Being Bengali, I grew up seeing a large spectrum of skin colours and features across the country my parents grew up in, including that of my family. Whether it’s frizzy hair, a round nose, or having no curves (or too much curves), there is always something to criticize when it comes to women and their genetics. I was always told how lucky I was to have fair skin. It was ‘a sign of beauty which not everyone is blessed with.’
However, living in Canada quickly showed me how untrue that was. Dark-skinned girls are beautiful! I stare in awe whenever my darker friends post on Instagram — many of whom are featured below — taking in their sharp features, not to mention they can contour their face without looking dirty. They can rock the colour orange, pop in yellow, and look amazing in teal. So, when the Unfair and Lovely campaign took off, it was of no surprise to me. Of course unfair girls are lovely. It’s just surprising society tells them they’re not.
The movement was first started a few weeks ago by Pax Jones and a couple of friends.
“My own lived experiences as a black woman inspired me to develop this photo series. Mirusha, who modelled alongside her sister Yanusha, later came up with the title Unfair & Lovely for the series. The series was purely a creative project that I developed to combat under-representation of dark skinned people of colour in media.” stated Jones, in an interview with Women’s Post.
Since then, the movement has blown up. Despite tanning salons and sun bathing being so popular for women in North America, others are putting lightening creams on their face and scrolling through Pinterest, looking for ways to become fair-skinned. From a young age, girls are told to stay out of the sun, taught how to use face masks with lightening properties, and instructed to avoid drinking tea because “it makes your skin darker.” Therefore, when a group women come forward to tell you you’re ‘unfair and lovely’, it’s actually a rare compliment.
The campaign is a grassroots movement that has been fuelled by the leadership and activism of young women all over social media, and it is definitely important that their voices be centered in this conversation.
“I am an Indian woman, I am dark skinned and I am proud. The #UnfairAndLovely campaign to me is a well overdue step forward in certain communities that are mentally 10 decades behind than the people of today’s generation. I have been blessed to have grown up in a family of amazing beings that have taught me to love what’s underneath the skin and to ‘never judge a book by its cover’. It has allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and to support this movement whole heartedly in hope for a change that urge both men and women to put down fairness creams and take up the debate for a responsible media that doesn’t attribute success and beauty to skin colour,” said Kavi Anand, currently attending the University of Waterloo.
This isn’t the first campaign to embrace and empower women of colour. Reclaim the Bindi, which is collaborating with Unfair and Lovely, looks to combat cultural appropriation surrounding the bindi, the dot worn on the centre of the forehead of many South Asian women. Young women who grew up being ridiculed for their cultural practices are now being empowered to embrace them, posting powerful selfies of themselves wearing a bindi, which has both cultural and religious significance for South Asian women.
Jones shared her thoughts on working hand in hand with a more diverse range of Women of Colour (WoC) to elevate the platform of the initiative in which she mentioned:
”I’m happy it’s blown up and that many are using it to heal from abuse they’ve faced due to their skin colour. I think the invitation to collaborate with #reclaimthebindi for Reclaim The Bindi Week definitely helped. It’s also devastating how quickly the hashtag picked up steam, because it highlights how desperately our communities needed a space that represents dark-skinned people of colour.”
With thousands of online followers, Reclaim the Bindi has allowed young women to celebrate their skin colour, and the culture that comes with being said skin colour. Women’s Post spoke to founder of Reclaim the Bindi on the phone. While wishing to stay anonymous to avoid taking the spotlight away from the movement, she expressed her appreciation of being able to initiate this movement online, as it allows people to really educate themselves on the subject.
”It’s a great initiative.” says Heera Sri, a supporter of Reclaim the Bindi and a student at York University with a large Instagram following herself. ”It’s making a lot of women feel more comfortable and come into their own skin. It’s all about loving yourself. Personally, I went through my own journey of embracing my dark skin and love that there’s women looking to provide a back bone for those who don’t have one yet. We live in a progressive country and there’s so much diversity, so I don’t see why being dark skinned should restrict you from anything. ”
South Asian women often indulge in Bollywood movies, hoping to find their very own prince charming at the GO Station one day. However, even in an industry that can easily embrace darker-skinned women, there is a surge in lightening cream endorsements and ‘dusky’ girls who gradually become less dusky as they excel in their acting careers. The Tamil movie industry, Heera mentions, borrows actresses from Northern Sri Lanka and India to play Tamil characters. In a time when we crave colour on TV screens and movie theatres, most recently with #OscarsSoWhite, how come we’re not asking for the same back at home?
On the topic of cultural norms and harmful beauty standards, Ramisa Tasfia, a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says, “Treatments like skin bleaching or products like Fair & Lovely definitely perpetuate shadeism by promoting the idea that lighter is better. I feel that colorism is a result of systemic racism within our own cultures; partly believing that whiter people hold more power and beauty. I’ve never known dark skin to be ugly, or unappealing than light skin—but as I grew older I became more exposed to the obvious signs that lighter skin is favoured over darker skin.”
Jones created the #UnfairandLovely hashtag to encourage all women, with an emphasis on South Asian women, to embrace their natural colour and revel in their own beauty. But, Jones wants people to know the campaign is for everyone: “Some outlets have falsely reported that #unfairandlovely is only for dark-skinned South Asian women, but this is false. It’s for dark-skinned people of colour who are women, genderqueer, non-binary, etc.”
Amina Mohammed, former editor in chief of The Muslim Voice, shared her take on the movement through her perspective as a Somali-Canadian, Muslim woman. ”I’ve watched many of my South Asian friends struggle to come to terms with the dangers of colourism. I’ve seen them turn to whitening cream, lemon and potato peel facial masks, and extra sunscreen; all in an effort to appear fair (and lovely). I’ve also found the majority of anti-blackness from the South Asian community stems from this initial, internal adherence to a colourist social stratification. The Unfair and Lovely movement encourages probing dialogue, self-love, positivity and a re-definition of loveliness. I am all for this campaign, I think it’s great,” she added.
The movement comes in lieu of Reclaim the Bindi Week, which took place from March 8-14. As media got in on the story, we saw the impact that young women have of creating a voice for those who don’t. While movements like Unfair and Lovely are definitely steps towards ending discrimination, there will need to be a complete overhaul of the collective mindset of society to bring about an end to the prejudice that is shown against dark skinned people — not to mention the the superiority factor that is associated with fairness.
How has the Unfair and Lovely campaign affected you? Let us know in the comments below!