There is more to you than the colour of your skin

Published: December 21, 2011

Asian girls with darker pigmentation suffer taunts, mockery and ridicule at the hands of their peers.

This may come as a surprise to you, but even women who till fields care about their complexion.This insecurity has risen from the relentless advertisements that preach ‘fairness’ as the key to all happiness. According to the media, being dark is a disadvantage akin to being disabled; a disadvantage so severe, that it could result in you remaining unmarried for the rest of your life.

Our media has brainwashed people into believing that they may have absolutely no chance of ever being happy or married if they are dark. A Pakistani woman may face a multitude of issues; she might have eight children, a gambler for a husband, and the pressure of dowry for her daughters. With all these concerns you might think that this woman’s biggest worry in life is just putting food on the table. Wrong. It’s trying to get her daughters to be fairer than they already are.

The media has developed yet another reason for women to feel dissatisfied; if they are not fair, they have no chance of progress in the world. People have fallen into the façade of  “the fairer the better,” giving in to local advertisements and endorsing skin bleaching products such as Fair & Lovely. Thus, they end up spending money on products that they don’t need.

I find it offensive and appalling that advertisements choose to display darker girls as plain and unattractive. They are shown with disheveled hair and desaturated skin. However, after they use  the pigment changers, they transform into happy, fair-skinned, beauties. They are shown with husbands, wealth, status, and background music that makes it look like their life is just perfect.

These advertisements feed off the sentiments of the insecure because they know that whilst an average Pakistani woman may not be able to go globe-trotting or have a lavish wedding, she can feel good about herself by applying a product that promises her a better life and a lighter skin tone – the image of perfection in the South Asian society. Pakistani streets are laden with billboards and posters featuring light-skinned models and actresses. These do not reflect the majority of the Pakistani population; dark-skinned, poor, hard working women.

Ancient India associated fair skin with the upper classes of society, while the darker skinned individuals were associated with farming, working, and the lower classes in general. While this attitude of distinguishing people based on the colour of their skin still persists, India has a huge population of South Asians who are predominantly dark-skinned. Though their media has been partial toward fairer actresses and models, there has been a shift over the last few years and several darker actresses, such as Bipasha Basu and Nandita Das, have been very successful and well-received on-screen. Regardless of this progress, several ad campaigns across India prefer light-skinned actresses and celebrities to endorse their products which is a highly unrealistic perception of beauty for South Asian masses who don’t necessarily fit this criteria.

Asian girls with darker pigmentation suffer taunts, mockery and ridicule at the hands of their peers. Evidence shows that in South Asian societies, darker girls face challenges when finding employment, getting married, and earning equal respect and recognition as their fairer counterparts even today. Mothers look for gori biwis  (fair wives) for their sons, discarding even the prospect of a kaali (dark) daughter-in-law. Girls are seldom allowed to play out in the sun for too long because of the fear of developing a tan. In some horrendous cases, women have been so negatively affected by complexes about the colour of their skin, that they have resorted to using extremely toxic chemicals to lighten their skin-colour. This has led them to develop mental disorders and psychological traumas in the process.

Continents away in North America, where I currently work and reside, there is the opposite conundrum that is equally disturbing and worrisome. Women are risking getting skin cancer, skin disorders and permanent pigmentation damage by exposing their bodies to harmful rays in tanning beds that are sprouting up in salons everywhere. “Pale” as they like to call it, isn’t really ‘in’ right now and women will go to all extremes to fit in and conform to society’s expectations of weight, skin, colour and beauty.

After all is said and done, let’s take a step back and re-evaluate what we consider beautiful, the impact of it on the world, and the unrealistic expectations and pressures put on women to to toe this line. Practices that require indulgence that are harmful to the health is a tumour to the society. They are extremely detrimental and are created by corporate fiends for profiteering purposes. Social stigmas keep making their way into the lives of the insecure, tormenting them until they succumb and begin mutilating their own skin and body parts in the quest for image perfection. The world has enough problems, and we do not need the unnecessary burden of self-loathing to be added to this list.

