Why let skin decide our value?

A new awareness is rising in the South Asian community, discrimination towards dark and black skin color. This has been going on for centuries and the issue has been raised many times, but nothing has changed. My hope and prayers are that this is the time for a lasting change. So we don’t ruin more little children’s self-esteem. By telling them that their worth depends on the color of their skin.

Your childhood forms your perspective 

My story is no different, as a child, I was told. “You know, you are pretty, it just too bad that you are black”. 

I got this little declaration of love from my aunt when visiting Pakistan at age six. 

It just broke something inside of me. Suddenly I wasn’t good enough anymore, and just like that. It started a long struggle to try to be just “as good” as my sisters. 

Read more about the importance of self-love.

From then on, my visits to Pakistan was a nonstop berating about:

  • how bad it was that I was dark
  • how it would be harder for my parents to get me married. 
  • “If you wash really hard with soap, then you will become lighter.” 
  • “You know, when you were born, you had jaundice. And because of that, the medical staff had to give you very strong medicine, to save your life. The medicine turned your color dark. When you turn 21 your color will change and you will become white”. (In case anyone is wondering, that did not happen.)  

The worse part is that I used to get so excited about going to Pakistan. Visiting the family, bringing with me a childish optimism that things might be different this time. But they weren’t and I always got so disheartened and wanted nothing more than to go home. 

The brain washing

When I was a child. It was always understood that the highest aim in life for a girl was to get married. This was the goal every girl had to achieve. On top of that, you had the pressure from the community. That you needed to be light-skinned in Pakistan, which was seen as a privilege. As a light-skinned girl, you were beautiful by default. There were more options for you, you’d get more and better married proposals and life was going to be amazing. But for a dark-skinned girl, the opposite would occur. 

I remember one of my dad’s good friends: he had three girls and his youngest daughter was dark. They wanted to find a good marriage for her, so she started using very strong whitening cream. She stayed out of the sun and shifted several shades, and became light. Then she got married. 

I still think about her and how she is doing. I remember her because I was offered the same cream by my aunts. Luckily by that time, I was a teen. And knew that a cream that could do that would definitely get you some sort of skin cancer. I wasn’t doing that. 

As a child going to weddings in Pakistan, brides always using a very light foundation. Several colors lighter than their natural skin tone so they could appear white on their wedding day. When anyone in the family had to get married, they always looked for a light-skinned bride. A bride could be described like this:

 “She is so beautiful, her color is white”.  And if she happens to have light color eyes, JACKPOT!

Growing up while dark  

At school, I got teased about being black. I got called “flødebolle” (which is a danish pastry, a chocolate cream puff) and meaner things related to my color. 

At home, we were five sisters and when we would fight. We would call each other all sorts of things like most sisters do. What hurt me the most was when they would use my skin color to taunt me.

And why wouldn’t they, when children see a behavior normalized by a grown-up, they do as they see. 

For me, there was no escape. I got taunted about my color in school, at home, and on trips to Pakistan. There was no place where my color wasn’t a problem. I used to wish and pray that “God please make my skin lighter”. Daydreaming about being white so I didn’t have to live this life. Where everything was bad because of my skin color. 

Ended up resenting my skin color. Everything wrong in my life was because of the color of my skin:

I didn’t feel pretty (because of the color of my skin. Wouldn’t get chosen for marriage.  

I never learned to love myself. Because from early on I learned that to be “loved and accepted”, I had to be light-skinned. 

When you are a child all you want to do is to belong and be like everyone else. Then to be put on the spot and to be told, that you are not good enough. Because of something you can’t do anything about, your skin. It is a perfect recipe for ruining a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

My mother tried to tell me that it shouldn’t matter what others say. That I was good enough as I was. She even gave me more leverage than my sisters. 

Blinded by my pain

…I wasn’t seeing or hearing that.

Growing up in Denmark there was no representation of me on Danish TV, watching Bollywood movies. The heroine was always white and the dumb or ugly girl was always either a dark or fat girl.

Nobody ever said that it was “ok to be dark”. That being “black is beautiful” or that “I had a beautiful color”. 

As an adult I have been told that it “wasn’t that bad” and “nobody meant any harm”. But the thing is:

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t that bad for others. For me it was devastating, and everything in my life has been affected by it. I spent most of my life hating my color, hating a part of me.

