April 9, 2013

Surviving Discrimination: The Sreeja Raveendran Story

By Sreeja Raveendran | An UNfair & Beautiful contributor

Yes, I have been called mean names in school on account of being dark.
Yes, I have been rejected in the matrimonial space by parents of several non-eligible bachelors.
Yes, I have not been chosen to occupy the front line of dancers for a show.
Yes, I have been reminded of my colour several times at my workplace.
Yes, I have been asked at beauty product stores if I needed a fairness cream.
Yes, I was asked to cut a cake during my farewell at work which said, ‘Goodbye Blacky.'
Yes, I have created content for a fairness cream.

Dark, darker, darkest. Once you have been identified with a shade of dark, you are doomed to face one or all of those incidents stated above. With all the incidents mentioned above, I was surrounded by educated civilised humans who knew what they were doing.

Blatant taunts are many. But I can also go on and on about subtle references to my colour made by friends, relatives and colleagues at office, parties, or social gatherings. I have chosen to ignore these comments or appear unaffected by them. But deep down inside, as all of who have been in this situation know, I feel the sting.

I used to read and re-read the promises of fairness products. I would smear them all over myself and wait for the promised magical change. I hoped, in vain, to change something I had been born with. It was my desperate attempt to be wanted, to be accepted in the ‘fair world’. And then, something happened.

I was asked to create content for a leading fairness product. I experienced a stab of guilt. I had fallen prey to those false promises, and now I was being asked to convince others. I decided to research the fairness product—I was appalled at what I discovered.

Research reveals that, ‘No cream which promises fairness really does so. Creams have ingredients which improve your complexion and fairness is only a figment of your imagination. In other words, commercials play games with the insecure figment of your imagination.’

Research also shows that that sales of a category of fairness creams has increased/ doubled post the continuous screening of a commercial or a promising print ad. Brands take their cue from this pattern and pool in a massive budget to promote their products. In short, it is the consumers who are the creators of this colossal demand in the market.

Life is not fair, and I know it. We all know it. But when faced with staunch prejudice, we do have a choice. We can choose to seek refuge in products that promise us conventional fairness or we can choose to be different from the rest.

Forget the colour you were born with and focus on attaining a healthy and supple skin. Having a great complexion regardless of colour boosts your confidence.

This has been my learning: Stand apart, create a niche and make yourself heard through your actions. All you needs is confidence and attitude! Face every taunt with a smile. Be unnerved and harbour that fierceness in you. Look into the eyes of those who taunt you and say, "Yes! I am dark, and I am beautiful."

Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer, either past or present or anyone else that I'm affiliated with.

The Sreeja Raveendran Story is a part of the Surviving Discrimination posts. If you have overcome skin colour bias and would like to share your story to inspire change among young men and women, drop us a line at darkisbeautiful@gmail.com

Sreeja Raveendran is a Mar-com professional and a freelance consultant. She is also an art enthusiast. Check out her craft and art blog at http://craftmelange.blogspot.com


  1. Thank you for writing! It was comforting to read your post. I was born in the UK where the stigma of dark skin is not as great as it is in India.

    I came here to travel for six months and for my whole experience I faced nasty comments about being dark/ugly. I often felt alone, unattractive and unliked. Even though I knew this was not the case.

    You are beautiful and I wish you every happiness in life.

    Sandy Dhaliwal, London, UK xx

  2. I think the media is completely responsible for this farce.

  3. Thank you Sandy. I am sure there are many like us who need to come out with this in the open. We need to raise more awareness and completely say NO to fairness creams or products that promise the same. When the demand drops, the product will be out and so will be the bias..Hopefully!!

  4. Amazing article, and i can completely relate to what you felt and experienced.

    Having been called dark, the subtle hints when choosing colors for my attire, and being handed a tube of fairness creams are just the beginning of the story.

    I wish more girls/women would embrace that they are dark and they are beautiful!

    Great article. :)

  5. Thank you. :) Yea, I know what you mean by hints while choosing the attire. Light colors for the dark and 'any' color for the fair. Not fair!

