Why This?

About three days ago, R was in the potty. She looked at the body wash which RD had got for us..its a nice pink colour and R is a pink freak now! So she said ‘Amma, which body wash you use karing’

I told her the pink one

R: No, Amma, you dont use pink, I will use pink

RM: arey why not we can share na?

R: No Amma, you are cream colour and nice, I am black, if I use pink colour, then I will also become nice and cream like you

I was so shocked, that she brought up the topic !

RM: Who told you about all this black and cream R?

R: Arey that Ri and An in my daycare na. They tell me they are white and white is good, and I am black,Β andΒ black is not good na Amma, toh I told them, I will also become white soon..hai na Amma

Darn! I must admit, I didnt expect this happening so soon..at 5 children discuss skin colour!

and this is the second or the third time she has come up with this comparison of skin..it happened a couple of months earlier, but she wasnt really specific..she just asked me why she was dark and I was not as dark as she was and I told her everyone is different and she seemed satisfied.

I told her that her skin was nice yummy chocolate brown colour and that it was smooth and pretty and shiny. That God gives everyone the different skin colours, That whats important is how nice a person is, the skin colour doesnt matter at all! But somehow, all that sounded really shallow to me 😦

I wonder what makes little girls of five years even discuss the colour of the skin? Advertisements, overhearing adult conversations, I dont know..I really dont know 😦

I must admit, we NEVER EVER EVER talk about fairness of skin in the house..at least not RD and I. I have to confess here that I do tell her about her skin being dry like her Appa and my skin being oily. This is only to make her put her cream in the night after a bath..otherwise her skin gets very dry and it itches…but colour of the skin NEVER!

I am upset. and when I told this to Amma, she says, it may just get worse when she grows older..may be in class 3 or class 4 when kids are at their most vulnerable self and kids can also get nasty enough to pass personal comments.

I am honestly very upset.


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79 Responses to Why This?

  1. Pratiksha says:

    It’s really very shocking to know that at age 5 when kids are supposed to play, to be care-free they are discussing all such things… 😦 As you truly stated R’s Mom that it’s the external influence which has brought all these things in her mind.. so before she starts getting over conscious about her skin tone… inculcate the confidence in her mind about her own self…. I know I may sound preaching but this what is coming in my mind right now…

    Hope things will get better with time rather than getting worse…. fingers crossed!!!!!!! All the very best!!!!!

    • R's Mom says:

      I hope I can do that Pratiksha..you are not preaching or anything..thats what is my plan..hopefully I should be able to teach her that the colour of skin never matters 😦

  2. Oh Hugs, RM! Big big hugs! The first time, you tackled the issue so well. And believe me, your explanation doesn’t sound hollow at all. In fact, that is the truth, no?!

    You know, how much I am dreading this comparison already. And, I have 2 children at home with differing complexions. Sigh. Even the last week when I was in Madras, I thought this colour comparison will come up with their first cousins around who are pretty fair. Thankfully, it didn’t. But, the day I dread is not far off, though! 😦

    But, I also believe this is just a passing thing ‘cos I have gone through it. It does hurt in the initial years, but later, with parent’s reiterations and other positive deviations like excelling in studies/sports/arts, this colour-inferiority will fade. It did with me. I hope it does, with everyone else too!

    • R's Mom says:

      I really thought it sounded shallow SnS..but I cant think of a better explanation!

      I can understand with twins comparisons bound to happen..When I think about it, even I have asked parents of twins if one spoke faster than the other (Gee, thats insensitive!) but I will be more careful now πŸ™‚

  3. uma says:

    I can understand, RM, how disturbing this must be. We can control what we tell our kids but about the things they hear/learn from elsewhere..how to battle all of those? People are insensitive and we are a racist lot too. I only hope all the positive environment and talk you and RD provide to R will pay off in the long run and she’ll learn to ignore these superficial and unnecessary comparisons. *Hugs RM*.

  4. Sreetama says:

    Hugs RM & hugs to R as well! I really don’t understand the bias about complexion. It disgusts me to no end. To top it all the advertising all over scream at your head that you will be successful in your love life, professional life, family life only if you have a fair complexion. I really hope in a couple of years, when R gets little older these thoughts won’t matter to her at all and she will be complacent of herself as she is!