I tried everything to be just a bit lighter. Whitening cream, even Fair and lovely, do it yourself home remedies and even a “special” whitening cream. (Different from my father’s friend’s daughter) that my mom got sent from Pakistan to whiten the skin. It only made me look grey for a while. Later I found out that it was quite a dangerous cream. That could or probably have ruin collagen in the skin and can give you skin cancer. Fantastic.

The poison is in the community

I would have loved to have a normal relationship with my skin color and just be me. I could meet dark-skinned girls who were confident in their skin. Who had never been told that they weren’t good enough because of their skin color. And there was a huge difference in our way of perceiving ourselves. 

Read more about raising strong kids in a mad world.

Being a child, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be happy with the way I looked, just like they were. 

But at the same time, how could I? 

I have always understood that everything that was wrong with me was because of my color.  

And when you are a child, you blame yourself. You don’t think, “Hey your DNA is from a part of the world. Where you had to have melanin in your skin to survive”. Or “you are a Pakistani kid” (a large part of the Pakistani population is dark-skinned). You are dark because it is in your genes. 

It was never a punishment given to you, it’s an inheritance from your ancestors. You don’t think that. Instead, you start finding faults in yourself. Start thinking that you are not worthy of being loved, which makes it kind of hard to love yourself. 

Finally at peace

I was almost a teenager when I first heard I had a beautiful skin color. It was an elder Danish woman who approached me and said. “I’m sorry but I just wanna say. That you are so beautiful, I just love the color of your skin, I wish I had your color.” 

I was in shock! Did she really mean that? Why would anyone want this color? 

But it also made me happy, that someone actually liked my color and thought I was beautiful because of it. Then it started happening more, but never from people in my South Asian community.

When talking to Pakistani guys, it was always an underlying issue that I was darker. There was a time when I was talking to a Pakistani guy, who liked me. But we could never get married. Because his uncle would never accept me for my dark skin and he couldn’t go against his family. 

It took work to accept me as myself. I took some years for myself to dig deep and unwired harmful childhood beliefs. Working on my self-image and the barriers I had created against loving myself and accepting love. 

Today I can finally say that I’m at peace with the color of my skin. 

To this day

Still, people can fire off offensive comments. When I was pregnant with my son. A friend of mine told me that it was good that I was married to a white guy. Because then my children “wouldn’t be so dark”. 

Or the time when I had given birth to my amazing beautiful son. And my aunt calls to ask if my son was light-skinned. 

Before I would have gotten offended, hurt, or put myself down. But now I can only shake my head. And think how sad it is that we are still so brainwashed from colonial times. This thought process will of course end with me. I will not raise my kids to believe in this narrow mindset. That our beauty standard is stuck on being white. 

Nowadays it happens that when I see people using the color of their skin to feel superior. That it can make me furious. 

It echoes from colonial times when we were told that we were lesser because of the color of our skin. How we, “the savages” were saved from ourselves by the “superior civilized” white Europeans. 

Read more about the importance of kids believing in themselves.

How can the color of your skin make you better than others? It is not something you have worked hard for, earned, or deserved.

Your color is something you are born with. Not something you have achieved, so how can that make you better than others? 

For me, it is odd for a grown person to walk around and be proud of the color of their skin.

Five things you can do immediately:

As a parent:

  1. As soon as you hear someone telling your child that they are “less” because of the color of their skin. Tell the person to stop at once. Check-in with your child and assure her/ him. That what has been said is not true, that she/ he is beautiful just as they are. It’s important that you stop this behavior early before it damages the child’s self-esteem and confidence.
  2. If you voice disappointment about your child’s skin color or suggest the use of whitening cream, STOP immediately! You damage your child’s self-esteem beyond repair with this language.
  3. If you are from the South Asian community and use “Kala” or “Kali” as a curse word. (First of all, you should never use these words to describe a person, it is really degrading) STOP now. If your child is dark-skinned, you should definitely not use it as a curse word. Children are always listening and at some point. They’ll believe that since you are using “kali” or “kala” to describe something bad. That they are bad because their color is dark. 
  4. Remember to tell all your children that they are beautiful, regardless of the color of their skin. The world is not always a nice place. It is important that children learn from their early years that they are amazing as they are. It starts at home.
  5. Make sure to emphasize role models that look like them, so they also have someone to look up to. 

Change starts at home, start today.