Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Desi girl: beyond the pale, shocked by skin colour campaign

For dark-skinned girls like me, it’s the season of social gatherings where an auntie will inevitably walk up to you, cup your bronzed face in her hands and pout sadly about how “black” you have become.

With Eid just behind us and a whole new wedding season ahead, it’s a special time of the year for girls like me.

By girls like me, I mean desi women who like their fun in the sun. Women who will happily spend a day at the beach, the pool, the water park or any outdoorsy place and don’t mind returning with a tan whose depth is equalled only by the smile lines she gets at the prospect of another such day.

For girls like me, it’s the season of social gatherings where an auntie will inevitably walk up to you, cup your bronzed face in her hands and pout sadly about how “black” you have become.

Of course, in Urdu, they pout about how “kaali” you have become, which literally translates to “black”, and is the stand-in word used due to the desi vocabulary’s lack of an appropriate word for “tan” or “bronzed”.

I’ve never been “gori” (fair-skinned). On the best of days, I’m what you’d call “sanwli” or “gandumi” (“wheatish”). Most days, I am unabashedly “kaali”. Because I love spending my time outdoors, which I can afford to do no matter how sunny it is, because I don’t burn easily. I do, however, tan extremely easily.

For a Pakistani auntie, in terms of a tragedy a woman can suffer, getting a deep tan is second only to being unable to conceive a child. Expect solemn sighs and jutting lower lips, while someone drops subtle hints about the virtues of skin lightening creams.

Having grown up with such products and using them unabashedly, desi girls are not offended by them. We’ve come to accept it as one of those things about our culture that we can’t change, so we may as well not let ourselves be bothered by it.

What did get my gears in a grind, though, was when a brand-new fairness product – Zubaida Apa Whitening Soap – burst on to the scene a few weeks ago. This product was offensive on so many counts. It was being touted by one of Pakistan’s most respected cultural doyens, Zubaida Tariq (think of a desi Martha Stewart). Tariq comes from one of the most respected and educated families in Pakistan – her brother Anwar Maqsood is a writer, poet and TV personality, her sister Fatima Surayya Bajia is a novelist and playwright and her other sister Zehra Nigah is a poet.

To see her parading on TV screens all over the country announcing that “beauty starts with the colour of your skin” was a rude shock. Maybe it was the fact that the public loves her so much that she wasn’t outright lynched for being the face of such an offensive ad campaign. I am inclined to think that her getting off the hook so lightly might also have to do with the fact that she, despite all her claims of being an authority on skin- whitening, is no more “gori” than I am.

So we laughed (some with her and some at her) and went back to whatever it was that we were doing. Which, in my case, was probably packing my bag for another day at the water park.

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai

Updated: August 4, 2014 04:00 AM

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