Growing up, one of my constant wishes was to become lighter. I never accepted the colour of my skin and struggled to see the beauty in myself. As a child, I would watch Tamil movies and serials with my parents. The one thing I noticed was that the female actresses who played the roles of protagonists were always light-skinned and that the male actors were dark-skinned. To make this worse, all of the actresses that looked like me often played the roles of villains. Not to mention, even the cartoons I watched as a child were dominated by girls with blonde hair and blue eyes. This made me develop a false perception of what beauty is. I grew up thinking that only girls who were lighter were beautiful.
However, my mother would always remind me that I was beautiful. She told me about her own struggles with being the only daughter with a darker brown skin tone in her family. She had always felt ashamed to be around her sisters in front of others because of the comments she constantly faced. My mother had missed out on so many opportunities as a child because of her lack of confidence that the remarks of others resulted in. She always emphasized that I should never use the colour of my skin as an excuse to miss any opportunity.
So, I grew up telling myself I was beautiful. But, the lack of actresses, models, and cartoon characters that resembled me always had me thinking that I never fit into society's standards of beauty. In my head, dark-skinned South Asian girls were not beautiful. In my head, girls with hyper-pigmentation were not beautiful. This was all because dark-skinned girls were always portrayed as the inferior ones in the things I watched. It was always the light-skinned girls who were openly told they were beautiful.
One day, I was at Tamil class and our teacher was teaching us how to form proper sentences. One of the sentences were “சாரங்கி கருப்பாக இருந்தாலும் அழகாக இருக்கிறாள்.” (Though Shaaranki is dark, she is pretty). At the time, I remember feeling really happy and thought of this sentence as nothing less than a compliment. But, I didn’t realize the backhanded nature of the compliment until years later when similar phrases circled social media and young Tamil girls started talking about it.
Fast forward to a few years later (during the pandemic), I started to see more and more girls in the media that looked like I did. Kate Sharma from Bridgerton and Devi from Never Have I Ever were two substantial characters in terms of South Asian female representation in television shows. In addition, I saw an increased number of dark-skinned South Asian female models when I entered beauty stores! I saw that many dark-skinned South Asian girls were opening up on social media about their struggles with finding makeup products that suited their skin tone.
Seeing the growing representation of dark skinned South Asian girls really changed my perception of beauty. It allowed me to slowly start accepting my skin for the melanin. I was able to see that these dark-skinned South Asian women appreciated the colour of their skin and I started to wonder why I did not do that all these days.
While pondering this topic for some time, I realized that it was simply due to the lack of representation in the media all those years when I was a child. Not seeing girls that looked like me in the media led me to assume that I was not beautiful. However, once I started seeing the representation, I was able to gradually change my ideas and perceptions surrounding the idea of beauty being defined by the colour of one’s skin.
Now, I can confidently say that I fully appreciate the colour of my skin. I’ve started to love my dark-skin.
Now imagine if the representation of dark-skinned South Asian girls were carried out into cartoons, video games, and advertisements targeted towards young children. This would prevent young South Asian girls from developing false perceptions of beauty as children, like many of us did as kids.
If I had people who looked like I did in advertisements, in movies, in shows, I wouldn’t have defined beauty the way I had. Even though Kollywood has a long way to go, this is slowly changing for the better both in Kollywood, Hollywood and other media.