Mariam Magsi

Mariam Magsi

A photographer, writer and curator working in Canada. She tweets @mariammagsi (twitter.com/mariammagsi) and her professional work can be viewed at www.mariammagsi.com. She is the recipient of a prestigious publication award from the "World Poetry Movement" for poetic works highlighting natural disasters in Pakistan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • RAW is WAR

    explain that to a south asian…Recommend

  • intelektual

    Yeah ryt its all just the media’s fault ! We as people are not at all Shallow !
    Beauty does not affect you and me !
    And there is no difference between a bronzed tann and dark skin !!
    Grow up and get real !
    Media and the commercial world works on the basis of supply and demand it only supplies what the masses demand.
    Also face it two people with the same credentials except for the single factor of skin tone the one with bright skin would be preffered hands down !
    beauty is construed by most minds as light ! yes the form of energy.
    The more your skin reflects of it in eventone the prettier you are !(unless there’s a strong over riding cultural or other issue)
    No white women/man would permanently trade his natural fair skin tone for a dark complexion, yes a tann for a change or exoticity is considered a thing.
    What you need to accept is the reality White will always be white a symbol of good and truth and beauty, and Black will always b a representative of the Dark side that is just the way things are and are going to remain for a l0ng l0ng time.Recommend

  • Khadija

    Very well written! Mirror mirror on the wall – who gives a damn if I’m not fairest of them all? :DRecommend

  • Noor

    PEMRA should ban such adverts & Sitcoms that promote inferiority complexes among the citizens.Recommend

  • FR

    Very well articulated. Unfortunately, no amount of progress or education will change the mindset of the South Asians towards complexion. Dark- skinned girls will always be at the lower rung of the ladder in society. All mothers in law will look for fair skinned girls for their beloved sons, even if they happen to be unattractive with terrible personalities.

    Beauty is NOT just skin-deep where we are from.Recommend

  • saad

    South Asians should watch the Shrek movies because it address these issues pretty darn well.Recommend

  • emmas

    Atlast something other than Veena.

    Great work! Tone of skin has nothing to do with what a person can achieve. Recommend

  • ConcernedCitizen

    Respectfully, I disagree with your views. It’s not just the media at large that is to be blamed, it’s the marketing strategies of ‘such’ products. And as far as a manufacturer is concerned, their only aim is to sell their products to the masses and they advertise by keeping in mind their target audience.

    Question: Women on here wear any make up? If yes, I am sorry ladies but you only do that to look attractive to others and to feel good about yourselves. There is nothing wrong with it. Just like if a woman wants to look ‘fairer’ and uses beauty products, does not necessarily mean she is still stuck in the 50s and supporting older mindsets.

    I think you need to come out of the closet and look around. Today, skilled women in Pakistan are competing with their male counterparts in all major firms, organisations and institutions irrespective of their looks and specially their complexions.

    As a concerned citizen, I would like us Pakistanis not to portray a negative image of this beautiful country. We are past all these complexion complexes. The only things that are holding us back are corruption and lethargy. Recommend

  • Icydevil

    There’s more to a female than looks an skin color. People SPECIALLY men should realize that inner beauty is more important than outer one. Brilliant article!Recommend

  • http://glenns-busy-corner.blogspot.com/ Glenn

    It is true that the media is giving out the wrong impression but it is also the people whose minds are so weak to understand that brains are more needed than beauty. I have a dark complexion and am a guy, you just cannot imagine the sick and stupid names people and even friends call me in regard with my complexion.

    But hey i am black and i am proud to be dark skinned God has made me like this and the people whom i love accept me the way i am. Recommend

  • dextor

    Awesome topic…you selected a very delicate topic…our mind is only…gora…thing..and when u see here in european country…being black is not bad…though they like this coloursRecommend

  • mik

    sanwli slony si mehbooba. I like this kind of girlsRecommend

  • Maria

    I think that this skin colour issue is mostly a throwback from the Muslim invasion history of South Asia. I remember my grandmother saying saying that so and so is dark because they were originally Hindus that converted but since our relatives were Muslim invaders from Central Asia, some of our relatives have fairer skin. This theory ignored the reality that most North Pakistanis, those from Upper Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan are probably “fairer” than most other South Asian races naturally and they are native to the region. I think it’s just geography and race influence, Upper Pakistan has a colder climate and more interaction with areas outside South Asia which is why there is more mixed blood. A lot of people in Karachi came directly from India as migrants which is why they are darker. We need to be educated enough to say that there are many skin tones in Pakistan and all are beautiful in their own way.Recommend

  • sana

    i have heard so many girls agree with the message in this article and generally mock fair and lovely ads but then they go to the nearest beauty parlour to get “whitening” (or the more politically correct “brightening”) facials. Recommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    Great article. In my humble opinion, the issue is not restricted to only South Asian societies. Even developed societies have this problem and its a deeply entrenched psychological ill of many societies that has been carried over centuries. See an African American or Hispanic rapper in US, one of the first thing they would go for after hitting fame is a white girl friend. However, I agree, the issue is much worse for South Asian societies. At the least, it tells us two things: one that we human beings always desire what we don’t have even if it is worthless; and secondly, we as a human society are more biased than we are willing to admit!Recommend

