On being called the f-word in India#1. It is not what you think, it is the word, feminist.

I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.

Very early in life, I had faced and gone through what almost all brown women go through — being chided for the colour of my skin and being told that I was too tall. The too tall aspect would make future potential match making a problem. Seriously.

A very close aunt would keep asking my mum to do “uptan” — a home remedy with home ingredients to “lighten” my skin tone. A lot of soaps, face washes and comments were a part and parcel of my growing up years.

They meant well — they did what they had been taught was best. It was not malicious.

The issue in retrospect was that I did not even realise that this is wrong — I just accepted that my skin colour was wrong. The colonial hangover where whiter is prettier was ingrained into me, as well. A sense of shame developed. I wanted to get a lighter complexion. It was just a given.

I was told to keep out of the sun, else I would get darker — for somehow that is what would have made the situation direr. That kind of took out the fun in sports for me, as I did not want to get darker.

I was made to believe that I was not good enough. The skin tone was not good enough.

It was never about an appreciation of my body or intellect.

I was also told — as I hit my growth spurt that being too tall was a bad thing. I was never appreciated for my height — it was more about how will we find a suitable match for you.

I was also told rather patronizingly that because I was dark and tall — I would be best suited for a career in modelling. It was the 90’s.

I was shamed for being lanky and then later for my curves. I was made to feel uncomfortable because of the potential male gaze at my pubescent breasts.

The point of sharing all this is simple — there is systemic sexism in the very way kids are raised. They are not taught about what they should expect in terms of their body during their teenage years, shamed for the way that they are and ultimately ingrained with sexist notions that condition you and make you believe in ideas that are not your own.

I know that boys are almost never told their complexion is a problem and that they are “too tall”.

I was surprised when a friend pointed this out as one of the unique traits in me when I was in the throes of self-hatred. I had never not thought of my height as a liability.

For years, I have buckled my knees to blend into group photos. I catch myself still doing it.

Thankfully over the years, post severe depression in my teenage years (this had a lot of underlying reasons and not just this one), I realised that my skin tone was always okay, it was the mindset of the people. The conditioning is so strong, that even today, I feel a tinge of sadness which I try to shake off — after I get a tan. There is nothing wrong with colour.

These notions have not completely been uprooted from my head.

It is time that women came out with this — however trivial it might seem, at first, it is sinister. It takes over the body image aspect of your life.

It shapes the way one views oneself and the kind of behaviour, one would tolerate and accept towards self from others.

I try to remember, what Jameela Jamil or JVN would say to me — when my head gets crowded again with thoughts that are the origin of my deep-seated sexist notions, drilled into my head as a child.

It is a work in progress. To point these out is not to shame family members. It is necessary that these things are brought up to the surface because, like me, I am sure that there are hundreds who do not even realise that these notions are wrong and not even their own.

(This was posted originally on Medium, May 1, 2019)

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