My mother spent most of the summer in India. Upon picking her up at the airport and receiving a much-needed hug, she exclaims “You’re so dark!”
I spent one weekend outdoors the entire summer. My skin was one, maybe two shades darker. And after six weeks away, minutes after reuniting with her, I hear about my skin color.
The Indian fascination with being as fair as possible is as inexplicable as the Caucasian obsession with being tan; everyone wants what they don’t have. The fair-skinned folk want more melanin; the darker-skinned people want less.
This cultural notion traveled with our parents from India to the United States, as did the beliefs of coconut oil being the best treatment for dry hair and kajol being the best tool to line eyes.
However, our generation has a different approach to Indian beauty.
Our generation has replaced coconut oil with deep conditioning treatments. We opt for sharpened eye pencils over the traditional Indian kohl. Our application of sunscreen and proper clothing isn’t to ensure we don’t tan, but to protect our skin from the increasingly harmful UV rays.
It’s not about how fair our skin is, but taking care and making the most of it, from proper skin care to careful makeup application. While our mothers yearn for us to grow out long, glossy, thick black hair, we opt for a variety of cuts (from pixie to long locks), color (rich caramels to deep chocolates), and treatments (keratin to reduce frizz and coarseness).
Much of the second-generation Indian experience in the States has been redefining the traditions and values we learned from our parents to suit our modern lives. Beauty is no exception.
So while our mothers may bemoan about our tans lowering our loveliness, we smile and embrace our shades, and how lovely they really are.