  • Grace

    I take it with a name like Magsi, that your background is native Pakistani – in your case Baluch most specifically. I think you forget that rural poor women in Baluchistan and most of Pakistan like Northern Punjab, KPK, Kashmir etc are still more light skinned and so called fair compared to city women in many southern Pakistani cities- even the so called educated women in Karachi who are Muhajirs. So it’s unfair to say rural poor women in Pakistan are darker when you should know that rural poor women who are native in many parts of Pakistan are fairer than other women in South Asia.Recommend

  • OOOO

    AUTHOR SAYS Ancient India associated fair skin with the upper classes of society, while the darker skinned individuals were associated with farming, working, and the lower classes in general.
    SOURCE PLEASE ?Recommend

  • Mariam

    @Grace-I am indeed a Balochi. While the North of Pakistan may have pockets of fair skinned people, down South, toward Balochistan the tribes become darker skinned. There are definitely groups of Baloch people with light skin, but on the whole, we’re quite like the colour of wheat or ochre.

    @OOOO-Google it. You’ll find ample literature on the topic. Recommend

  • Amna Hasan

    @author

    You cannot be more spot on. Advertising only mirrors the society we live in and it has the power to change perceptions yet it does nothing. And to further validate your point, one should look at the various matrimonials in some newspapers? Almost all of them ask for a ‘fair’ girl ? Even if your son is an ugly troll ?

    What people don’t realize is that such nonsense can greatly affect a dark girl’s self esteem !Recommend

  • Umar

    @OOOO:
    Are you serious??? Recommend

  • Parvez

    Blaming the media and cosmetic companies etc is really not on. They are in the business of making a buck. You should take your grouse up with with the Almighty as it he in his wisdom that has ordained it so.Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    No matter how unbiased you are, when you see/meet someone for the first time, you cant help but gauge them for how they look (and that counts skin color as well). Bitter reality but reality.Recommend

  • Stenson

    @Mariam: You explain that your background is Pakistani Baluchi- as such I would think that most Baluchis like most Pashtun and most people from upper Punjab and Kashmir are light brown coloured or fair. I know that there are dark Pashtuns, dark Punjabis and even dark Gilgitis but in general the native people from these areas are lighter skinned naturally. I agree with the writer who says it’s because these races are on the border of Central Asia and West Asia which is why there is more influence of other races in those parts of Pakistan. The darkest people in Pakistan are the ones who came to the country from India at the time of partition. I have seen some of these people in Karachi and they don’t look like typical Pakistani races but then someone told me also about “Sheedis” in Baluchistan and Karachi who came from Africa as slaves with invading Arabs to Sind.Recommend

  • abid

    Gud write-up….I think writer has made her point. Beauty is not only the fair colour. But the way these companies approach the audiences is totally wrong. They are targeting dark or not fairer complexion people so much so that they feel that they are inferior from others. Recommend

  • Pir Ali Raza

    i tried the ponds whitening cream but it didnt work. FMLRecommend

  • Ahmed

    Lets admit it, dark is beautiful and pale is not. Can’t blame the Americans for tanning themselves. For the south Asians, I am just appalled. Why on earth they want to be fairer?Recommend

  • Solomon

    Surely, White rules: White Skin, White iPod, White iPhone. White symbol of purity and soul is also depicted in white so let the soul be white rather than skin and things will work in a better wy.Recommend

  • maria

    just for the record……..i m a girl n i dont want my skin to b any fairer then my actual complexion ,i m satisfied the way i look but when i get rejected 10 times due to my complexion for rishtas despite my being well educated n well over all ………n if by luck i get married..i always see commenting my in laws abt my complexion or the way how my husband looks at his cousins “fairer” wife………………………..it all make me feel dissatisfied n i m pushed to use all that crap..!!!!
    point is that its not womenz fault to feel to b perfect in skin color or body type according to norms of that area,rather its the pressure of the society n media who convey the airbrushed models as a sign of perfect women or how they should look like……it all builds unrealistically high expectations n added pressure on women……..they r compared against the lady who wake up in tv drama at mid night but still her hair look perfect n so does her make up
    i often wonder why they dont say it at the begining of such media stunts
    “dont try/expect at hme”
    it will make things easier ;)Recommend

  • Ishaa

    @OOOO:

    It’s actually a simple fact. When the aryans came to south Asia, they took over the top positions of society and became the ruling class, as any ancient conqueror would. Since the aryans were fair (white, as they were Europeans) and the local Indians were of darker skin, this the fair skin became a symbol of high status and elite.Recommend

  • Hasna

    I believe everyone has this colour complex…those who are not white all try to be white! Michael Jackson, for instance…he was American! I have friends of Indian oigin from the Caribbean, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa…they all want to have lighter skin. I don’t think it’s a South Asian thing…unfortunately. South Asians are the only ones to admit thier prejudice ;)Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    This skin whitening trend is quite irritating, but I don’t see anything morally wrong with it.

