Colorism. Many people associate this word with racism, not knowing what it actually means. Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. While not as addressed as racism, colorism is still a major issue across the globe, its underlying effect still seen on society today. Not only does it disadvantage those with darker skin tones, but colorism also has negative effects on self image and mental health.
Colorism is prevalent in many cultures around the world. It affects POC everywhere, having a huge effect in Black, Indian, East Asian, Latinx and many other ethnic groups. In overview, those with darker skin are deemed “less beautiful” than those with lighter skin. In many cultures it is encouraged to use skin lightening creams and other methods such as bleaching, enforcing the standard on both boys and girls from a young age. In relation to black culture in America, many African-Americans use the terms “lightskin” or “darkskin” to label each other. Most often, it’s members of that ethnic group that claim that “lightskin” women are more attractive or desirable than the “darkskin” ones. While these are more obvious forms of colorism within certain racial groups, it also plays a major role in the entertainment, modeling, and beauty industry, except it is more difficult to discern.
Colorism is extremely widespread in Asia, especially in India, where people of all skin tones exist. There is an existing stigma in Indian culture on how having lighter skin is better, a sign of beauty. Bollywood, the Indian version of Hollywood, only casts actors with lighter skin. Bollywood icons, such as Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai, and many more, have endorsed products such as Fair and Lovely, which is a skin lightening product. Many elders in India urge the youth to use these lightening creams, which are extremely harmful for the skin, once again enforcing the standard that “light is beautiful”. For darker kids growing up in India, they have no representation in the media, which can be exceedingly damaging for mental health. All actresses, models, singers, etc. are fair skinned, creating a harmful mindset in a country full of darker skinned people, making those with darker skin feel as if they are inferior.
In many East and Southeast Asian countries, such as China, South Korea, The Philippines, and Malaysia, skin whitening is a multibillion dollar industry. According to a World Health Organisation survey, “nearly 40 percent of women polled in nations including China, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea said they regularly used whitening products.” (Tai). This statistic was nearly 60% in India. It is evident how desirable having lighter skin is in Asian cultures. This standard partly comes from western ideals and the eurocentric beauty standards society has pushed on the world. However, colorism isn’t only the result of western influence. It also has been ingrained in the culture from the start. In an article from smpc.com, Crystal Tai writes how there is a “deeply rooted cultural notion in Asia that associates dark skin with poverty and working in the fields, whereas pale skin reflects a more comfortable life out of the sun and, therefore, a higher socioeconomic status” (Tai).
In the beauty industry, colorism isn’t as obvious to discern, but once you are aware of the issue, it is more and more noticeable. Many brands continue to create a huge shade range of lighter skins, while having only a few shades for darker skin tones. Many POC can relate to the struggle of finding makeup that matches their skin tone because they simply don’t have the same amount of options as those with lighter skin. Many popular brands, such as Loreal, Beauty Blender, and YSL, have faced backlash for releasing products that only cater to fair skin tones. According to Insider.com, recently YSL launched it’s All Hours Foundation, “the foundation came in 22 shades”, but “19 of those shades” were only for lighter skin tones. While brands like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty have revolutionized the beauty industry by creating diverse shade ranges, many brands still don’t represent everyone.
While the entertainment and beauty industry have progressed, now hiring more and more POC, colorism’s underlying effects on society are still seen today. On social media especially, while people are now promoting diverse men and women of all races, most of the time, they only support those with fairer skin. Very rarely is someone with darker skin acknowledged as “beautiful”. For example, in the entertainment and music industry, black women such as Zendaya and Nikki Minaj are praised, but an overwhelming majority of BIPOC influencers and celebrities are light skin. Many popular TV shows such as The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, etc. cast BIPOC actresses, but 99% of the time they are biracial or have fairer skin. While we are so focused on diversity and including other races and ethnicities, the idea that “light is beautiful” is still ingrained in the minds of many. Whether we mean it or not, society has set a standard, leading us to sometimes subconsciously follow eurocentric beauty standards that have been enforced by the West.
Colorism overall is extremely damaging to the youth, with many growing up believing that their darker skin doesn’t make them pretty. As a darker Indian myself, I grew up wishing that my skin was lighter like my mom’s. All the Bollywood movies I watched portrayed fair Indian women, and I grew up believing that they were beautiful because they were fair, and I wasn’t. American media as well mostly portrayed white women, having very little diversity. Many POC have similar experiences and have the exact same thoughts growing up. Many believe that having lighter skin makes you better and more beautiful, and as a kid, you don’t realize how toxic this mindset can be. As I grew up and saw more and more darker women getting the recognition they deserved, I realized skin color didn’t define beauty. But many young men and women still believe the standards that colorism enforces, as many times it’s their parents or elders enforcing this notion. Colorism leads to mental health, confidence, and anxiety issues in many young POC. It also is the cause of many insecurities that develop from an early age.
As POC we fight against racism against the community everyday, but it’s important to first acknowledge the colorism in our own culture and work on changing those standards. Representation of darker skin tones is needed in all cultures, in order to show people that having darker skin isn’t a bad thing. Education is vital, and we need to start talking about colorism, bringing awareness to the issue many people don’t even know exists. Skin tone doesn’t define beauty, and it certainly doesn’t define self worth. Fair skin, or dark skin, it doesn’t matter. And it’s about time society realizes that, and praises all skin tones, instead of tearing them down. Everyone is beautiful.
Transcriber, writor, editor
Anika is a sixteen year old junior at Novi High School with a strong interest in business. Some of her hobbies include traveling, playing the piano, and reading. She is an active member of her school, and is apart of clubs such as Student Council and DECA. She’s passionate about racial equality and feminism especially, and hopes to work towards ending racism in America.