‘Drink Milk’, ‘Quit Swimming’: How I Broke Free From Society's ‘Unfair’ Beauty Standards

‘Drink Milk’, ‘Quit Swimming’: How I Broke Free From Society's ‘Unfair’ Beauty Standards

Indian society's obsession with fair skin will never get old despite the fact that this toxic beauty standard has taken a toll on far too many womens’ self-esteem. We've all been victims of one of these beauty standards and for me, it was the skin colour. Being born 'dark' in a north Indian family is no less than a sin. And that's what happened to me.

In a family full of fair people I was the black sheep, quite literally, and that did not work in my favour. It all started with unsolicited skincare advice and home remedies from relatives for my 'dark skin'. And this wasn't because they were worried that no one would marry me...it was purely because of their own obsession for fair skin and we all know 'fair is beautiful'. 'Use this remedy, don't go out in the sun, drink more milk, include Kesar (saffron) in your diet', I was told. All this while my mother was berated for not eating healthy and drinking chai when she was pregnant because that's probably why her daughter was 'cursed' with dark skin.

As modern and liberal as my mom was, all this eventually took a toll on her as well. And while all the crappy advice from relatives never affected me, it was what my mother did that damaged my self-esteem. By the time I became a teenager, my mother had started suggesting all sorts of skincare remedies for my ‘problem’. What left me heartbroken was that she asked me to quit swimming because it gave me a tan and according to her that was the cause of my dark skin. Obviously, my skin colour wasn't because of the melanin *rolls eyes*.

FYI, I was a state-level swimming champion but that wasn't important to my mother, because swimming led to a tan! While I blatantly refused to give up my passion, all of this eventually damaged me more than I could've ever imagined. 

For years, I just put up with the unsolicited advice and ‘jokes’. I always thought that I'd grown a thick skin and didn't let all this affect me, but I had just buried my pain and my demons deep down. It was when I was in Class 10 when I had to face my inner demons. As stupid as it may sounds, it began with watching my friends all fall in love and get into their first relationships in school, while not one guy asked me out. This made me wonder whether those pesky relatives were right all along?

Soon, I started taking all the advice I could to ‘change’ my skin colour and by the end of that year, I'd even quit swimming. But class 11 was the beginning of a new era for me. I had found love but my anger and hatred for my skin colour hadn't gone away until I was selected to participate in a fashion show for an inter-college festival. This may sound petty, but that tiny achievement gave me hope that there was more to beauty than just the colour of my skin.

While studying at Junior College in Mumbai, I eventually learnt that skin colour does not matter. Exposure to the outside world taught me a lot more about loving myself than years of school ever had. I not only fell in love with myself but I also accepted myself wholeheartedly and learnt to stand up for myself. Even though the colour of skin still does define beauty for me, only now...every skin colour is beautiful to me, including my own.