  5. 😦 Stereotypes and prejudices enter children’s minds so young, no?

    I really don’t know what to say. Hope you figure out some satisfactory explanation to this soon.

  6. We face this with Brat Three. In the beginning she used to tell me ‘If you like it so much, you take it.” I told her we all are born with our skin colours, most of us are various shades of brown. Now I make sure we don’t talk about the need for anybody to be pretty – Healthy, strong, active, happy, clean but not pretty. Not sure if this is helping because yesterday she said she loves sun because her face looks ‘light’ in sun.

    • R's Mom says:

      Gee! She is a smart cookie eh? I guess, even I would have said that, if you like it so much, you take it!

      But I loved that idea of happy, healthy, strong, active…I am going to use that on R!

      Hugs to the smart girl πŸ™‚

  7. MeMyself says:

    Oh ho!! Sad and scary 😦

  8. Sorry to hear that RM! But glad to hear that you handled it so well! I was just discussing this topic with a friend who was shocked at how much value is put on ‘fairness’ in India. I found out that it is the same in Iran, though more subtle. Its silly, because here in North America, people with pale skin are all about getting a tan. I guess it is true – the grass is always greener on the other side.

    • R's Mom says:

      I know..I have heard people tanning themselves to look brown! and look at the brat, lovely chocolate coloured skin and doesnt understand its importance :):)

  9. Kids are bombarded all the time with this ‘fair is beautiful’ message through ads on TV/magazines and therefore end up internalizing it before we know it. Only the other day my elder daughter was ruing the fact that she is not as fair as me and her younger sis–“but then at least I am not as dark as dad is, right? “!!*smacks head* This, when I have NEVER ever said or even remotely implied that lighter skin is better looking or that dark skin needs to be lightened. I am also very cautious NOT to buy any cosmetic that mentions lightening/whitening on the label–a tall order these days, trust me. It really is upsetting.

    • R's Mom says:

      I dont even buy any cosmetics…the body wash RD bought had nothing written on it, except the pink colour in a transparent bottle and some beautiful pictures of roses//thats all..no whitening nothing! and yet 😦

      Sometimes I feel I may be over reacting, but this entire Indian mindset of fair is beautiful sometimes just gets on my nerves 😦

  10. I blame the media with the fairness ads that bombard you every single moment. Additionally. while you and RD don’t talk about skin colour, who knows what these others kids’ parents teach them? It’s possible they are also sending their kids messages that fair skin is ‘good’. One way of educating R apart from telling her is also pointing out successful and/or beautiful dark skinned women to show that skin colour does not necessarily get in the way of achieving your dreams. No matter what stupid Fair and Lovely says! I don’t blame you for being upset at this…but hopefully the kind of parents you and RD are will mean that R will develop a better self concept that has nothing to do with skin colour! Hugs!

    • R's Mom says:

      I am not sure where R watches these ads because the TV is hardly on in her house..guess her friends see this one TV! I dont know PB..but it just make me sad..and mad as well

  11. The Bride says:

    From what I have read, it is very typical of kids to start reinforcing stereotypes around this age. It’s when the whole “boys do this, girls do this” becomes a mantra in the playground too. Kids pick up messages from society and they enforce it on each other I guess. They are innocent in the sense that they don’t understand the impact of their actions, but they are not free from cruelty.

    I know that the line that we are commonly told to take is that appearances don’t matter, but this sounds hollow to me. I don’t think even little kids would buy it because everything they hear tells them different, plus even without those messages, it seems like almost instinctive to want to look attractive (it’s a pity that what’s attractive is so narrowly defined). I liked the first part of your response, equating dark to something pleasant like chocolate. Maybe even show her more strong and attractive dark role models?

    • R's Mom says:

      They are innocent but not free from cruelty..thats something my Amma also mentioned!

      and yes, I agree, this whole thing of appearances dont matter is not true..because I have seen it happen a lot of times..kids go to people who look good, dress good..thats why I thought my reasoning was shallow!

  12. hmmm. RM a serious thing , we have to deal with na ? inferiority complex and colour discrimination starts at such a young age .. imagine how that little mind would have felt..

