As a dermatologist, I say dark can be beautiful too
I grew up listening to songs like ‘Goray Rang Ka Zamana’ (the age of fair skin) and the likes, and in recent times, I’ve come across Bollywood beats such as ‘Chitiyan Kaliyan Way’ (my white wrists) and ‘Gori Gori’. Even though these songs are decades apart, they send out the same message: That fair complexion is a sign of beauty and romance, and dark complexion is its opposite.
However, I believe that this perception is wrong on many levels.
In my daily practice as a clinical dermatologist, I come across frequent cases regarding young people wanting a fairer skin tone. They want to attempt every possible method to change their natural skin colour and look fairer. I don’t judge them because of their desire to look fair, as I have come to acknowledge their struggle through their personal experiences.
This week, a beautiful young girl came to my clinic because she wanted a fairer complexion. She told me that her fiancé of four years had left her because he wasn’t attracted to her dark skin. Similarly, other patients have paid me visits because of their insecurities – that their spouses were no longer interested in them, that they preferred women with lighter skin tones and so on and so forth. An increasing number of young men have also visited my clinic to get treatment for skin whitening.
I have seen many examples where two or more sisters have been compared on the basis of their skin colour. The one with the lighter skin tone is commonly considered as the more appealing one. These comparisons are often made at my workplace and even at social gatherings where women comfortably pass comments on each other’s complexion and suggest totkas or solutions to the ‘problem’. I believe it leaves a permanent dent in one’s self-esteem, resulting in self-pity and jealousy towards individuals with fair skin.
This awful trend begins from the day a child is born and the relatives begin to remark on the complexion of the baby.
As a medical student from Nishtar Medical College, I knew many student doctors who used fairness products which consisted of a high dose of steroids. The cream only makes us fair temporarily because it masks dark pigment cells and also causes skin thinning which exposes the skins blood vessels, giving it a reddish hue. Additionally, this comes with a long list of side effects, including unusual hair growth on the skin, increased bruising, vulnerability towards skin infections, and acne.
When I was living in Boston, many of my friends from Pakistan expressed the desire of dating a Caucasian female. What bothered me was their description of an ideal woman – it usually revolved solely around her skin tone. At the same time, during my clinical training at the Boston University Department of Dermatology, I gained diverse clinical experiences of working with patients from different ethnic backgrounds.
Therefore, my clinical experience has made me appreciate the beauty of skin, regardless of its colour.
In Pakistan, we are obsessed with fair complexions. Commercials for skin whitening products leave an impression that dark skin is not attractive, making it almost socially unacceptable. Furthermore, a perception is formed that individuals with dark complexions are deprived of excitement in their life and altering their skin tone to a lighter shade will magically open doors to happiness, endless opportunities, and romance. In the fashion industry, fair has become a synonym for pretty and innocent, whereas dark skin has become a symbol for seduction.
I cannot emphasise enough on how important it is to take good care of our skin. We need to prevent the damages caused by excessive sun light and should moisturise our skin regularly. Adequate hydration is the mainstay for a healthy and beautiful skin. Rather than paying attention to the skin tone of our skin, we need to make it our priority to keep it healthy and glowing.
In Bollywood, actor Upen Patel joined the list of other artists such as Ranbir Kapoor, Randeep Hooda and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who refused to advertise skin whitening products because it’s against their morals. We need similar role models in Pakistan as well. Maria Wasti, Iffat Rahim and Neha Ahmed are renowned artists in Pakistan who are comfortable with their skin tone and made us believe that dark is beautiful.
We need to challenge the attitude of contemporary society which perceives fair and beautiful as one entity. We must cultivate a culture that believes that beauty is beyond ones skin colour and an individual can be dark, attractive and confident, all at the same time.
It is time to endorse the idea that natural is beautiful.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.