As a kid, I was given flak for my dark skin. Now it's suddenly exotic, and I'm confused
Fairness creams were an on and off refuge.
The worst memories of living in North India as a native of the Southern part is dealing with prejudices that involve physical appearance. I mean, the absolute worst. It's one of the places in my memory where the scene plays out all too clearly and things said ring loud even today. It's these things that make it all the more clear to me why childhood bullying stays with people for life.
Those who say they're just kids have got to be the biggest assholes in the world, because kids might look sweet and delicate--but they have the power to break their peers with one gesture (katti, anybody?). Sometimes, I'm shocked at the kind of things parents can waive off with an adoring smile and a simple, "She's just a child!" excuse. I mean, dude, even puppies are met with deserving punishments if they constantly poop on the carpet. And here you are, launching an untrained human into the world.
It Started With Kindergarten and Stayed for My Whole Bloody Life
Like I said, trauma and childhood are synonymous for me, mostly because of my complexion. A girl with cute, almost golden-brown pigtails pointed at my face, and told her friends, "Ye nahati nai haina, isliye aisi lagti hai." That I'm dark because I don't bathe. My first six-year-old reaction was of confusion. I just stared as girls sniggered and left the class. The incident was never repeated, but I recall it even today. Your brain has a fucked-up way of behaving photographically when you want to forget things.
Soon, I Realized My Skin Bothered Everybody But the People in My House
Funnily enough, the argument came down to one thing in my house, that I was a few shades less brown than my parents. That, dear reader, was how my parents consoled me; they told me I was fairer than them--like that would put me in a happier place, like that's what was supposed to make life better. It became very clear that topic of my complexion became an issue only when I brought it up. Else it was the usual rounds of who-did-what and how-the-day-went kind of conversations. My parents, I later realized, never thought it would bother me. They treated me with the maturity of their thirty-something selves and joked, telling me how I was actually fair, but not quite. It was then that I sought refuge in fairness creams. And if I were to give you an honest beauty review here guys, let me tell you: nothing worked.
But Suddenly Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra Became Role Models
...and life was never the same. Let me draw a rough trajectory of how things changed. Padukone debuted in Om Shanti Om when I was in the ninth grade. Suddenly, she had a fan base that blew up like crazy. Everybody was talking about her, she adorned the inside and outside of autos, and was the first sight you'd glance upon in beauty parlours in posters, on TV, in magazines. She was suddenly a rage and by the 11th grade, people somehow picked similarities between me and her. I was suddenly a woman with 'sharp features and such an exotic look'. The revolution has always been Padukone, at least for me.
And College Brought With it Some Own set of Compliments
When you've faced ostracism and rumours for the better part of your life, compliments become difficult to handle. The first time I was complimented, I just laughed out loud. Not the nice, musical kind; but the loud, guffawing, what-the-hell-did-you-just-say kind. It was the first lesson in the fact that not everybody got my humour--I was labelled a snooty snob. Somehow, it bothered me then and it bothers me still that those people thought that way. It was just too late to explain as compliment was given, I laughed, and people silently walked away.
That the Ugly Duckling Became a Sparkling Butterfly?
To be honest, Bollywood. Now that I think of it, that's how deep a role Bollywood plays in India, that's how a great a role media plays. Padukone was suddenly everywhere--she was beside Ranbir Kapoor, she was part of ad campaigns, she was on billboards, on TV-basically everywhere. The media incessantly fed the idea of dark being exotic and mysterious and people gobbled it down without any questions. I don't know how related this was, but I know girls who actually bought tan makeup. Fair girls fucking bought makeup to look tanner, darker. Do you realise how big a deal it was that people were buying products to look like what I do? What was/is (still a little confused there) ugly?
Even now, compliments just roll off me like objects floating on oil-they never sink in. I've developed the good grace to at least thank people for their compliments, but accepting them is a different issue. I cannot. Even to physically admire, my idea of beauty rests on parameters totally different-and those things I can't even pin-point with precision. But the waters run too deep for roots to spread out. But there's still hope, maybe one day I'll revel in it like everybody else does, unlike wanting the earth to open and swallow me whole.
But you know what makes me the happiest? That someday, maybe, just maybe, a little dark-skinned girl will be pointed at and told she looks like Deepika Padukone. Not exotic, not different, and hopefully never ugly-but just be told in words as simple that she's beautiful.
As for me, I'm still in limbo whether to be grateful, hurt, or confused.