  13. Ramya says:

    C’mon RM… This we all know will happen everywhere… You see that health drink advertisement about tall and short? Thats the point.. Cant help it… Only thing we can do is make them understand no feature should be underestimated and make it a point that we never say Look at XYZ he/she is like this coz he did not eat or drink something… So just digest πŸ˜‰

  14. Nidaa says:

    God… This brings back a lot of painful memories. I belong to a Malabari Muslim family. Most of us (may be due to Arab ancestors) are extremely fair (like milk white). In fact in my family except for me, my elder sis & an odd cousin or two everybody is super-white. You can imagine how we used to feel when people suggest ridiculous things to my mom- dont let her play out in the evening, bather her with chandan soap, who will marry her yada yada yada. My friends in primary school used to ask if I got adopted because my mother is fair & pretty. My eldest sis got all attention and gifts because she ws very pretty. And how we resented her. But now we 3 sisters are the bestest friends.
    Of course now I kinda find this funny. But it used to hurt a lot & I retaliated by being the meanest prankster in the family.
    In my extended families I know plenty of couples who wont touch the kid if he/shes not fair. Thank God my parents never condemned me or my sis like them.
    All I know is R is lucky to have a sensitive mom like you.

  15. RajK says:

    Had to comment on this. You ask “what makes little girls discuss skin colour in such a way?”
    I have to say a major influence would be all those ridiculous “fairness cream” ads…Every time one comes on TV I feel like hurling a rock at it. And I’m shocked at the no. of such ads shown on children’s channels. I cringe when I think of all the damage it does to those young, developing minds. I’ve ranted about it on my blog before and I feel another rant coming up with the latest ad featuring a Miss India! After all their talk of inner qualities yada yada…they go and do their “mujhe nikhaar chahiye” commercials…for money. Despicable!
    Ok, don’t want to rant anymore here. But hey, you did well handling R’s questions…keep talking to her about it when she feels confused and she will be fine.

    • R's Mom says:

      Its really shocking if these ads appear in channels meant for children viewing! I dont know of the miss India ad..its bad eh?

      Rant away..it feels better to know that people share the same view as I do

  16. R’ Mom,

    I have news for you. There is more to come. And the more educated the commenter the more stupid the comment will be. Have a look at something I wrote a few years ago from personal experience.


    And dont worry about R. She will give as good as she gets.

    • R's Mom says:

      I remember reading this post..this was one of the first posts of yours I read, when I started reading you…you and Daughter are super stars..

      I hope R turns out to be like her!

  17. Smita says:

    Her friends must have overheard some elders talking about it for sure. Baaki there is so much on Fairness creams on TV !!!! As far as how to handle the situation i s concerned I am sure u will do it well. U r a hands on Mother and u will get this done too. Don’t worry too much this had to happen abhi nahin to baad main because the society we live in is such that fairness matters to people. I am dark but my mom never even talked about it. There were relatives who asked her to do something about my complexion but she ignore them always. No wonder I am confy in my skin and don’t give it a thought also.

    Tell R that if anyone says anything about her skin colour she shud say, “I have no issue with my skin colour & niether shud you. And if u have any issues in looking at me look somewhere else”. I know it sounds harsh but what the heck!

  18. Vinuswati says:

    The whole fairness concept is all hype in our Society. My sister felt the same wrath when we were younger. Everyone used to compare her with me and mom who are just a wee bit fairer than her.

    Even in media all the ladies who were introduced as dark beauty or brown lass have started coming in fairness ads …???!! ( ex: Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone to name a few)

    Just give lots of love and affection to lil R and I am sure she will not care about these prejudices…

  19. sjscribbles says:

    RM, Same pinch – M had the same concern while we were in Singapore and amidst his Chinese Classmates : Read this :
    I remember mentioning in the blog post that it happens in our own country and why complain when it happens thousands of miles away in a different country and here it is Voila ! The case of R and her friends discussing the same :(.
    Hugs to you !!!

  20. bhavanahr says:

    Hi RM, I have been a stalker on your blog since ages. But today I felt really sad that I was compelled to write. Kids do go through these phases. I did too. If it is of any help, do check this book out http://www.amazon.com/The-Colors-Us-Karen-Katz/dp/0805071636/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top.
    I stay in US. Incase you are interested and its not available in India. Please let me know, I will be more than happy to send you one.

