“Chachi, you are so lucky ya. I must say you really married a handsome hunk.” chirped Sonia. “Your boys are so cute and fair and handsome, just like Chacha.”
Meenal had heard this so many times before. In the fifteen years of her marriage, she had heard similar statements from friends, family and mere acquaintances a thousand times.
Actually no. Meenal had heard this from the very day she was born. In the hospital, right after her birth, Meenal’s grandmother had wailed, “another girl and to make matters worse, she’s so dark.” All through her childhood and teens, Meenal had heard these words multiple times. But there was no sarcasm or intent to humiliate in them. Just a sadness. She had never understood why.
Meenal thought she looked good everytime she looked in the mirror. She was the average Indian colour with fairly decent features.
After marriage though, these comments about her skin colour escalated to another level. Meenal’s husband was a fair and good looking guy. So, his family obviously thought that he had settled for a far inferior partner lookswise. From the first day of marriage till now, she had heard umpteen amount of remarks and comments regarding this. Some came as jokes, while others with a clear intent to demean or humiliate.
But Sonia had been only 12 when she first said this. And Geeta, her younger sister who said this more often than Sonia had been only 10. These girls had been so young when they had defined beauty in certain terms. How had they based their opinions of beauty on the basis of skin colour? Meenal kept thinking about this as she loved the girls dearly as did they.
But the truth was staring Meenal in the face. Every fairytale, every textbook depicts a beautiful princess as fair and the ugly, wicked witch as dark. Even the opposites puzzle Meenal bought for her kids illustrates beautiful verses ugly as fair verses dark. Every other advertisement on television is about a fairness cream portraying a dark unhappy girl transform into a happy and confident person once she is fair. These images, teachings compounded with the influences of parent’s views, grandparent’s comments, teacher’s compliments unknowingly forms these biases in every child’s mind. These notions become so ingrained, that we tend to view the entire world through our tinted vision. So Europeans and Americans are beautiful while Africans and Asians are not. We never think about these preconceived notions.
Sonia is now 18. Will she continue thinking like this forever? Or will she break the bondages of upbringing and teaching and open her eyes to see the world for herself? Will she be able to free herself off the shackles of societal norms and schooling and start seeing the world with a fresh pair of eyes?
The more important question is, will we ever be able to see the world with our own eyes? Will we ever be able to shed the biases of colour, caste, creed, country from our vision and see things anew?
Aditi Munot is a Pune based blogger