  6. Me too .. faced the same..Once a girl said...who will love a dark boy like you :D

    I am proud of my color, In every season, in every climate, I have the same color and it won;t change

    I am dark and I am Great!

    Really nice post!

  7. Hey Anoop,

    You are one of the most successful guys in our batch of engineering. Am glad you have come out of it and faced life the big bold way! High five... and keep going!!

    Note: The girl who said that 'then' would be repenting it now!! :) :)

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  9. Your post brings back memories..yes I too have faced this sting in childhood and had fallen prey to god knows how many fairness creams..am glad am out of it now and have come to terms with what I am. A lovely post, keep the fire going!

  10. Thank you Suvi. Am glad you are out of it and we all must stand united in eradicating this discrimination from our society!

  11. This is beautiful and you are beautiful.

    Life really isn't fair.

  12. Thank you so much Raaga..It is that unfair nature of life which gives us the impetus to break free and go past it..And when we do, its a real happy feeling!

  13. Beautifully articulated all your feelings. Rather the feelings of any person who is humiliated. Being a fair skinned person, I never bothered about it much. Until my grandma would poke at my sister who was a tone darker than me. Knowing all of it, yet when I was pregnant with a baby girl, all I hoped was she get my complexion..donno why I did that..she didn't inherit my genes though..Honestly, now I am happy that she is a happy and healthy child :)

  14. Very well written, Sreeja. I am of a dark complexion and come from Malaysia, where everyone comments on skin colour and unfortunately so does my own family.

    Twelve years ago I came to the UK to study and never left. I live in Scotland and not once in those twelve years has anyone referred to the colour of my skin (in a derogatory manner) in the sea of fair people I live amongst. I am married to a Scottish bloke who is very pale. I have two sons who are of a tan colour and the envy of many caucasians as they yearn to get such a tan by sunbathing or going to tanning parlours. Living here I forget that I have a dark skin tone. However I go back to Malaysia frequently to visit my parents, and within hours of returning the discriminating comments commence. Most annoying is when people in Malaysia find it hard to hide their amazement when my sons (tan skin here, is categorised as fair in Malaysia) call me Mummy!

    Why do Malaysians (and others too) have to discriminate against their darker skin toned brothers and sisters? It's saddest as own families can show favouritism based on this...yes even though I'm an adult, and a mother /wife who is loved by my own family, the comments still sting and hurt.

    1. Angela, it is great you live in Scotland now then. I am sort of in the same boat. I lived in Malaysia for 21 years where I faced a lot of discrimination. But here ( In Tasmania, Australia) people love my skin colour, even now, I get compliments all the time about how I am so lucky to have such a lovely skin colour.

      It is terrible how Malaysians are so discriminatory, especially Indians themselves. Maybe we need to start changing that. :)

  15. Thank you 'Found in Folsom', sorry I couldn't find your name anywhere. My apologies.

    It is natural for anyone to wish to be accepted. But color, is god given.It is no way a persons fault that he/she is born with a certain color or feature. What matters most is how one learns to deal with it.To grow beyond prejudice to place where people would only notice your success and nothing else.

  16. Thank you Angela. I am sorry to hear you have faced this discrimination. But then, am glad you did recognize and choose to speak about it. There are still many people out there who think it is their fault and suffer from deep rooted inferiority complexes.

    It is amazing that so many people from different parts of the world face the same issue. Glad to know you all.

  17. Hello Sreeja! First of all, thankyou for the 'Reality Bite'. The article is truly inspiring and factual. Firstly it's very unfortunate that a country where we have the maximum number of people with wheatish or dark complexion follows this kind of Discrimination. The problem lies in the 'Mentality' of individuals. Just because they have something different they have forgotten that every individual has been given each part of the body as a gift from the almighty.It has to be accepted like that.However for most of us beauty equals to fairness first. Dark automatically means ugly.
    Sometimes even your group comments or avoids you on the basis of the skin colour.I have even met friends who have asked me whether my mother ate "Shoe polish" when she was carrying me.It's not always easy to ignore personal comments as humour. Even humor beyond a certain limit becomes an insult.
    Secondly, forget about media and friends sometimes even your "Relatives and family" show disrespect towards you(for no fault)which is simply disheartening. Plus competing for winning the title of "The best looking family member" is the worst. Plus since you are a female, you have the compulsion of looking the best otherwise you only face more rejection.
    You have people around who try to motivate you to become a better person but in the end a majority of them judge you on the basis of your looks.Even while going to beauty parlours,big shops and malls, i have faced discrimination from the salespersons showing me the products.This is also a reality which is sad but the truth.It's like survival of the most beautiful and not the fittest ;-)

