I have always been tan. I don’t know how to look any different.
When I was younger, people would constantly comment on how fair my younger brother was - “He looks like a little Chinese boy, so cute!” “Wah, his skin is the colour of milk”. They would also remark on how dark I was - “Very gelap ah. You shouldn’t play in the sun.” “Later when you’re older, very difficult to find a husband.” I was five so looking for a husband wasn’t in my immediate future, but thank you for the advice aunty!
Sometimes my mom would get stopped and asked if my brother and I were even related because our skin colour was so different. This happened so often, I eventually asked her why Abdulaziz and I were different colours.
She explained to me that when she was pregnant with me, all she wanted to eat were chocolate biscuits. For nine months her diet was basically hundreds of packets of chocolate biscuits so when
I came out I was the colour of a dark and creamy chocolate biscuit. When she was pregnant with
Abdulaziz, she craved soya bean - so that was all she drank. When he popped up out, he was milky white like a tall glass soya bean.
This story tickled me when I was younger and I would tell it to every person that asked me why I was so dark - who wouldn’t want to be a chocolate biscuit! They’re delicious!
HOW I SAW MYSELF
But as I grew older, I started to realise that my skin colour negatively affected how I saw myself. I would compare myself to the pretty and popular girls at school. I noticed that the main difference between me and them was the colour of our skin.
Some friends would tease me and say that if I smiled in a dark room, all you would see were my teeth because I was so tan (I guess this also meant I had nice white teeth?!) I would believe that I was ugly because I was darker than the other girls.
There were also lots of Fair and Lovely commercials in the 90s. The typical tan-and-sad-looking-
I saw it on TV all the time and once even asked my Nenek to buy it for me from Guardian. She gave me a stern look and said “you don’t need that, you don’t need to be fair.” I don’t know if it’s because she didn’t want to spend RM 10.55 on me, or if she truly meant that skin colour does not matter. But I didn’t know any better, I was thirteen and all I wanted was to fit in.
A statement I will never forget is “I like you, even though you’re dark.” Wow, that does a lot to a girl’s confidence level #scarredforlife
I was unconsciously being taught by television ads, remarks at social gatherings by older aunties, and the fact that all the cute boys had crushes on only the fair skinned girls - that light skin equalled beauty and brown skin was plain old ugly.
For most of my life that is what I understood and accepted.
This mindset followed me as I grew older.
A CHANGE OF MIND
I will even shamefully confess that I eventually bought into the ‘skin lightening’ craze and purchased a tub of collagen before my wedding. It does not help that my husband is extremely fair (and particularly good-looking if I may say so myself #biased) and I felt like I didn’t want to “hold him down.”
I didn’t want people to look at us and think that he was ‘settling’ by being with me. The last thing I wanted was for people to pity him for ending up with a dark-skinned girl like me. Then one day it all changed. I wish I could share a life-changing story on how I realised that skin colour doesn’t matter, but the truth is I don’t have one. I just changed my mind.
I simply decided one day that I am a beautiful, confident and intelligent person who is no longer going to allow a backward social concept dictate the way I feel about myself. I was done with those internal demons that held me back, the ones who told me I could never be as pretty as the white girls, the ones that whispered I was never going to be good enough because I was dark. Where is the logic in that?
I wasn’t going to allow the “you’re so lucky your husband chose you even though you’re tan” comments get to me any more. I am done with the superficiality of skin and what it dangerously represents - that the outside matters.
No, the outside does not matter.
We live in an age where we are judged by what we wear, how we look, our complexion, the number on the scale and the shade of our skin - this is unfortunate.
As a woman, I want to look at other women and feel empowered and admire you for all you are - your courage, confidence, manners, intelligence, self-worth, personality, kindness, humour, independence, wit, strength, your ideas, will power, achievements and your heart.
These are the values I chose to live by, and I hope that more people shed the insignificant value our society has placed on the colour of our skin and shift it to what lies underneath. Which is immensely more powerful.
You are not just your skin, you are so much more than that. Your skin colour does not matter, it will never matter. We have to focus on loving ourselves, and then loving each other, especially amongst our #girltribe.
I read somewhere “to be brave, is to be free.” I have to be brave in being who I am, no matter my size, height or shade of my skin. When I love myself, I am free from society’s unimportant concepts like skin tone and body image.
I wish I knew this when I was telling people my chocolate biscuit story - that biscuits are free to be delicious no matter the flavour, and chocolate biscuits are just as tasty as soya milk.
As assistant to fashion icon Vivy Yusof, journalism graduate Iman Azman finds herself thrown deep into the fashion world, a universe once foreign to her. Here she muses about her work, finding balance in life and shares what it’s like having a front row seat in the fashion industry. Follow her journey on www.instagram.com/iman_azman/