    Who here doesn’t like being good-looking? I wouldn’t contest the idea that inner beauty is more important, but let’s get real, shall we?

    Fair skin, in South Asia, is a cosmetic preference, just like tanned skin is becoming a cosmetic preference in the Western states. While people should be encouraged to embrace who they are, there’s nothing wrong with them trying to change themselves into something they want to be – something they’d be more comfortable with. If they want a fairer complexion, let them have it!Recommend

  • Hasna

    Those you are saying ‘beauty is not skin deep and there’s more to a person than the colour me their skin’…you guys are basically saying that dark skin is uglier! What happened to that cliche ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’? I knew a Pakistani guy whose idea of a wonder woman was a dark skinny girl rather than a curvy fair cow :PRecommend

  • alicia

    One I really disagree with some comments that only Muhajir women are dark skinned. Most women in southern areas of Pakistan e.g. sindh, cholistan etc. are quite dark skinned.

    Secondly I would like to say that in Pakistan fairness is associated with superiority. I have seen so many people say that Pakistanis are taller and fairer than Indians because they are God’s chosen people and because they descended from Arabs. I think this racism and prejudice needs to end. Somehow someone needs to explain to people that being dark skinned is not badRecommend

  • Nandita.

    @Faraz Talat:

    I agree with your statement ” there’s nothing wrong with them trying to change themselves into something they want to be – something they’d be more comfortable with”,

    But the mentality that fair = beautiful = worth marrying needs to change. A lot of dark skinned people are drop dead gorgeous but our obsession with white skin will never let us see that.Dark skin does not translate into ugliness. It’s high time people realize that. It’s the sharpness of facial features that determine attractiveness not the color.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    Nandita,

    As I said, it’s an irritating trend. Unfortunately, we cannot teach people what they should or should not be attracted to. If they consider fair skin beautiful, there’s nothing you can do about it.

    The only thing that can be done is to educate these people that a woman is defined by more than just her beauty, and thereby, her ability to make beautiful children.

    It is not their perception of beauty, but their ignorance that a woman is just a pretty creature that makes babies, which needs to be fought.Recommend

  • Mahira

    @intelektual: if you honestly think that black is associated with evil and white is pure as a trait in humans then you are very sad person indeed. I think you need to grow up and get real! This article tried to highlight the fact that there is an extremely unfair discrimination on basis of color in women who are equally capable. What does being dark skinned have to do with securing a job position or being desirable for marriage? Why is there a preference of fair skinned women in every walk of life? This society at its most shallowest and lowest point.

    @Faraz Talat: Changing oneself for the better isn’t a bad thing. But changing oneself just because of a stupid society pressure is absolutely stupid especially if a girl goes far enough to use chemicals. If you think changing oneself from dark to fair is not a bad thing then why do people criticize Micheal Jackson for completely changing his skin tone. THAT is what this society pressure of ‘dark skin is ugly’ can lead a person to! Its the same as calling a girl fat that she resorts to bulimia to lose weight. Is achieving change through such extreme manners or DEGRADING perfectly normal, pretty and healthy girls a good thing? I think not!

    @concerned citizen: I think there is a difference between a girl wanting to enhance her features through makeup versus a girl putting white foundation on her face to look fair, the latter is an absurd practice which I wish, women here had the self confidence, to not to do. I dont the article meant to portray a negative image of Pakistan, but rather highlight a fact that is also prevalent across the girl. Lastly, this sort of discrimination holds back girls. Honestly you dont have any idea how demeaning and degrading it feels to be rejected/or thought lesser of just because of having a dark skin tone. I think this issue needs to come out in the open for men and the elder women of this nation to realize that a ‘chand jaisi bahu’ is no credential.

    @alicia: its not just Pakistan where people think fairer women are superior! Pre-partition India put fair women on a high pedestal while dark skinned were shunned! The entire west to this day thinks its superior due to them being ‘white’! This sort of prejudice all over the world needs to end!Recommend

  • Maria

    @alicia: I don’t see the point of this blog. Yes there are different shades of people in Pakistan. A lot of Arabs are much darker and smaller than Pakistanis, especially the Gulf Arabs and those from Arab peninsula. So those folks who associate being tall and fair with Arabs, don’t know what they are talking about. Especially since the Arabs who took over Sind probably were darker than the Sindis. The Arabs in Lebanon and Syria are mixed but pure Arabs are mostly darker than Pakistanis. There are lots of races mixed in Pakistani blood. What difference does it make?Recommend

  • Nandita.

