I was born dark skinned and such was life. My earliest memories involving skin color came from one of my uncles who used to call me blackie and a cousin who used to call me shaani. You all understand the word blackie implies a very dark color, but what does the word shaani mean? Shaani is a word in the Tamil language, translated for cow dung, or cow poop, or cow excrement or whatever way you want to describe it. If you have seen cow dung, it is very dark in color, almost black. Growing up I always knew that dark color was undesirable. I don’t think I completely understood how undesirable until I grew up.
When one grows up knowing they look ugly, or at least when everyone implies it, one builds their own defense mechanisms. Somewhere, I held on to my faith that looks didn’t matter, it was the character of a person. After all, that’s why Islam recommends modesty. I built defenses within myself that all the good looking, attractive girls were inherently hollow on the inside and only got their way because they were good looking. I, on the other hand, may not look good, but I was looking damn fine on the inside. That’s how I considered it.
Secretly, I wanted to change my fate and look beautiful. If only I could be lighter. I couldn’t. As a little girl I would paint my face with makeup. The more the merrier. Obviously, that had the opposite of the intended effect. I think I gave up at times going back to my defenses of very modest clothing and not trying to care. I think I owned the largest collection of turtle necks. The cycle would continue. I would try makeup again and fail horridly and go back to square one that looks didn’t matter. Gosh. I looked like a mad hag with makeup, and I gave up a lot of times. It’s not just makeup I gave up on. I also didn’t care about my hair. Nothing was going to make me look good unless I could change my skin color, so screw that too.
In my early 30s, I met a woman in India who felt very different to me. She looked at me and would dote on me and tell me how beautiful I was. In the beginning, I wondered about what she wanted. Everyday it would be “if only you could see how beautiful you are” and my secret desire to be beautiful, gave in and started believing her. She told me that I just needed to change a few things and I would look gorgeous. First thing she suggested was hair.
I was in India then. I had never gotten my hair colored before. Ever. She wanted to change that. She said a little red in my hair would make the world of difference. I don’t know why, but I trusted her. Or maybe I wanted to trust her. Anything to make me beautiful. Anything. So, we went to the hair salon to get my hair colored. For the first time.
When I came home that evening and looked at my strawberry blonde hair in the mirror, I started crying. The price of beauty came with ridicule. She promised me that she would take me back to the salon and have it fixed. She said they cured it too long and that the salon made a mistake. My husband at that time walked in and looked at me once. I tried to put up a brave front and said, “do you like it?” and he said sternly, “have you gone out of your mind? Change it at once!” Yes, I started crying again. The woman tried to console me to no avail. I couldn’t wait for the next day.
The next day darkened my hair only a bit. The process to try and chemically straighten my hair had burned it and ruined it to a dried up frizz. Oh yeah. That happened the day of the strawberry blonde.
I came back to America and found a salon. My first time at an American salon. I got my hair cut short. Good thing my hair grows fast. A year and I kept cutting it over and over and over until I had my original hair back. I was turning grey so I needed to color anyway. That’s when I started doing it the right way and started paying attention to my hair.
I had given up on my beauty but in the strangeness of disasters, I got it back. I came to respect what I had – my hair. And I came to accept and understand more. Perhaps, I’ll never be beautiful by the definitions I grew up with, but my definitions were slowly changing.
I’ve learned more self respect in the past few years. Acting stints have gotten me better at wearing makeup and for a change I’m able to see the artistic nature of makeup. I don’t look at those girls as superficial anymore. I don’t look at myself as beautiful, but I am more comfortable in my own skin. When men didn’t want me because they thought I was very average looking, I got used to that. I learned that I didn’t want them either. When my husband Brad told me that he thought I was beautiful it took some getting used to. Maybe he was lying. I’ve come to realize that color really doesn’t matter to him, so without that factor, I got my beauty back. And I have my hair back as well.
Best to you all,