your malicious threats that put me off - your skin tone played no part. But they love ascribing these pompous intentions on my part. I guess they know how much it drives me insane when I’m described to be the complete opposite of what I actually am.
Damaging stereotypes and online harassment
I was once messaging someone online discussing harmless politics. He randomly commented to me that “a fair and young girl like you will definitely get raped”. Was this supposed to be a compliment? Was this supposed to make my knees go weak? I’ll tell you what, it did make my go knees weak – but for all the wrong reasons. I felt vulnerable.
Not long after, I met another Tamil guy who insisted that fair skinned girls were "easy". He was backing up his friends who believed this stereotype. It was his reason for Tamil men being attracted to Malayalee girls. His exact quote was, “Obviously, being more fair skinned and physically appealing, lots of guys take it as a code for "easy"”. This is a very damaging typecast I am sure no girl wants.
Ever been to a Tamil social or speed dating event? Many beautiful, intelligent women with rich brown skin get dismissed for a lighter skinned putz. A lot of men get reeled in by the skin colour alone and compputletely ignore what the person is saying. It is also insulting to lighter skinned women that are capable of having mind-stimulating discussions to have someone overlook all their qualities for their skin colour alone. Kollywood is largely to blame for this by consistently pairing a man with any skin tone (many times dark) with fair women and making it seem like an ideal relationship.
Privilege or burden?
Having light skin may be a "privilege" to those that love to lap up all the attention. But for introverted girls, even the slightest bit of wicked attention may be a nightmare. No one deserves privileges based on their appearance, especially not their skin colour. I don’t see being a fair skinned female as a privilege, but rather a nuisance thanks to the fetishization of minimal melanin by Kollywood, Bollywood and the overall South Asian community. There are people who would prefer blending into the environment over having anyone notice them. And that’s completely natural and fine.
Dark skinned girls are shunned and told they are not "beautiful", whilst light skinned girls are put on a pedestal for no rational reason. As human beings, it is natural to judge and be judged on our "beauty" or lack thereof. However, it should be noted that being dark or light in colour does not make one any more or less beautiful, even in the most superficial sense. As women, we should focus on sticking together and empowering each other.
* Reference from "Boys" song "Girlfriend"
Related articles: You Are Quite Pretty, For A Dark Skin Girl It’s Time For South Asians To Stop Obsessing Over Lighter Skin Why Skin Colour Should Have No Bearing on Beauty Colourism in the Tamil Community Growing Up Dark-Skinned in a Color-Conscious India