Colorism is the term to define the oppression, prejudice, and unfair treatment towards people who do not have a certain skin tone, in this case, lighter complexion. The history of colorism is long and ugly, spanning both the western and eastern society, and it’s still alive today in many societies, particularly in Indonesia. Since we were little girls, we have been exposed to the ideas that dark skin is bad. It is dirty and undesirable, and it determines your place in the lower rung of society.
When I was 14, some girls around me would be gossiping about the current “it” girl: how and why she was desirable for both boys and girls. And then someone would jealously make some remarks like “She’s not even pretty. She’s just light-skinned. Light-skinned girls get away with everything.”
As dangerous and wrong that statement was, it is actually quite accurate. In our society, we internalize this concept that darker skin is less desirable, less worthy, even less human. How did it come to be like that and how can we stop this thinking?
First, we need to acknowledge how much colorism has endlessly and ruthlessly, impacted our life. Take a look at colorism in the beauty industry and in our everyday stuff: women in magazine covers, pretty girls on the billboard we see every day on the way to work, our favorite artists and celebrities, the prettiest girl on our school.
When we think about it, would they be where they are if they were a little bit darker? Would a very talented girl go far if she had dark skin compared to her rivals? We must admit that they probably would not be where they are if they did not have light skin.
Colorism and Beauty Standards: It is Systematic
Colorism is not only harmful in our daily lives, it is also systematic. It can make our hardest work and our passion worth nothing, because the world in which we navigate is less receptive of the color of our skin. At best, colorism gets you less match on dating sites. At worst, it costs you your jobs, opportunities, and even safety.
And colorism affects women more than men. It is obvious that most Indonesian men have a tendency to prefer light skinned women. Most of the times, dark skinned women are invisible, or the opposite: a burden and a stain. Since a lot of women’s self-worth depends on how much they are desired by other people, especially men, being dark skinned can feel alienating, ignored and lonely.
It’s time to stop this. It’s time to embrace all women, regardless of their skin color, to celebrate ourselves, to shed this belief that has been ingrained in our brain. Let go of the Euro-centric beauty standards and broaden our minds to be more inclusive about what beauty is. It can mean starting to love the parts of our bodies that we used to think as ugly and worthless; it can mean celebrating our courage as a woman.
Colorism is only one part of the bigger problem that is beauty standard, which itself is only one battle in the long fight to achieve gender equality. If we train ourselves every single day that what society and media tell us about being a woman is not the whole truth, living and existing become much easier and we can strive to stop practices and norms that dehumanize, objectify, and discriminate against women.