Growing up of South Indian decent in a majority of a Chinese population in Singapore is confusing enough for a young girl. Add a fair skinned elder sister to the mix and the girl is plagued all her formative years with her inferior dark complexion. Sun TV, a cable channel from India would be blaring from the television almost everyday at home. My dad would watch the same Sun News about thirty times a day and my parents would huddle together at 11.30pm for a soap opera whose history is longer than India’s. In the soap, the dark skinned women suffer in the hands of other dark skinned men and lighter skinned women. Occasionally a dark skinned man would be cast as the melancholy poet who sacrifices everything for his family and friends. The soap is them punctuated with advertisements for creams that promise to make your skin lighter in 8 days. There is one in particular that taught me to recognise my disease. This was an advertisement for Fair & Lovely, a best selling “fairness cream” even today in India and many parts of Asia. A young girl is rejected over and over again by prospective grooms because they get turned off by her dark skin. She finally discovers Fair & Lovely and before you know it, she is standing at the alter with a man whose skin tone is the same as hers before her fairness makeover. She’s laughing and has never been happier. I immediately asked my mother to buy me a tube of Fair & Lovely.

The mistake my mum made was that she bought two tubes, one for my sister and one for me. That was when I knew for a fact that my mother never really loved me. Why else would she buy my fair skinned sister with Bollywood starlet looks the same cream? She might as well have winked and nudged me and said, “Yea, good luck with that” when she handed us the cream. You see it wasn’t as big a crime to be dark in Singapore as it would have been in India but it is just plain bad luck when your sister is as fair as a white daisy and you’re midnight’s child. I was a pretty popular kid in high school, my friends thought I was funny, nice, even attractive until I showed them a picture of my sister and I together. They waxed lyrical about my sister’s beauty and asked what went wrong with me.

After some years, I arrived in sunburnt Sydney with my Fair & Lovely in hand. And suddenly my skin colour was in vogue. Strangers complimented my “tan” and friends told me how they wish they were half as “tanned” as I was. But I still applied my fairness cream every morning religiously. Even though I was confronted by ads for spray tans, discounts on tanning bed sessions everyday,  I kept my Fair & Lovely tube close to me. Why, I couldn’t even find a sunblock with an SPF over 30. I used SPF 50 in Singapore and yes it does exist. Then one day, I sat in front of my computer to look up that Fair & Lovely ad that started my fixation. To my horror there were more ads for “fairness creams” than the number of times Michael Jackson squealed rare skin condition. From a mother encouraging her sport-loving daughter to pursue a career off the field instead of on it to an Indian woman who actually turns Caucasian from using a fairness cream:


These ads to me now were just shocking, plain ridiculous and a little funny. For example, watch this one:


and wait for the man to say “What a face” or this one:


where the guy actually tears off half the photo because the chick is too dark.

The human quest for what we can’t have is an ongoing battle. Fuelled by images of discontent fed to us by big name companies, our insecurities grow in proportion to their wallets. We all know this and yet we can’t help but be a part of it. This is why I have given up my unachievable desire for lighter skin. Like the profound words of Olay (which incidentally also sells whitening creams), I have learned to love the skin I’m in. To assimilate into my new Australian way of life, I have adopted a new obsession, weight. Like every other empty, materialistic, indulgent individual who finds their spiritual self with organic food, I found peace with myself over the weekend during a healthy discussion amongst friends over which is better for me, rice or soy milk.

Author: Komi Sellathurai

Komi Sellathurai is an Indian-Singaporean, Sydney-based writer.

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