Bendr Magazine

Drunk man at wedding: “Do you want a pill to be fair?

Random Aunt: “She’s really dark, but pretty no?

My Mother: “Don’t go to the beach, you will get dark.”

Friend: “You are so black

These are words I’ve heard and continue to hear from family, friends and even close friends. But why do you have to be fair to be pretty?

It was something I wondered about since I was young. My parents, aunts, uncles and just about everyone around me made sure that this fact was imprinted in my head: lighter skin epitomizes the ideal of beauty. Some were subtle comments, dropped in passing and others were as direct as the sunlight that I was constantly told to avoid because I would get ‘darker and ugly’. Today, I would respond to that with a ‘Thank you Karen, but maybe you should just f*ck off and mind your own business”, but at fourteen, not so much.

When I have children; dark, light, green brown or purple children, I want them to know that being fair is not a virtue. It is nothing but a silly notion that has been implied and imprinted into the minds of society. I wish for them to shed the stigma of having a darker complexion and to embrace it in all its glory

We all go through normal teenage angst but combine that with a constant supply of commentary on your complexion and it can result in insecurities and difficulties in accepting oneself. Growing up is hard enough, what with figuring out the world and whatnot and here we have people telling us that brown and black skin is unattractive at such a young age.

It’s just not right!

Quite a few years later, I’m sad to say that this backward thinking still prevails – even amidst my family and friends.

Even newborns are not safe from these taunts of colourism. (Sigh)

I have seen parents-to-be covering their bedrooms walls with pictures of light skinned babies, in hopes that this will somehow result in their baby being born with fair skin.

No different to paediatricians offices in Sri Lanka too. I have overheard a million conversations of relatives looking at a baby and wondering if the infant will get darker or fairer over time. Why is this even something to ponder about?

What is it that has made everyone so obsessed with having lighter skin?

Please settle in for a brief history lesson. (Calm down Karen, it’s just two small paragraphs)

It dates back to medieval and modern history, when settlers, traders and colonizers including the Portuguese, French, Dutch and British arrived in Sri Lanka and its surrounding nations. These settlers were mostly of very fair complexion and claimed to be superior on this basis, which in turn enabled and strengthened their colonial strategies in our part of the world.

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A few centuries later… here we are…. dead set on embracing and believing in this same claim to superiority ever so tightly. Why can’t we shed this belief and long association that light skin equals status and desirability?

Let’s start with magazines and brands that almost always feature Caucasian models. I find it quite amusing when I come across brands that use the word ‘Ceylon’ in their name, and then go ahead and use a Caucasian model. Great thinking.

And let’s not forget the thousands of ads that imply that you have to be fair in order to land your dream job, dream husband, get ahead in life, get married, eat avocados, blow bubbles or read a book. (I may have exaggerated the last three pointsForget newborn babies, not even your genitalia is safe from colourism! I recently found an ad that suggested bleaching your genitalia would make your husband love you more.

(What even?)It’s the brown woman’s burden to strive to be light skinned in an environment that has set the norms of beauty as being fair and lovely.

Fair and lovely.

Two words that are known by every Sri Lankan: whether it’s in reference to the brand, or to describe someone that’s pretty. Those are the two words we use. God forbid, that someone could be dark and lovely.

Here’s the not-so-lovely side though: all these ‘lovely’ creams are a toxic concoction of hydroquinone, tretinoin etc. and these can lead to serious health issues in the long run.

Skin Cancer? That’s okay. As long as I’m fair

Liver Damage? Who cares when you are as pretty as a snowflake!

Mercury Poisoning? A risk I’ll take so that Aunty so-and-so will tell me I’m marriage material now that I’m fair.

Permanent Pigmentation? No one will notice a patch or two because they’ll be too busy admiring my light skin.

400$ Million Dollars. That’s how much creams, salves and bleaching products rake in every year.

So to answer that first question.

Do you want a pill to be fair?

No. I really do not. I was advised not to accept pills from random strangers. Especially random strangers who do not seem to possess that many brain cells.

She’s really dark but also pretty, no?

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Well, I find her beautiful, to be honest. Not too sure, why you sound surprised each time you proclaim that she’s dark BUT also pretty as if the two can’t be synonymous. As if it was an anomaly.

Don’t go to the beach, you will get dark.

I will most definitely be going to the beach. I may or may not be getting dark and I quite frankly do not care. Want to give me some better advice? “Darling, be careful when you swim in the ocean because you are quite a weak swimmer and have a knack for being pulled in by the current. Also use sun-block, not because I don’t want you to get dark but because I’m concerned about your health.”

You are so black.

Not sure what this even means, but why thank you, Karen.

I hear it’s beautiful.

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CHADINI FERNANDO

A full time writer and a part time day dreamer with nearly a decade of experience, Chadini is passionate about cooking, clothes and creating thought provoking, engaging content. A much needed dose of lightheartedness to the Bendr team, she is well versed in writing, editing and conceptualizing for print and digital mediums. She also loves knock knock jokes