I once had a dream in which my skin was the colour of gold. I was happy in that dream. People treated me differently – they treated me well, and that made all the difference. Though it was just a fleeting dream, I was happy at the moment that I had been born a golden child. Gold was, by all means, better than the ebony tones of my skin, or at least that was what I had been conditioned to believe.
I was born into a community obsessed with fair skin. My mom once told me that someone called me ugly as a baby, and went on to reason that all dark-skinned babies are ugly. I didn’t know whether to tell her that it was a cruel act, or that I had heard worse.
I am dark, I am short and I am obese.
Now, I can state these as facts. But having grown up hearing relatives never fail to speak about my physical features as major shortcomings when it comes to prospects of getting married, and the future in general, it has been a tiresome and tumultuous struggle.
“She is dark.”
”She is short.”
”She is fat.”
I grew up grappling with these labels used by my kin – near and far – right from the start of my teenage years. These people, with “good intentions”, took it upon themselves to remind my family and I on an almost daily basis about their “concerns about me”. While some were polite, others blatantly said, “No one would ever marry your daughter.”
These ‘concerned’ adults believed they were in the right to say things like this. Meanwhile, their three labels – dark, short and fat – echoed in my head and broke me even before I hit adulthood. I grew up as a very self-conscious teen who hated even the shadow of her own reflection. It took me a long time to grow to accept who I am and how I look, and a lot more effort to gain confidence and embrace my skin.
I also did not grow up at a time when body positivity was even remotely a thing. All we heard of were matrimonial ads which only wanted a “fair, tall, slim girl” and people who looked like me featured in movies only as sidekicks – as that goofy friend with no life of her own, there for comic relief and the stark contrast she brings to highlight the heroine.
Back then, I used to think that no one would love me the way I was. No one told me that I was fine, the way I looked – not even my own mother. At a later stage of life, those things stopped mattering as much. But back then, it hurt.
As an adult opening up to the prospect of marriage, I dreaded putting up a profile on matrimonial sites for a long time and kept stalling for as long as possible. I may have been more confident about my physical appearance, creating a matrimonial profile meant so much more. It would mean opening my home to strangers who would then think it okay to gauge the size of my upper arms, legs and thighs, the excess of body hair, my skin colour, height and so on – all of which which makes you unsuitable as a match.
All this, in the very first conversation.
How ever thick-skinned I’ve become over the years, incidents like this make me question why I even need to go through such an ordeal in the first place.
When I told one of my friends about the reason why I dreaded this groom-hunting business, she suggested I include these reasons in my profile. I didn’t – because my physical features don’t define me and neither does this reasoning. I am no rebel and putting up these reasons would paint me as one. I am an ordinary soul with an ordinary yearning – a yearning to be seen as a person, not a label.
I grew up breathing in the stale air of a society where fair, thin and proportionate is the standard of beauty and everything else is lacklustre. Perhaps if had been born now, there is the smallest of chances that the lady who called me ugly as a baby may not have said what she did.
But the world is still a place where the only adjective used to describe a good-looking plus-sized person is ‘cute’, not ‘pretty’. And a dark-skinned good-looking person is still described as ‘having good features’, and not ‘beautiful’. Time is still very much stuck at a place where a dark-skinned pregnant woman, confident in her hue, would still drink haldi milk everyday praying for the little girl in her womb to be blessed with the right colour.
Recently, some matrimonial sites decided to let go of the skin colour filter in their searches. It’s a start, but it hardly makes a dent in how society still, and will function for a long, long while. How can one change the pre-set conditioning of the minds of the families of many grooms who are going to mentally filter and categorise your photographs based on your physical features to decide if you are “good enough”?
Many would say why bother about such people? But the matter of fact is that the people who categorise you are not bad – they are ordinary, just like you and me. My problem is with their social conditioning.
How does one go about changing that?
I wonder whether a time would come when I would yearn for the ebony of my skin instead, if ever I were to dream of being born a golden child again.
Clearly, I am not there yet.
Shruthi Ramesh is a 28-year-old from Kannur, Kerala.
Featured image credit: Jon Tyson/Unsplash