I'm Not Fair, But I'm Still Lovely
words by Fahima Chowdhury
While I was doing my makeup the other day, I had an epiphany. My foundation was a medium-deep shade, I had cream and powder bronzers filling up my vanity, and I had a self-tanning lotion on my bedside table.
You might be thinking “okay, so?” seeing that it’s summer and most of us are chasing that golden glow, but as a South Asian woman, embracing darker tones is unheard of. For hundreds of years, Asian women have adopted this idea that fair skin is the definition of beauty. From skin lightening creams and picking the wrong foundation on purpose, Asian women (and some men) still believe in this outrageous theory.
My mother’s skin is super fair, which is rare for women born in Bangladesh. Most Bengali people have a brown complexion. In the rare case that someone is naturally super fair skinned, they are considered the prettiest of the bunch. My mom was the lightest in her family, neighborhood, school, and town. Most people didn't even believe that she was Bengali.
People automatically assumed that her kids would turn out just as light skin as she is. Of course, they forgot to factor in the other 50% of genetics that an offspring adopts from their father. My dad is pretty light skin "for a Bengali", but he is tan. I got my dad's skin tone and I was darker than everyone in my household for most of my life.
During one of my trips to Bangladesh in the summer, all I ever did was play outside in the scorching sun. You would think that a country/culture that idolized light skin so much would be educated on sun protection, right? Wrong. Considering that the country literally sits right on the Equator, you can just imagine the effect that has on someone out in the sun. But SPF is unheard of out there.
It's safe to say that I got sunburned while I was on vacation. When I came back to the U.S. I was about five shades darker. The difference was apparent in my first-grade school picture and second-grade picture. I was just a little kid and I didn't even notice or care about this until other people made it a big deal.
"We thought your kids would turn out white like you."
"How come she isn't as light skin as her siblings?"
"She would look prettier if she was as white as her mom."
When I was 12 years old and became somewhat insecure about my looks in general, I let the critique get to me. While I was in Bangladesh for my uncle's wedding, I saw a lot of my female relatives had tubes of Fair & Lovely on their vanity. I would see ads for Fair & Lovely all day long on TV. It claimed to brighten skin several shades lighter for a glowing complexion.
During that trip, I heard way too many people tell my mom, "How is your child so dark when you live in America?" As if America doesn't have sunlight...
I was tired of hearing things like that so I considered trying out the Fair & Lovely. I secretly asked my mom to buy me a tube. I applied the cream onto my face and when it dried, I was left with a mask of white powder all over my face. I had a good laugh at myself and washed that crap off. I'd rather be brown than walking around looking like a chalky mess.
I remember asking my mom why I was darker than everyone else in my family. She told me I had sensitive skin that tanned easily and that I didn't take proper care to prevent sun damage. She also said it will wear off with age and that in a few years I will go back to my original skin color, lose my baby fat and grow into my features.
She was right. As I got into my 20s, my skin color naturally lightened. I wasn't as white as my mom, which was fine by me. I range between beige/medium tones in makeup. To be completely honest, I wish I had more of a tan. It's funny how you always want what you don't have. When I did have a darker complexion, I let the ideas and opinions of others make me insecure and want something that they wanted. Instead of appreciating my skin color back then, I was insecure about it because of what other people thought. Looking back, I wish I gave those people a piece of my mind.
The Asian beauty community revolves around the idea that light skin = pretty. I recently had some family visiting New York from Bangladesh and I took them shopping; while my cousins and I were looking at makeup they kept picking foundation shades that were way too light for them. I'm talking ivory white, and these girls were darker than me.
I tried explaining how that would leave a funny white cast on their face and show up in pictures, but that's not what they wanted to hear. I was appalled when my aunt asked me if we have skin bleaching cream here. I explained to her that skin bleaching is extremely frowned upon in America and that we accept natural beauty in all shades.
I understand that beauty is perceived differently all over the world. While some people like tanning, other people like to bleach their skin. The skin color you were born with and live in shouldn't have to determine your status of beauty. We should appreciate people in whatever shade their skin is. We can't change the way the world thinks but we can accept ourselves and build that as a movement in itself.
In the winter months, I'm pale but I work with what I have. And in the summer, I love to embrace and enhance my naturally tan skin. I'm grateful to be part of a culture and generation that accepts beauty in all shades, shapes, and varieties. And besides, you will never catch me with the wrong foundation shade because that is NOT a good look!
Fahima Chowdhury is an aspiring journalist based in NYC. She loves to write shareable content that women can relate to and enjoy. Her love for beauty, fashion, and self-help inspired the blog 'Frayed Feems'. You can check out her website at www.FrayedFeems.com and follow her on Instagram/Twitter @FrayedFeems