It’s a word my good friend used the other day. I’m not the hippest when it comes to 21st century nomenclature; but as a concept, it’s something I’m very familiar with and have been a subject of.
It’s been on my mind this week, particularly today.
When I was younger, I knew I was darker than what was deemed to be considered beautiful. I wish I could say this “beauty” standard was limited to just South Asian cultures, but you see it everywhere colonialism has ruptured the fabric of society.
But being darker didn’t bother me. In fact, it was a matter of pride.
Being darker was not in my control (that’s how God made me!), so it didn’t make sense that that could serve as a basis for looking down on others. I, of course, as a seven year old, could not have placed this into the context of racism or colonialism.
What was in my control was my weight; so those remarks were a little less difficult to shake off.
At least that’s what I told myself.
The other day, however, I had a reaction that called this all into question. After dining with my Muslim-Jewish women’s interfaith group, we decided to take a group photo. New friends. Nice weather. Why not?
However, when I saw the photo, my first thought – and I am not happy to admit it – was, “I’m the darkest woman in the photo! Did I get darker? Have I been reckless by not wearing sunscreen (which is such a pain, by the way, for someone who produces enough oil on her face to bankrupt all the OPEC countries combined!)?”
I hate that I even thought that for a second.
But I guess at least I’m aware of how much those negative comments from my childhood have affected me. I used to think it was just the weight, but now I realize the comments about my skin — and darker skin in general — were just as pervasive.
The weird thing is: when I lost the weight, my skin actually lightened. I don’t understand how that happened, but I swear, it was a natural result of losing the weight. On the other end, I got darker and darker, the more I gained weight. I don’t know if this happens with other people, but it did with me. A change in hormone levels can do some pretty weird things, I guess? I don’t know. I failed AP Chemistry, so don’t quote me on anything science-y.
Naturally, losing the weight was a big deal. But the comments I got from some South Asians were particularly revealing. Being called things like “beautiful” for the first time at the age of 22 felt good, I won’t lie, but I can’t shake the feeling now, as I write this at age 31, that it was because I was thin and fair now.
A part of me was happy to be called beautiful (whatever that means), because what young woman does not want to hear that? 18-year-old me, in my over-sized Linkin Park t-shirt, would have scoffed at that claim. But deep down inside all that emoness, I wanted it so badly.
But exactly why was I beautiful now and not before?
I don’t regret losing that weight. I needed to do it for my health. But by buying into the myth of weight and beauty, which I have been trying unpack all those years since, have I also unconsciously bought into the myth of colour and beauty and not realized it until now?