  18. Hi Tini,

    Am glad to have found people like you who share my experience. But, this is not the end Tini. Being beautiful is in how we carry ourselves. The confidence in ur stance and the attitude we potray.When it sets a niche for you, you automatically become beautiful for who you are that what you are or were born with.

    My mom used to tell that she had lots of saffron when she was expecting me and it did not work. But then, my mom does love me for what I am. When faced with ridicule from my relatives, I retaliate and walk away.They say I have an attitude, but then that makes me who I am today.

    You are beautiful the way you are. All you need to do is identify your strengths and be among people who will treat you like how you deserve!People hurt you only when you let them do so. Remember, you always have an option and a way out!

  19. Yes Sreeja, I agree with you totally. I am lucky that i have few people around me who have always accepted me as i am and help me become what i am today. As a person i am headstrong and completely happy with what i have. Because i feel that as an "IDENTITY" every human is different from the other with his/her unique traits. It's just that sometimes the society misleads you and tries to put you on shaky grounds.

  20. 'Applause' Tini..Way to go people...

  21. I loved reading all the comments! The feedback has been incredible. This is a REAL issue for many of us.

    If you are someone struggling with this issue, we'd love to hear from you and chat with you. Don't let anybody take away your dignity because of some prejudice they suffer from. Your skin colour is not to blame.

    We encourage you to share your story on overcoming discrimination at darkisbeautiful@gmail.com

  22. I don't understand why people keep on discriminating each other in terms of religion (Hindu Muslim), countries (India Pakistan), and now this color (Black and white). I think people are very immature at understanding that we are created by God. Why to do down our own kind?

    Alison Clarke
    obagi nu derm starter kit

  23. @Alison - Thank you Alison for your response. A world free of discrimination will be euphoric and 'unrealistically' ideal. But what matters is to never to give in to the discriminations ad judgements which we keep seeing, reading, hearing about every single day!

  24. hi...
    I like your post.I think that girls face more discrimination than boys.Specially in my area it happens. I am the darkest member in my whole family and because of that I always get unnoticed everywhere.I always feel that I don't exist.Just because of dark skin I am facing problem in my marriage. I really can't understand that why they only want fair skin girl.I my school and college days even teachers used to ignore me and now at work place I am facing the same problem. Is there any place in India where I don't have to face all these.
    priyanka jain

    1. Dear Priyanka,
      When times get tough, the tough gets going. Matrimonial times was a nightmare for me. I have been cast aside by parents of several non-eligible bachelors and I did end up finding my own partner. Thanks to them, I am now with a man and his family who loves and respects me for who I am than the color I was born with. Hang on dear. The world isn't such a bad place after all!

  25. Do you see this as being on the brink of explosion?
    Factoring in the Dalits, Sikhs(80% are dark skinned) and connecting with the African-American upwardly mobile segment, I guess we can bring about a change.

  26. Connecting with Dalits, Sikhs(~80% are dark-skinned) and upwardly mobile african-americans can bring about the change we all have been waiting for.

    But, just to give you a perspective: when the Africans ruled(Nile valley etc..) am sure black was in vogue.
    There were Southern dynasties who established trade routes with Africa and South east asia.

    When the Greeks ruled:
    "Pale skin and light hair were described as signs of barbarism by Polemon of Laodicea in his book Physiognomica."
    " Greek superiority was visible in their medium skin tone, as opposed to pale northerners and dark southerners and Africans."

