“Give Me Some Skin”
Forty-nine days down and only six left to be an “Akka” or, “older sister”. Claire, Rachel and I (Chels) are savoring every moment we have left with Prem and Ritama and all the students in Asha Kiran. Before we post our last blog, I wanted to bring something I learned to your attention. I recently had a very passionate conversation with a fellow “PK” (pastor’s kid), Myra, one of the teachers at Asha Kiran. Let me share with you a bit of what we have talked about, which has completely changed my global perspective:
If you are a young woman, please pay close attention.
Much like the media in the U.S., the media here in India makes a large contribution to the way people are “supposed” to look. Often we will see billboards, commercials, shows, etc. here that are advertized or played by someone with very fair skin. I would imagine this fact contributes to how many times the three of us girls hear this, “Excuse me madam, can I take your picture?” To which we respond, “If you are willing to pay 100 rupees.” Unfortunately we’ve had to up the price to 500 because some people actually started to reach into their pockets for their wallets. Personally, I get comments like, “You look like a doll!” and, “You look like a Barbie.” or, “You are really white!” The latter proclamation is not only a new reality for me, but it is exactly the reason for the previous statements. I look like a doll, and a Barbie to these people because I am different from them, not because I actually have feet so disproportionately small that my upper body throws me forward due to lack of balance (which would actually happen if Barbie’s were real people). If you haven’t met me, you should know that I am unbelievable white. In fact, I am actually a little pink. This was quite interesting to a girl on the beach who was trying to sell me jewelry. She began our conversation by telling me I look like a chicken. I told her she should come up with a different sales pitch.
Beven, the sweetest little seven-year-old, is in the class I have been working in. He is completely obsessed with cars. If you give him an activity you can almost be certain to find a Mitsubishi or Honda or even a Porsche on his assignment, accompanied by sound effects that resemble some sort of exhaust pipe. One day little Beven took a banana and “chk-chk-chk”ed it all the way up my arm. He stopped and pointed to my arm and said, “Nice color.” So I pointed to his arm and said, “Beautiful color.” He shook his little head an insisted that his dark color was “not nice,” and that “light is nice.” My little Beven is only seven.
In Goa, a small costal state in Southern India, we met lots of sales girls on the beach. A few of them gave us henna (which we later found was completely over priced and not even real henna). Nikki, my artist and new friend, and I talked for quite some time on the beach as she drew fake henna on my foot. She is a nineteen-year-old with the freest spirit of anyone I know. As free as her personality is, she is bound by two ideas: The first is that God is one of a number of Hindu gods, and the second is that people don’t like dark skin. She said to me, “Boys, they say like, ‘I don’t want to marry that girl, she is too dark.’” Nikki is secretly dating a man in the UK. In October he is coming back to marry her and take her out of India. Claire, Rachel and I are all who know because her parents want to arrange her a marriage to an older man. This man from the UK is her way to “freedom” and her idea of a “love marriage”. Please pray for her.
In the Christian church here, if you want to get married you have the option of turning to the church bulletin to look at matrimonial ads to see who your eligible bachelors/bachelorettes are. Today I received a Christian newspaper with twenty matrimonial ads. Seven of them say something along the lines of, “WANTED: a God fearing groom/bride blah blah for a fair complexioned girl/boy.” One of these actually requests someone with fair skin. Three of them mention that they have a “wheatish” complexion (which apparently means somewhere in between dark and light), and ten of them don’t mention their complexion at all. Not one of them mentions having a “dark” complexion. My good friend Tessy, a speech language pathologist and audiologist, has informed me of a matrimonial website that is much like the ads in this newspaper. She said that there are many women whose marriage proposals will actually be rejected because they are not fair-skinned. The man and his family will go to meet her, and when they see that she is dark they think about reasons the two cannot marry. For example, they might have children with dark skin. Usually in a situation such as this the man’s family might be fair, so they will tell her family he can’t marry her because she has a dark complexion.
What am I supposed to learn from all of these experiences? Is light-skin more envied than dark skin? The same is in Chinese culture, isn’t that right? Fair is fairest of them all? FALSE!!!!!!!!!!! Let me be the first to say that when I get home I am getting a spray tan to make my skin appear darker! Why? Because it makes me feel confident and it’s encouraged by society, particularly during the summer. So I’ll spend ten dollars after 10pm at RockStar TanBar in Kirkland, Washington to make my skin darker, while another 21-year-old in India goes to Value Mart to pay 10 rupees for a product called Fair and Lovely to make her skin look lighter. I heard about RockStar TanBar from another girl that gets spray tans consistently. The girl that is going to Value Mart has probably seen Fair and Lovely on a commercial on TV. The advertisement shows a dark-skinned girl going to try out for a casting call for a television series. When the girl doesn’t get the part she is completely distraught so she goes to the store and buys Fair and Lovely. In one week her complexion is fair and “lovely”, so she tries out again and of course, gets the part and is full of joy. What message is this sending to Indian women? But is this any different from the advertisements I see with white women that have some fake, golden tan? What message does that tell me? That I need to look darker, DUH!
Young women: have you ever received a compliment about your skin or hair or eyes or body and responded, “Please, take it!” or “Please, can we trade?”. Myra told me that when she was in elementary school she was the only dark-skinned student there (Generally Southern Indians have darker skin than Northern Indians). She told me she remembers getting complimented for her dark complexion and saying, “Please, take it!” because she was constantly called “Blackie”, or “Kalia”, in Hindi.
The last time I checked we were all created equally. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are WONDERFUL, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14). You being God, and I being all who were made in God’s image, which is EVERYONE! So what color is God then if we were all made in his image? Is he dark and light? I don’t know. According to the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, he could be red and yellow black and white because we are all precious in his sight which, is completely politically incorrect but the point is, we are one in the body of Christ. There is no superior or inferior color or race or culture. That idea of inferiority/superiority is how genocide is influenced. We have the wrong idea about each other, and ourselves. Many of us want dark skin many of them want light. I want curly you want straight. We think arranged marriages are outrageous and they think dating is pointless. Neither is true. The point is, as a Christian we believe in a God that provides only the best for his children. Who cares how we do it? Who cares about our differences? Man does, because “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1st Samuel 16:7). We’re all worshiping the same God, so there is no “right” way and there is no “better” color.
We are one.
Women of India: I want your dark complexion.
Women that get spray tans and lay in tanning beds in the U.S.: Indian women want your skin before you fry and dry it.
Here is a picture that Aswin, a 12-year-old boy with autism I’ve been working with, drew today. My hand is the black one and his is the pink one (Completely unintentional. I actually tried to stop him from using black- hence the blue middle finger- but thankfully I was unsuccessful.) Because this blog is so long I’ve posted pictures below so you are able to see what we’ve been doing the last few weeks. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
As my father once said regarding the people of Rwanda, “The thing is Chels, the only difference between me and these people is that I was simply born into a different place.”
Thank you for reading,