    • R's Mom says:

      Oh thanks so much Bhavanahr for delurking! and thanks for the link..I think it should be available in India..will try and get it for R..its really wonderful of you to offer to send it..hugs

  21. Ashwathy says:

    I think you have explained it to her fairly well…in a way that her little brain can process. I see that IHM has also given you good tips….

    Yeah these days kids as young as 4-5 years would be discussing this stuff. We can’t escape it… it’s all around us. Wonder why this obsession with fair skin. Healthy, clean, shiny skin…yes I understand. Why the colour?

  22. Filter Kaapi says:

    Beauty is highly stereo typed. But had I known this in my pre teens, I would have been heart broken. If you look closer, there are hints everywhere. All Disney princesses with symmetrical face, fuller lips and doe-eyed while the so-called ‘cruel step-moms’ usually have closely set narrow eyes, a thin frame and thinner lips. Had Cindrella’s mom asked “who is the kindest of all?” instead of fairest, things would have been better. The way, “you have become fairer” is always meant and taken as a compliment but what about becoming darker? Or like the way in Kolaveri song, he sings, “girlu color whiteu” as though it is a virtue. It is just the amount of melanin!

    Though, your lines may sound shallow, it is something I truly believe in, though I have seen circumstances where beauty seems to have a added advantage and as you say, babies preferring well dressed people over others. All that I can say is that beauty is highly over-rated.
    Rant over. Huuuuuuugs RM.

    • R's Mom says:

      I agree..the stereotyping we have is really sad..but its the way it is..I am just hoping I give the kiddo confidence enough to realise that fair skin is over rated!

  23. sudhagee says:

    RM, I wish I could say that this is a one off incident and will not happen. But this is only going to get worse. I am, of course, speaking from personal experience. Some of my earliest memories are of my relatives doing a double take when they saw my fair-skinned mother and the not fair skinned me. But the worst was the year I studied in a Parsi school when I was 8. The cruel teasing and taunts I received hurt at that time, but it made me a stronger person today. Today, I smile when people look at my mother and me and ask if she is my mother-in-law (yes, we are that different to look at πŸ™‚ )

    Comparisons and comments about skin colour is a lifelong thing and this is something that is not going to change – no amount of education, awareness or policy changes or even law.


    • R's Mom says:

      Oh thank you for writing this Sudhagee…glad that you believe it made you a stronger person..I hope it does the same to R..

      LOL on mother and MIL!

      hugs right back

  24. Sumana says:

    RM, not to scare you here but this is just the start. Believe me it happens with 2 of mine and to make it worse they differ in their complexions. I talk to the elder on on pigments and skin. I tell them that whatever god has given you, it is for your good. But i am not sure all moms talk that way. I have a lady in our complex who keeps saying that her mil wanted a fair complexioned bride so that the kids born are fair. Now tell me where it starts…

  25. Deeps says:

    RM, it’s so sad that kids as small as 5 years are discussing colour. There could be so many factors leading to this, home environment, school, our society ever-present obsession with ‘fairness of the skin’c and other external influences like you mentioned.

    I really liked the way you explained it so well to R. Your words weren’t one bit shallow. If more and more of us teach our children that its very much possible for all colors to co-exist and it’s the beauty that lies within that truly defines a person, then our children would be so much more secure about themselves and the world around them would be in so much more harmony.

    Hugs to R, tell her she is one of the sweetest smartest kids this Aunty had ever known πŸ™‚

  26. Comfy says:

    Buzz came home one day with a similar question (not that being dark was bad but that she was brown) and I explained it the exact same way. That everyone is different and so are things about them. Like some kids in her class are tall and some not so tall. Some have black hair, some have brown hair and some are blonde. Similarly the skin colour is different. And there is no good or bad with either of these. If you are not nice or kind to someone or hurt someone that is bad. Colour of skin/hair/eyes and height are what made us unique, just like our names are unique. They all combine to make us special.
    Hope R picks up what you are trying to explain and not get caught up in the being fair game. Hugs RM!

  27. pixie says:

    oh dear!! Hugs RM.. I can understand your reaction…
    My mum is very fair too and the girls in my class used to ask me if I was really their child or someone else’s!! 😦
    Kids can be very cruel at times!

    My mum told me something similar that skin colour doesn’t matter – its what you are, as a person – inside and out that matters the most.
    It took some years, but I understood her words!

