Monday, 9 June 2008

Of Chocolate and Cinnamon… and Beautiful Cubes of Brown Sugar

Apparently, I am faced with one really big dilemma (amongst others, of course, but this one is a Biggie). Well I can’t say I’m alone in this, for millions others are also afflicted with this awkward reality.
Our predicament? We are Brown.

I was at the pharmacy today – arguably a place that should be retailing either items to restore my health, or those that make me feel good. Yet as I browsed along the shelves, I grew increasingly troubled at the frequency at which one word was repeated. From face cream to moisturiser to shower gel, apparently the quickest way to get products off the shelf was to slap on one defining word: ‘whitening’.

This is all the more concerning when you think about the racial make-up of my country, which is approximately 60% Malay, 30% Chinese and 8% Indian – which means that excluding the Chinese, who are already naturally fair, there is 68% of the population being told that they should be having sleepless nights at the thought that their skin isn’t comparable to the colour of chalk.

And I do, seriously, mean chalk. Because those ads are not referring to a healthy fair skin that the other half of the world’s population is blessed with. They are referring to… chalk.

This bugs me for two reasons – first, that I too now am the un-proud owner of whitening moisturiser – because even those of us who do not support such unashamedly confidence-bashing advertising are left with no choices. The ‘whitening’ stamp is now akin to a quality control certificate – if you don’t have it, your product won’t make it to the shelf. This maelstrom, however. will be short-lived – for on my next trip overseas I’m going to hunt down some plain Jane kind of lotion with no references to colour, and I’m going to stack up enough to last me the next 100 years or so. Sigh – the troubles and tribulations of being Brown…… don’t get me started on being left-handed :p

The second bug-me factor is not so easily healed – and here I’m referring to the so, so, so many women out there – especially Indian women, who look in the mirror everyday wishing for a snowfall that will wash away their colour. And naturally, as people are their own worst enemies, these women are not just battling effective advertising, but also pressure from their own families and communities, where the first thing anyone wants to know about someone’s girlfriend/daughter-in-law/newborn baby is: ‘Is she fair?’ And once that question is answered, the Writing is On the Wall dah-lin’, and fate is cast in stone.

This issue is something I can relate to, because when I was in my early teens, my skin colour bothered me too. Brown was nice and all, on someone else. But to be honest I wouldn’t have minded being a shade or two… or three…. Oh alright – the colour of chalk.

You wouldn’t think it if you knew me now though :p – today I am as proud and grateful and content as anything at the way my Creator made me. So I have my imperfections, but who doesn’t, eh? Thank God I grew out of that phase and discovered how much I loved being the colour of the earth and melted chocolate and curled cinnamon sticks!

But my point is that even for someone like me, who grew up in a family where the colour conversation never made it to the dinner table, who was encouraged to spend most of her time under the sun whilst having a non-existent relationship with sun block until recent years, who took no nonsense from anyone, and knew full well that advertising is a money-making sham where people are wheedled into wanting things they could in fact be quite happy without……… even that someone had her faith shaken as a little girl – all because some half-starved, malnourished, chalk-faced model on tellie insisted that she was the definition of beauty and the rest of us should be killing ourselves to look like her.

And so I worry for all those Beautiful Cubes of Brown Sugar scattered across the globe, those for whom colour is the only conversation at the dinner table, sunshine is sin, and fashion magazines the answer to all the world’s problems. For no matter how brightly their personality sparkles, it is simply not given the chance to shine through their dark skin.

And I want to say to them: Your Brownness is not a blemish, it’s a blessing – and no amount of slapping on that muck is going to change your complexion – unless you want to take it up with God directly. So let it rest and go lie in the sun instead! Don’t forget your sun block though – burns are no fun :)

Brown IS beautiful.

And for the record, so is White, Yellow, Black, Red, Beige……and whatever else I’ve missed out. I am being pro-colour, not pro-Brown – this post looks through the Brown glass because that’s what I can relate to, while I hope there are others out there fighting their own little battles for the right and beauty to be whatever colour they are.

Isn’t it ironic that while one end of the globe is obsessed with getting fairer, the other half sunbathes and visits tanning salons to get darker. Why can’t we all just be comfortable in our own skin, literally!

You know, in spite of the fact that God gave the world so much colour, when it comes to people, I hear that He is, in fact, colour blind.

I think it’d be pretty nice if we were too :)


kaurtothecore said...

This was such a wonderful article. It seems that no matter how educated, liberal or spiritual we are, the "fair-factor" dogs us from a young age... including myself!

On a recent sunny, beautiful day, we were walking in the Nagar Kirtan through Toronto. A group of 20something and 30something professional Gursikh women were complaining on how we are going to get dark before the summer even really starts... including me!! Right then, I asked the women if we could make a promise to ourselves that we would not allow our would-be children to be obsessed or even care, about how light, dark or tan they are. I'm hoping that the next generation of Mothers will help join the cause, and stop the insanity of wanting to be WHITE LIKE CHALK!!

Gur Fateh...

Harkiren Kaur said...

Thanks for sharing - if only all of us could commit to the same mindset :)

Just remember that As White As Chalk is beautiful too - if that's how God made you!

Spread the love for the colourblind :)

Ohkulala said...

i must say advertising on whitening products is so vast, it is EVERYWHERE you turn to. after much bombarding everywhere, its no surprise even the most confident girl may be inclined to take a second look, ponder and actually consider the options. sigh... all colours are beautiful. it is what is within us that's the most important, not what lays on the outside. but then again, how many people share such sentiments anymore these days.

Anonymous said...

awesome article..i too was at one time hoping n praying sum miracle wud happen n i wud be 3 shades but anyways, i'm proud of wat/who i am 2day ;)) n thnx 2 ur article, hopefully ppl wud start hanging their mindsets real soon

Anonymous said...

lol..forgot 2 adress myself...~sangeetha~

Harkiren Kaur said...

Sangeetha! You are a divine Chocolate Fountain and and don't let anyone lead you to believe otherwise! :)

tarsem said...

cheh, sangeetha also forgot to mention who is the gentleman who told her to read this asap. haha.

Jash said...

wonderful article!
Being brown is good....we prevent skin diseases because we hv melanin.. ;-)
white as chalk are more prone to skin diseases..
so be happy as you are because you're beautiful!


Balvinder Singh said...

I read this somewhere. Ghandi was once mockingly asked by an Englishman "You Indians are all of different colour. Black, brown, yellow, white etc. etc., whereas all Englishmen have the same colour. Ghandi's reply was classic. "Horses come in different colours whereas Donkeys, more often than not, are of the same colour".

Then there was this African American who was sick of being called coloured all the time. So he told the next "white" man who called him "coloured"- "you were born red, grew up to become white, you turn blue and black when someone hits you, red again when you're in the sun, and you turn yellow when you die. I've always been black. You calling me coloured??"

Ok Ok lame joke... very thought provoking article by the way. Its true how much we have become obsessed with looking "gora/gori". I agree, this is one more prejudice which we really don't need to burden our next generation with.

Renu said...

Wonderful article Harkiren....and so true. I too am very comfortable with my colour but sometimes our community does not help us in being proud. But i do believe that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. You will only see what you choose to see. I am proud to say that my husband is fairer than me but not once has he ever mentioned it to me or made me feel insecure about my 'brown' skin. And yes, there are many out there like him amongst our youths...and to them, i'll say.....'Thank You'.

Anonymous said...

phenjie!!!! ive also went through the phase were i hated being made me feel inferior.... and yeah the society doesnt help in anyway... but now ive realized that being brown isn't that bad after all... like how people love chocolates...i love myself even more now!!! absolutely awesome article