Who is the fairest/tannest of them all?

Tanning salons, creams and bronzers were all the rage when I was living in Australia. People often told me, ‘You’re the perfect shade of brown’. Sure, I’m brown. But the perfect shade of brown? I have no idea what that is. But apparently, I was it – much to my confusion. 

In Asia, on the other hand, skin ‘brightening’ products rule the market. The paler you are, the more ‘beautiful’ you are. I don’t get that concept either. This bias is slowly changing, especially in the cities. Unfortunately, it’s still very much a reality in rural areas. I don’t get it. 

I sit down and talk to Swetha Raj, Ms. India Australia 2014 about where the Asian obsession with pale skin comes from. 

Image courtesy of Swetha Raj

Dipa: What are your thoughts on the Indian obsession with ‘fair’ skin?

Swetha: I think it’s bizarre. Our obsession with white skin comes from how we look at the west. We think they’re superior because they have white skin. But on the other hand people in those countries want a tan. A lot of girls who grow up in India are often told not to play out in the sun because they’ll get darker. You’re restricting your girls from going out and having fun. But this restriction doesn’t apply to boys. 

Dipa: Why do you think it doesn’t apply to boys?

Swetha: They want the girls to get married. So many of these matrimonial websites they ask for a ‘fair’ and ‘good’ girl. These are the adjectives used to describe more desirable girls in India – especially by the mob. If you’re darker, it’s like – who is going to marry you?

Dipa: Do you think that’s changing?

Swetha: Very slowly, but surely. A lot of it has to do with so many people travelling. The western culture whom we’ve looked up to are appreciative of our skin tone and it’s sad to think we need their acceptance to feel that we’re alright.

Dipa: What part do you think British colonisation played in this belief?

Swetha: It’s hard to say that the entire thing is because of being colonised. It’s always easy to blame it on others. I think it was a contributing factor, but I think we as a community don’t accept ourselves proudly.

Dipa: Are we getting better?

Swetha: A lot of celebs in Bollywood used to promote skin whitening products, but they’re not doing it anymore. Our generation is also more open-minded. They’re travelling more and seeing more. A variety of factors led to things changing more. 

Dipa: What was it like working in the pageant world?

Swetha: I myself had a lot of reservations about it. People would tease me about world peace. It’s a joke now. In a lot of these pageants, we actually worked for a cause. We are trying to bring some people together and have some good come out of it. There are some pageants where it’s a money game. But not all of them are like that. 

Image courtesy of Swetha Raj 

Dipa: What advice would you give someone who wants to join the modelling world?

Swetha: Be who you are. I know everyone says this. But truly. If you’re on the stage, and you’re saying something you don’t believe in, the judges will know. They’ve been doing it for ages.  You shouldn’t say something that you think is the right answer cause they’ll see right through it. And of course, have fun.

Dipa: What’s the biggest change you’d like to see?

Swetha: Individuals like you and I – we have to say that we are ok and stop putting ourselves down to fit what everyone else. Level up. Grow. Forget about all those people who say we should be a certain way. Don’t follow the crowd. 

Image courtesy of Swetha Raj

Indeed, indeed. It’s cliche, but really really JUST ACCEPT YOURSELF.

If you don’t – only you and you alone, will suffer the consequences. As far as I’m concerned, no one needs a cream to change their skin colour. If you feel like you need to, I must tell you – that no external cream can solve your internal problems.

Be proud of who you are. Life’s too short to live any other way. 

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