    @Faraz Talat:
    Maybe we can’t change the perception that fair = beautiful.I don’t really care about how fair skinned people are perceived.

    But the perception that dark = ugly should change.The perception that fair skinned people are superior should change. It needs to change. It has to change. Such blatant discrimination and bigotry! It has gone on for too long.Recommend

  • kiran i.

    Humans are never satisfied with what they have! you go through american magazines & u’ll find adverts endorsing tanning creams. we should be happy with what we have. asian skin is soo beautiful. it has a beauty of its own. And these adverts are humialiating for all those who have wheatish skin! & young teens are most affected by this pressure!Recommend

  • aurangzeb

    what about the ‘tall dark nd handsome’ idea?? who fabricated that? nd why dont we see an objection to that?is this becuase the fairer community is sleeping or they just dont give a damn, but a grin?
    why dont ppl prefer short or fat ones?
    why a student doing mba from some western uni carrry more weight then a locally availble guy with an already decent job.
    why a wud prefer a dumb+pretty girl over a ugly+intelligent girl?
    why odd jobs r fine in western countries but at home we r nawabs.
    why the dark ppl themselve wud try for fairer partner if they have the oppertunity.
    why a fluent english accent is cooler than native language no matter how abusive a person is.
    why girls(not all but those who do) think that dirty chat in english is comfortable to them but local language sounds cheap
    nd the list goes on…. Recommend

  • Risham Saeed

    why we don’t put it in a simpler way ? it all comes down to racism or the power .Americans are the super power and they are white so white is somehow associated with power .Africans were powerless ,they suffered and their complexion was black so it became a color of oppression and penury . There may be many reasons but it may be one of them. We are obsessed with west. Its just like how we treat our language.. English is all about west , on the contrary Urdu is our very own ( disputed though ) but our natives speaking English are more revered and we cant do anything about it. We cant help getting impressed . what if someone has a knack of speaking German , french , Kashmiri , Shina etc as well . We don’t care a pin.Command over language is a command anyway, It doesn’t have be English necessarily. Likewise people with fairer complexion become the apple of our eyes whereas majority of the people are tan or Wheatish here.As is the case with short people. West is obsessed with heightism as they have usually taller girls but in Asian countries our majority is short. What we have to do is to learn to discern between ideals and real ones.We cant change people’s perception because the notion of super power is very sturdy and cant be unlearned so easily.More so Its never easy to disassociate.Humans disappoint humans. Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Beauti always attract and fascinate humans…….this could be beauti of nature, products or fellow humans…..perfectly natural thing & by the way many women want & strive for better appreance than men……..& media is driven by Popular demandRecommend

  • Sidrah Nadeem

    ”Asian girls with darker pigmentation suffer taunts, mockery and ridicule at the hands of their peers”, a stigma very well summarised by the writer. Media only reflects what society ‘prioritises’, some ads sell fairness cream, and some exploit skin fairness- huge difference.

    I’ve always been wheatish myself, and I absolutely love my skin colour. It’s a pity girls fall prey to such silly concepts. However for the more enlightened people we all know that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder :)Recommend

  • girly

    Indian women always considered TALL DARK AND HANDSOME as their preference for men.Nothing to do with their backgrounds.As for Indian men ,they preferred the fair and dainty damsels .its but natural.Now,i feel sorry for men who are fair and pansy looking with rosy cheeks and red lips..puke!!and .as for the dark skinned women ,if they should use their feminine charm then surely colour can take the back seat.Recommend

  • girly

    @aurangzeb:
    dude!you sure have a lifetime full of issues.All the best!! By the by, I prefer dirty chat in any language…rofl..;))Recommend

  • Mike

    I think dark complexion girls are some of the most beautiful woman in the world….
    I am American white male and love dark complexion woman!!!

    MCRecommend

  • from India

    bipasha basu, chitrangada singh, nandita das, lara dutta, diana hayden, deepika padukone – all are tanned skin girls and admired by people all over the world …so just ignore those beauty and fairness products and resort to ayurvedic products (0.1 % chemical) …be happy !!Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000494068149 Giusi

    Hey there, You have done an eeellxcnt job. I will definitely digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I am confident they’ll be benefited from this site.Recommend