Saturday, September 24, 2011

Beauty & Inferiority
New York Times
Comment #27
Ethical Democracy
New York
September 25th, 2011
1:50 am

Beauty & Inferiority

India is a vast crowded complex space where numerous, seemingly conflicting stereotypes (and ideals) persist.

That's Democracy -- thirty-one centuries in the making. Give or take a few.

Where else would you have Fair and Lovely makeup, side by side with celebrating the birthday, as a national holiday, of Krishna the dark blue God of Love?
I'm an atheist, don't use beauty products, just juxtaposing contrastive ideals by way of illustration.

The author (see her article below) claims and I quote \"Over a decade of living in North America – where tans are pursued and Halle Berry is a beauty icon – helped that. Far away from the subcontinent, obsessed with Victorian ideas of beauty, it was refreshing to be part of a society that embraced a wider spectrum of skin tone.\"

Really? Even Aretha Franklin and more recently, Beyonce pretty much went blond, or do you think their hair color and skin tone are a happy accident? To uphold the US, the epicenter of racist ideology of Whiteness, is just plain ignorant and a gross distortion of racialized discourse in the US.

And, yikes, have you never heard of the racialization of the Black Irish?
Yes, they have white skin. But black hair! A Black Irish woman at London's Heathrow airport was detained, (she claimed to me), because she was Black Irish. That was in the mid-1980's, so, way before Islamist hysteria following 9/11.

People use many strategies for constructing The Other.

Suck it up , Suryatapa, you really speak from class privilege and therefore Power (dark brown though you may be), so stop being superficial, focus instead on maternal and child malnutrition in your writings, make fewer blow-dry (you have a hair problem too?) visits to the beauty salon (most Indians, including me, and I live in New York, have never been inside one) get over it, live your own life, think your own thoughts be receptive to disparate perceptions, misguided though some obviously are, be HUMYN and don't blame it on India and Indians.

Please don't let your next article be about the big boobs of Indian goddesses and how inadequate that makes you feel!

Take responsibility for constructing your own mindset.

It's not that you \"do not compute.\" You cant compute.
Or rather, you choose not to.

Harsh -- but sometimes truths are inconvenient.

Dr. Chithra KarunaKaran

City University of New York [CUNY]

Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice

The article follows:

New York Times copyright

Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin (Tone)


Suryatapa at the age of six in her childhood home in Siliguri, West Bengal.

I am Indian – but after more than 15 years of living abroad, some aspects of Indian life feel fresh, if not new or altogether welcome.

Three months ago, I wandered into a salon in Kolkata with my mother and came face-to-face with a prejudice I hadn’t had to deal with in all the years abroad.

The beautician insisted she could remove my “deep tan.”

But my dark skin was not the result of a tanning bed disaster – I was born with it.

Lady with pink talons and bright pink lipstick: I can lighten you up by several shades.

Me: No.

Lady: You are roaming in the sun too much.

Me: Don’t touch my face.

No one in India seems to think it unusual to try to slap some bleach, or a herbal equivalent, on my skin to reveal a whiter me. It is mildly irritating when it comes from my beloved aunts, and maddening when strangers suggest my dark skin is something to be “fixed.”

Being dark made me feel self-conscious.

As a kid I had several nicknames that stung. Darkie, Blackie and Kaalia (pinched from the title of a Bollywood film, about someone with dark skin). My color defined me and it stuck. A friend from school sent me a message on Facebook recently. It read: Kaalia, remember me? When I pointed out that it was insulting, I was called out for being “too sensitive.”

“We called you that with love,” he said. Like that should justify the hurt.

In Bengali, the word phorsha (fair) is used interchangeably with beautiful, and with family it was no different. Well-meaning aunts and their neighbors worried about my marriage prospects. Perhaps, they suggested, a little less sun exposure, or maybe a few extra layers of sandalwood paste or a homemade concoction that the neighborhood swore by?

But I was a problem child. You couldn’t drag me home from playing outside and even back then, I wouldn’t let anyone touch my face. The aunts sighed but never really gave up.

To be dark in India is not necessarily to be invisible. Instead, in this country, it is everyone’s business to correct it or cover it up. The personal is open to public opinion, whether it makes you squirm or not.

Few Indians seem to be comfortable in their dark skin. The matrimonial classifieds every weekend ask for or offer prospective brides who are never described as dark; at best (or worst) they are “wheatish.”

So it is no surprise that a multi-billion rupee market in fairness products thrives in India. Bollywood superstars such as Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra are complicit in the act, appearing in airbrushed, whitened versions of themselves, urging you to pick up a tube or two of the latest product. From lotions and soaps to whitening underarm deodorant; every body part it seems is could be a few shades lighter.

In a moment of adolescent weakness, I too was convinced to go on a regimen of drinking milk with crushed turmeric. Urban legends abound of how turmeric and milk, with their blood cleansing properties, had turned someone’s friend’s sister into a fair maiden – so I gulped down this vile concoction, gagged and never touched it ever again.

As an adult I’ve become much more comfortable with the color of my skin.

Over a decade of living in North America – where tans are pursued and Halle Berry is a beauty icon – helped that. Far away from the subcontinent, obsessed with Victorian ideas of beauty, it was refreshing to be part of a society that embraced a wider spectrum of skin tone.

So when I moved back to India, I was surprised and offended all over again, as I confronted people who still think porcelain skin is the epitome of beauty.

The last time I visited my parents in West Bengal, I paid a visit to the hairdresser. As I instructed the hairdresser on how to blow-dry my hair, the lady in the chair next to me seemed intrigued by my conversation. After several furtive glances she could no longer help herself and asked: “Do you do tanning?” I was dumbstruck and could barely stammer out a surprised “no.”

In retrospect, her assumption says a lot about how Indians equate skin tone with beauty, confidence and social standing. To her, my dark skin was incommensurate with me – a confident professional in a fancy salon.

I do not compute.

Suryatapa Bhattacharya is the India correspondent for “The National” newspaper.


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