Do you think your skin colour determines perceptions of you in society?
Skin colour is an extremely sensitive issue which faces implausible bias. Discrimination is evident between races, however, prejudice within ethnic groups due to variations in skin colour demonstrates the severity of this issue.
Although diversity is promoted in the present society, there is an ideal appearance which has shaped beauty standards. This image presents fairer individuals as more beautiful compared to individuals with ‘dusky’ complexions. This ideal has proven to be damaging, particularly amongst young women, as they feel their physical appearance is under constant scrutiny from ideal images, which are being reinforced by mainstream media and the marketplace.
As a young woman from the South Asian community, I have witnessed people aspiring to have lighter skin with devastating consequences, as fair skin was taken to mean you were more attractive, which provided you with better opportunities, such as finding a good-looking spouse. This ideal of fair skin has been ingrained into a common belief, so much so that young girls compare their ‘levels of beauty’ according to their complexion. This is highly problematic as it is creating insecurity amongst young girls leading to issues concerning their mental health.
The origins of this ideal can be drawn from the colonial period, where western colonisers used the pale ideal to justify their actions. Colonisers had created white supremist ideology to justify racial slavery; they emphasised that whiteness became identified with all that is civilised, virtuous and beautiful. This tool employed by the colonisers became a deeply rooted belief amongst colonised societies, including India who associated light skin with higher social standing. An article published in 2018, investigating the importance of skin colour in arranged marriage, highlighted the pale ideal to be driven from White rule, leading to “internalisation of superiority and power of the ‘white’ skin and inferiority and powerlessness of dark skin”.
The trauma of light skin supremacy is long-standing, as many communities hold social status dependant on one’s physical appearance. This gives rise to an unjust society which places physical characteristics over merit.
Based on this ‘light skin ideal’, there have developed multi-national cosmetic brands which are rapidly increasing in popularity. Global Industry Analysts have noted that the driving force is the ‘dark skin stigma and cultural perception that correlates lighter skin tone with beauty and personal success’. Additionally, the media have promoted the television of a Netflix reality series called ‘Indian Matchmaking’ which has sparked significant debate, as its protagonist puts lighter-skinned women and men on a pedestal, praising their complexion as a highly desirable attribute.
The coupled impact of cultural belief and popularisation of this ideal has normalised this form of racism, creating a discriminatory divide between the light- and dark-skinned. The globalised effect of this prejudice has become increasingly evident as individuals from non-European backgrounds speak out about their experiences.
The toxicity of this prejudice is forcing young girls to fall into an ‘identity crisis’ — they are unable to express themselves because skin colour is the greatest determiner of their identity. This can lead an otherwise pure relationship, such as friendship, between a light-skinned and dark-skinned girl to face struggles because society will constantly compare their future based on their complexion. The projection of this Eurocentric image has become the epitome of beauty, which has shaped a prejudiced society. Society is blinded to this prejudice, as being light skinned has become a desirable characteristic that is woven into current trends and popularised by the media.
It is important to break these stereotypes around skin colour and call out the perpetuation of this prejudice. A psychologist, Dr Tina Mistry, has presented ways for people to embrace their natural self, such as looking at brands which cater for your skin type, changing your social media feed by following people that look like you, and seeking professional help if you are struggling with self-esteem that is impacting your day-to-day life. These are some of the actions that can be taken by individuals, but it is important that society participates in a collective effort to condemn this prejudice.
Activists have created campaigns to stand against bias towards lighter skin. Kavitha Emmanuel set up the ‘Dark Is Beautiful campaign’ in 2009, which is not ‘anti-white’ but about inclusivity and beauty beyond colour. This campaign forms as a platform for people to share their personal stories of skin colour bias, which also holds endorsement form celebrities. This campaign acts as a step towards ensuring everyone is aware that discrimination based on physical appearance is a backwards and derogatory attitude.
JAN Trust stand for universal women empowerment as an organisation rooted in helping women from ethnic minorities. We seek to aid women in developing their self-confidence to achieve their best in whatever it is they choose to do. JAN Trust are specifically working with schools to educate young people about online dangers which can have a detrimental impact on their lives.