“Don’t touch me, I’m going to get black”
In many Asian cultures, fair skin is still considered beautiful. So, what happens if you’re naturally born with a darker hue? Three women share their experiences with colourism.
BY: NIDA ZAFAR
Growing up, Fair and Lovely, a popular skin whitening product from India, was a staple in my house. As a seven-year-old, I have the faintest memory of my mother applying the cream to my neck because it was darker than the rest of my face.
There was also plenty of turmeric face wash on our bathroom shelves—turmeric has a natural whitening effect. And I was encouraged to eat foods that supposedly made my skin whiten and glow. This wasn't only true in my Pakistani household, but in the homes of a lot of my friends and family.
The idea of having fair skin is the ideal beauty standard in countries all over the world. According to an article by the Guardian, $4.8 billion dollars was allocated to the skin-whitening industry in 2017, which is expected to get to $8.9 billion by 2027.
"...[people] praised me for having lighter skin.”
These numbers can be illustrated by advertisements across the world. An ad by skincare company Nivea in West Africa was slammed with controversy after it showed a dark skinned women using a product that turned her skin light.
Similar ads have been shown in Toronto as well. In 2015, a company promoting its skin whitening services on a TTC subway ad showed a brown women staring into a mirror with a lighter reflection staring back at her.
There are many reasons as to why people obsessively prefer fair skin over dark skin. According to Amina Mire, an assistant professor at Carleton University, “class, caste and colonial legacy” all play a role.
But now something revolutionary is happening. The norm is starting to change. Young people are standing up for themselves and putting their foot down on the controversial idea of what’s considered beautiful. Three women share their skin whitening stories and how they’re standing up for their skin.
The positive reinforcement of fair skin
Kaycee Maglanoc is a makeup enthusiast who embodies the hashtag #MagandangMorenx, which means “beautiful brown” in Tagalog. But getting to this point of acceptance wasn’t an easy road for her.
While her journey with whitening products started off as a naive one—her parents we’re using it so she did as well—it had an extreme, more negative effect when she started college in the Philippines. Peers would bully her and call her a baluga, a derogatory term referencing the Aetas’ people of the Philippines.
They have a natural, dark skin colour. In college, she even started using glutathione, an antioxidant that produces a white pigment. “I had to go to a hospital, clinic or nurse to get that injected. It was that extreme.” This service is even offered in beauty salons.
But doing things like this in the Philippines is common, she says—everyone uses skin whitening products. While she says the tone of her skin never held her back from doing anything, lightening her skin was positively reinforced.
“The positive effect I received was that [people] praised me for having lighter skin,” she says. If she went to the beach and came home with a tan, she definitely didn’t get praised. “People would tell me, ‘You’re ugly now.’”
On Instagram, Maglanoc uses the hashtag #MagandangMorenx. It was created by a Filipino actress who Maglanoc says was bullied for having dark skin. Maglanoc hopes the hashtag continues to grow.
“In the beauty community in the Philippines, we only see lighter skin people. We don't see darker skin people and that's very sad.”
Staying away from the sun
When Lucky Thangarajah was born, one of the first things her uncle asked her dad was how fair she was. The answer was: fair.
“They used the term ‘Chinese baby’ because we see a lot of Chinese people that are lighter skin,” she says. Her introduction to skin whitening products came from Fair and Lovely ads she saw on TV.
While the products her mother bought were actually meant for her sister, not her, Thangarajah still used them. She says that growing up in an environment where the colour of one’s skin was always a topic of conversation made her believe she had to take precautions.
“I just wanted to make sure I… didn't get darker."
“I just wanted to make sure I… didn't get darker. So if a cream made me lighter, I [was] going to try it out for sure.” This led to other cautionary measures.
When out for family gatherings, she says she would stay in the shade for as long as possible. She noticed that she was stopping herself from doing things that would make her darker because she was afraid what people would say.
But Thangarajah has since stopped using these products as she now realizes that her skin colour isn’t going to define whether or not she’s pretty. This, she says, is because the norm is changing.
While once only skinny, fair looking people were the ones people could look up to, a more diverse group of people are breaking these norms. This can be illustrated by multiple social media campaigns, including Unfair and Lovely. “We know there should be no norm for a specific skin colour. We know that every skin colour is acceptable and it doesn’t matter,” Thangarajah says.
Despising the thing that makes you “beautiful”
“Don't touch me, I’m going to get black.”
Those were the words Mathusha Thurairajasingam
was told when she was a child attending a school in Montreal as the only brown student.
Between the ages of eight and 11, Thurairajasingam’s mom also used to apply Fair and Lovely on her, something she absolutely despised.
People would always tell her she was dark because she was constantly going out in the sun. They would tell her mom to keep her indoors. Her mom would also compare her to the other girls when they went to the temple, saying, “that girl’s so pretty because she’s light- skinned,” she recalls.
She was told not to wear bright colours because they made her look darker. Thurairajasingam reluctantly obliged.
Though she says she didn’t care what people would say to her, it still made her feel uncomfortable. “I was always taught darker colours make you look lighter. [Your] skin complexion stands out.”
She even used to edit her pictures with the use of a filter to give herself a glow, all to avoid the comments people had in regards to her complexion. But she’s now changing all of that. She loves wearing bright colours and as the oldest of four girls, Thurairajasingam makes sure that her sisters aren’t treated the way she once was.
But besides her sisters, she’s also a role model to her viewers. As a beauty influencer with over 70,000 followers on Instagram, she’s helping to change the way people view their skin tone.
Photo courtesy from top down: Adam Jones, Kaycee Maglanoc, Lucky Thangarajah and Mathusha Thurairajasingam.