  28. Amit says:

    I guess you have to drill in her that skin colour does not matter. Maybe you can use your story telling skills here. πŸ™‚

  29. summerscript says:

    Hugs RM! It will take some time for her to understand this but I am sure that with awesome parents like you and RD she will understand .

  30. telugumom says:

    It is sad that 5 year old kids are having discussion about skin color. But, with all the hype about beauty and fairness in the TV and all around us, it is not that surprising to me. Keep telling her that skin color does not matter at all like you are already doing. In a few years, she will understand.

    It might be a good idea to talk to her teachers and ask them to talk about how skin color does not matter. When a teacher tells them, it makes a bigger impression on their minds.

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  32. dipali says:

    Phew:( Such is the world we live in, unfortunately. Just reinforce that what R does, in terms of developing her skills and talents and compassion for others is what is most important, skin colour is just what we happen to be born with.

  33. Saritha says:

    I can understand how upset one can be….that too she heard that in the school…it’s better to talk to her teacher about these kids discussion about colour as said by telugumom……

    I liked your response to her… I too faced many situation where people constantly remind me to try my best to change varu’s colour because she is a girl…but i always used to ignore them and tell varu(daughter) not to bothered about colour, my in-laws are of same colour and i say how much success they have achieved in their life…colour is the last thing to bother in ones life…

  34. shail says:

    I won’t say it is the media bombarding us with the wrong messages. Of course, it is! But do you really think children with darker complexion were not affected prior to this media onslaught? Those children had it worse, with close relatives,neighbors and even parents telling them they were dark, to their face. It is worse than a TV ad for a child when a close family member looks her in the face and says,”This one is dark, isn’t she, not as beautiful as the other one! Who will marry her! Shiva, shiva!” (Yeah at age 4 and 5 they talk of marriage!) At least in the present times, enlightened parents are aware enough to give the child confidence, like you and IHM are doing.

    • shail says:

      My suggestion would be for you and your husband to have discussions (it should look genuine) about how tv ads are mere promotions for the company to rake in moolah, make fun of the ads, ‘Ha, as if the girl would get a job if she is fair’ and such mocking things, how color of skin is not what measures a person etc…I have noticed, discussions between parents has more effect on children (adult conversation impress them in these impressionable years!) than directly telling them. This applies to whatever quality that you want your child to imbibe. Discuss it in genuine terms in their hearing, let them join if they want or else just listen, works all the time.

    • R's Mom says:

      I just hope that I can give that level of confidence to R!

  35. Came here after reading IHM’s post.
    Good to be back, after such a long time.

    I read your post.
    It’s fairly common among kids.
    This stage will soon pass.

    There is no limit to what we wish we were born with.
    On the complexion front, I sport an intermediate “wheat complexion”, halfway between my “rosy fair” mom and my dark dad.
    There were times when I wished i had been as fair as my mom, like my cousins, beacuse all the film heroes were fair!

    During my teenage years the obsession with complexion gave way to another obsession, viz height!
    I secretly desired to grow at least six feet tall!
    I fell woefully short of this goal.

    I am glad to report that I was spared another common obsession among adult males and that is the length of a particular unmentionable part of their anatomy. Most males secretly wish they had an extra inch.

    It takes age and maturity to come out of all this and face life equipped with whatever God gave you, to be thankful for all the good things you came with, to accept calmly the fact that you will never have certain things you want, even if you are prepared to pay for it.

    Do counsel R and give her a pep talk and don’t worry too much.
    At her age it is difficult to make her understand.


    • R's Mom says:

      Hope you are doing well and congrats on the new cute addition to your family :):)

      I guess there is no limit to what we wish we are born with, but sometimes, it does hurt as kids when people compare totally irrelevant stuff like skin colour right?

      Yes yes..the pep talk is on..like I said earlier, RD keeps telling her that her skin is a rich chocolate colour and she gains a lot of confidence with that!

  36. anon says:

    Hi R’s Mom,

    We live in the US and you can imagine the many shades of brown , white , black here.
    This is how I explained it to my daughter ( a friend of mine had told me this, it was how a teacher had explained it to her son’s class) – we are all like flowers , flowers are of different shades and colors but each flower is beautiful and so are we. For now she seems satisfied with this answer.

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