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The thing about colourism

dark-skinned-girls

OpinionsHealth & Body

Skin colour has been a basis for exclusion for too long. It is time for us to speak up.

A fresh-faced, hopeful, and enigmatic 17-year-old girl walks into a modelling casting call organised by a local agency. 

As her eyes adjusted to the brightly-lit room, she was faced with a sea of porcelain-skinned women, fair as fair could ever be. These are the women she would be competing with. As she looked down at her cocoa-coloured skin, she was no longer so hopeful.

Taking one look at her, the agency's representatives told her: "You don't quite fit the look Asian markets are searching for."

Unfortunately, this was the first of my many experiences with colourism. 

What is colourism? It is a form of prejudice in which the social meanings attached to one's skin tone are a basis for discrimination and unfair treatment.

cosmopolitan-singapore-beauty-standards
COSMOPOLITAN'S SENIOR BEAUTY WRITER TELLS READERS WHAT IS
CONSIDERED BEAUTIFUL IN SINGAPORE. 
PHOTO CREDIT: COSMOPOLITAN SINGAPORE

Our society has been conditioned to view fairer skin as more desirable. Even I, a person with darker skin, have viewed light skin as the benchmark for beauty. Why is this so?

Has deep-rooted white supremacy been passed down since the days of colonialism? Did our exposure to white-washed western media affect our standards of beauty in any way? Or is it the old stigma that relates dark skin to hard labour and poverty, and fair skin with higher social and economic standing?

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where colourism came from, the effects of it are present in every ethnic group – Chinese, Malay, Indian, or others. Whether it comes in the form of subtle jabs or all out bouts of ridicule, any "dark-skinned" person of any race has been a victim of it. 

We are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting skin whitening products. Local adverts seem to only feature people of a lighter complexion, or people edited to appear fairer.

nylon-magazine-MIA-colourism-photoshopped
NYLON WAS ACCUSED OF WHITE-WASHING POPULAR TAMIL SINGER M.I.A IN 2014.
PHOTO CREDIT: @BITTERARAB

I have been told to stay out of the sun so that I do not get any darker than I already am. In one way or another, we are constantly being told: "Dark skin is unwanted and it is ugly."

Some may deny colourism's chokehold on Singapore, but it is present and as problematic as ever.
 
nadia-rahmat-marc-jacobs
EVEN MODEL NADIA RAHMAT RECEIVED FLAK WHEN SHE REPRESENTED SINGAPORE IN 
A PHOTO PROJECT OF BEAUTIFUL WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD EARLIER THIS YEAR.
PHOTO CREDIT: MARC JACOBS

So, why am I addressing this? Because there was a time when I was absolutely not okay with my skin tone. 

I would scrub my skin till it was rubbed raw. I would use a range of whitening products, including dodgy medically unapproved soaps from different parts of Southeast Asia. I wanted to lighten my complexion so badly.

flawless-radiance-ad
OH WOW, BLEACH CREAM. THAT SOUNDS LOVELY.
PHOTO CREDIT: NUTRIGLOW

The effort required to change the surface of my body, something I have zero control over, was exhausting and frankly, quite ridiculous. 

While I have grown to love the skin I am in, many young people are still plagued with insecurities from beauty standards they simply cannot reach, not because they are not beautiful, but because the standards are flawed to begin with. 

We have been programmed to find a particular look or style desirable or attractive, completely overlooking the many diverse forms of beauty all around us.

Our standards of beauty are not inclusive, and are downright offensive.

nutri-glow-bleaching-cream
ANTI-DARK FIGHTERS FOR RADIANT WHITE SKIN. COOL.
PHOTO CREDIT: BIO-ESSENCE

What can we do to combat colourism?

First, we can acknowledge that colourism is a problem that is rampant within our communities. 

Next, listen when people call out colourism, and address colourism when we see or hear it. Stand up for a friend being wrongfully bullied for the colour of their skin, or tell them that they are beautiful and do not have to change a single thing about themselves.

We ourselves should also stop putting light skin on a pedestal and recognise that beauty comes in all colours. We should promote positive images of people of every skin tone and be as inclusive as possible.

unfair-and-lovely
PAX JONES PHOTOGRAPHED HER TAMIL CLASSMATES AS PART OF A
PHOTO CREDIT: PAX JONES

I dream of a day where we do not need to keep up with these standards of beauty. Where we make our own standards, accepting ourselves as magnificent creations perfect in any shade, shape, and size.

Whether you are porcelain skinned, sun-kissed or anywhere in between, let us unite and stand up firm against colourism and the discrimination that comes with it.

TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: IMGUR
BANNER PHOTO CREDIT: NASRI SAMAT

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