    Currently, the europeans dominate hence the importance for fairness.

    Sadly, Might is always right. :)

    But, human spirit yearns for betterment and hence this campaign is an evolutionary step towards achieving that goal.

    1. Absolulety, this campaign is bound for success! Racism has several levels of perspectives. It gets into deeper areas like casteism which is not what the campaign addresses. Its really not ok to downcast a person on basis of color and that is what we are talking about. Tiny steps to empower people who have suffered years of discrimination..Its the strength that we need to give such people, the strength to overcome the bias!

  27. This was a great experiment done back in the 70s in America. When they say Indians here, they mean the Native-Americans. Maybe this is what schools should be doing every now then so that children grow up learning what it feel like to be discriminated against for something that you had absolutely no control over.


    I am a Malaysian Indian who now lives in Tasmania-Australia. I faced a lot of discrimination growing up that made me feel inferior and ashamed. Thankful my mother (who was much lighter than me) was the biggest supporter of my dark skin tone. She would tell relatives who would recommend me Fair and Lovely or saffron that she loved my skin, that it was a lovely brown that made her think of tasty rich chocolate.

    Still, the comments hurt, especially when it came from a grandparent or an uncle or friend.

    When I first moved to Tasmania, I was like an exotic creature here, people would stop me on the streets to comment on my beautiful skin. When I go to Thailand or Bali, I never fail to get compliments about my skin tone. It gave me so much more confidence and allowed me to feel beautiful and comfortable in my skin.

    Within a year of being here, I even tried to get a tan, because everyone else here wanted to. It just seemed like the thing to do in summer.

    Nowadays, I make a lot of light-hearted jokes about my colour.
    I say things like, ''Yes, I need to eat this block of chocolate, it is a lot of work being this dark you know '' or ''yea, lets go to the beach, I need to work on my tan''.

    I focus on the wonderful benefits that I get from being this colour. I look great in so many colours that others don't, acne and pimples are not very obvious on my face, cellulite is well hidden with my dark brown skin, I don't turn red when I am embarrassed (even though my face feels like it is on fire)... etc.

    Embrace who you are. I know it must be really difficult when you don't have anyone on your side, or you live in a country like India. But maybe joking about it rather than keeping quiet and feeling hurt is the way to go.

    This is a great article, and it makes me really happy to see that people are taking a stand.

    1. I am happy to know you can take a joke on yourself, trust me, that does take a lot of confidence. Happy for you Natasha.

  28. Good going Sreeja
    Treating every fellow human being who shares space with you on this planet with utmost respect speaks volumes about one's maturity and sensitivity. Unfortunately, in our part of the world both these qualities are late bloomers, especially if you have been exposed a very narrow upbringing coupled with the ills of a very conservative society that imposes certain baseless norms of existence on you. But the more we voice our indignation against such trifles the more awareness we will be able to create...and that's perhaps the only way that we can ever bring about a change in our emotionally dead, desensitized society.

    1. Thank you so much Maam. It fills me with pride to know you liked my article and more, you support this cause. It means a lot to me Maam.

  29. This is wonderful Sreeja !! I too have faced ALL of these. We try to pretend to be unaffected by the rude comments and insinuations but they hurt.

    Everytime I come across another dark-skinned girl/woman my heart goes out to her. It took a lot of strength for me to get over the meanness, I kept reminding myself people who did such things were egoistic losers, and they proved me RIGHT EVERY SINGLE TIME!! But who is going to tell these little girls to be strong and ignore such comments? It really is difficult.

    But we have to be strong and give strength to those who need it, because only when we believe that we are beautiful the other people will !!

    1. Thank you for writing Shruti. All it takes is to stand up and say IT'S NOT OK to pass such remarks, but what it takes is lots, I mean lots of courage and the right opportunity. I really hope people are sensitized by this campaign and they think twice before they give such hurtful remarks.

  30. A well written article. It is sad people are always looking for reasons to pin others down. Color of our skin is the easiest. I applaud your courage and enthusiasm. Way to go gal!!