“What does it say about our society when it tells us that darker skin is an instant cause for concern and discomfort?”

After reading ‘As a Desi woman, I was taught that my hyperpigmented armpits were unnatural‘, i realised that hyperpigmentation is something i want to talk about. As a brown woman, hyperpigmentation is something i’ve been dealing with since, oh i don’t know, 12 or 13 years old, I think? It’s not quite so dark around my mouth, but my underarms, elbows and knees are super dark. In that, private parts are also hyperpigmented. At most, it’s a trivial issue and we can go on with our day, forgetting about it. At worst, it’s the cause of constant anxiety, low self-esteem and confidence, and hating our body.

Everywhere we look, we see pretty, fair-skinned girls and women at the centre of every tabloid, magazine and advertisements. This gives off the impression that lighter is better, whereas darker skin tones or hyperpigmentation is a cause for concern and seen as ‘undesirable’. These views are a result of Eurocentric beauty standards.

I’ve always wished to be fairer toned, like my mum is, all peaches and cream complexion–I’d spend years praying my skin colour would lighten to be exactly like hers, so everywhere that was dark, my armpits, my elbows, my knees, my inner thighs, my vagina etc., would also be lighter in colour. Disappointment was never the word to describe me when, obviously, my prayers weren’t answered. (and clearly now, I am in love with the colour I am–of course, I am not exactly ‘dark skinned’, but compared to my mother’s side of the family who are all extremely fair, I am a lot darker than them.) I wanted to match the perfect women I saw in movies and on tv, spread across the glossy magazine pages, all of them airbrushed to perfection, looking flawless, and their skin all one colour.

Once, like a few months ago, in the early days of J and i, when i was feeling super nervous about him seeing me naked because of this very reason–hyperpigmentation, i was talking to my friend, Sam, about my fears and how I wouldn’t be having this issue if I was white. All the women I’ve seen in porn have pretty vaginas that were one colour. “God, white women have white privilege, do they have to have perfect vaginas too?” Of course, J doesn’t care about this at all, but the fact that i was terrified about what he would think of me being darker in certain areas, way darker in shade than the rest of my body, speaks volumes about the impact of colourism and colonialism; how, even to this very day, it is deeply rooted in South Asian culture. My skin tone, now, is something i will never want to change, but the hyperpigmentation is still a subject I am trying to become more comfortable with, and accept. Hyperpigmentation is natural.

The effects of colourism in South Asian culture means being given Fair & Lovely to become brighter, lighter, fairer–a damaging, detrimental and destructive outlook on beauty to force upon a young girl. The first time i went to Bangladesh, i was 7, and the last time i went, i was 9–both times i was given Fair & Lovely cream by my aunts and cousins to use. To become prettier, lighter. Fair. Not only does this cause a severe drop in mental health and positive and healthy behaviours, particularly toward darker skinned people, it makes us believe that to be accepted and deemed attractive we have to look white.

Hyperpigmentation is an overproduction of melanin, there’s nothing bad about it, except the treatment towards it, how it’s seen as gross and undesirable and ‘not pretty’. I remember saying “what if he thinks I’m hideous or my vagina’s ugly because its so dark?” to Sam, a thought that never should’ve even crossed my mind.

I’m always going to be a bit insecure about the discolouration on my body, it will always play on my mind when I’m in tank tops or strappy dresses, or short skirts, shorts and dresses. Even when i’m with J, it still is a source of immense anxiety for me, because for me, it’s not something I think is pretty. And i shouldn’t have to feel like that about something that is so fucking natural, especially in people of colour. Where I don’t think of myself being unworthy of his attraction and love, i find myself wishing i would fit into the more ideal version of society’s expectations on what beautiful really meant: no hyperpigmentation, all one skin tone everywhere.

I remember once researching ‘hyperpigmentation laser removal’, hoping I would come across something, some result, that could take away the darker skin on my underarms, inner thighs and vagina, making it match the rest of my body, and thus be pretty. I mean, I did find a few places that did it, but if it ever came down to it, it’s not something I’d ever do. I need to be able to accept and love my body, hyperpigmentation and all, Eurocentric standards of beauty be damned.

Sumaiya, x

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