#InHerWords: Unfair and effing Lovely!


Have you ever been called black like coal/a crow/something burnt? I have. It is pretty standard for most kids who are dark-skinned and part of the Indian diaspora.


Teasing from peers, un-asked for comments on how attractive I am (not) and  unsolicited warnings to stay out of the sun: this was my ground reality growing up. In addition to making me feel undesirable, the taunts and the ‘lessons’ ensured that a skewed idea of beauty was formed in my mind early on; fair = beautiful and perfect, while dark = ugly and irrevocably flawed and unwanted.


Pyjama Note: What's not lovely about this cuter-than-cute child-Janani?!

Pyjama Note: What’s not lovely about this cuter-than-cute child-Janani?!

In a country filled with predominantly darker-skinned, isn’t it amazing that an ideal beauty is the opposite of that? I lived outside of India but went to a predominantly Indian school so experienced the full brunt of it.


I was 17 when I moved to the USA. When an American classmate told me that he loved my complexion and that I was beautiful, I just stared at him in disbelief. Just a teenager, I’d already internalized the negativity about my countenance. For the next five to seven years, all compliments to me were met with surprise, and I attributed them to the complimentors “being nice.” Till the States, only my parents had ever called me beautiful. And, you know they don’t count, right? They were my parents!


Despite their regular reassurance that being darker-skinned was beautiful, and beauty was a sum of many parts, I thought about the alternative endlessly. All my teenage romantic fantasies (this was about 60% of my teen time) I was lighter skinned, desirable and looked nothing like myself. It was pretty much a non-stop obsession because being fair = being beautiful = being liked = being popular = being loved.



It was a decade before – with the help of a diverse group of people, no small amount of soul-searching, exposure to an environment of contradictions and acceptance – I took a hard look at the stories I’d been telling myself. To be honest, I didn’t get the courage to change my internal narrative till pop culture began changing to fit me in. Whether it was watching Nandita Das in Earth 1947 the film, or rediscovering the beauty of the black and brown skinned people with whom I grew up. And, in the interest of honesty, months of therapy helped me take a kinder, softer view of myself (it was more than the colour of my skin that plagued me).


There has been a change in our society over the past decade or so. People are developing a broader, more inclusive description of beauty. But, the taunts and teasing for girls (and guys) like me isn’t yet a thing of the past. Stereotypes of fair skin depicting real beauty still exist.


The depiction of fair skin as the ideal of beauty is rampant from ads for most consumer goods to Indian movies and music. I can’t get over the recent white-out that’s becoming a trend for Bollywood supporting dancers.

It makes me a little sad, to be honest. The skin care products like Fair and Lovely’ and ‘Fair and Handsome’ that perpetuate and profit from the bias against dark skin are Frankenstein’s monsters of our creation, of our constant consumption of stereotypes on television or films.

I think everyone has a unique beauty. The ivory skinned or people as black as coal, people come in all shapes, sizes and shades, and all of them are gorgeous.

In the recent years, the Indian runways have upped their game. Dusky women are no longer an exception and more of a mainstay.

Thank you, gorgeous Lakshmi Menon (the queen bee!), Archana Akhil Kumar, Preeti Dhata, Nikita Sahay, Rachel Bayros, Surelee Joseph, Radhika Nair, Pooja Mor and so many women.

(c) Indya101

When it comes to colour in India, we have a long way to go to change the myopic perception of beauty. In that spirit, check out Pax Jones ‘Unfair and Lovely’ campaign, and let’s continue to champion diversity in every way we can!

Feature Image Unfair & LOVELY illustrated by Pakhi Sen. Check out more of Pakhi’s work for Pyjama People.
Janani Krishnan
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Janani is a global citizen, she says and adds that she knows that sounds a little pretentious but it’s true. Currently, she’s based out of Mumbai and totally in love with the city, people and manic energy! “What makes me tick – numbers, animals, sustainable fashion, natural beauty, compassion, public art, food, being outdoors, travel and believing in the goodness of people” she says. She is also a human litmus test for all brands claiming to be sustainable and organic, and she tells you the truth. Why? Because you deserve to know.