When I was pregnant with Cub, my main thoughts were about whether it would be a girl or a boy. Even before I got married, I had wanted a girl, the main purpose being to dress her up. My mother, being a pediatrician, would tell me that a healthy child was what was most important, but I still dreamt about all the pinkness and frills :).
However, (wo)man proposes and God disposes, and I landed up with a bouncy baby boy. He was fine, weighed a decent 3.150 kg and was all pink and wrinkled, as I imagine most newborns look like. I was very proud and my family, as well as the in-laws were thrilled.
But back home, once the influx of relatives started, my son’s cuteness was hardly the topic of discussion. As expected, everyone tried to match him to either of his parents (the general verdict being that he resembled his paternal grandmother), but what was (unpleasantly) surprising was that many people immediately commented on how fair he was, and smiled at me like I had won a lottery or something. I hadn’t noticed his complexion till then, it was hardly relevant to me as his mother. But then, should it be relevant to anyone??
Again, God disposes, and as with all newborns moving towards infancy, Cub’s features and complexion began to change. He was now no longer fair, his skin turned darker and his features caused people to comment that he looked like a replica of my brother! And it has been like that till date.
And then I moved to another state, away from our nosy relatives. But then, our neighbor’s part time help couldn’t help remarking, “Aapka color nahin mila isko” meaning “He didn’t get your complexion, did he?” with a ‘Too bad’ implied at the end of the sentence. No he didn’t, he looks more like his dad, but isn’t that how genetics works??
I’ve always hated fairness creams and the kind of ideal they try to propagate, so you can imagine how comments of these kind about my boy must have infuriated me. But I slowly realized that this isn’t a simple problem exclusive to any region, community, caste anything. These are some of the few things that truly unite Indians – abusing women and the whole ‘fair and lovely’ thing. People even tell parents of dark-skinned boys, “You’re lucky you didn’t get a girl with that color”. How insensitive can people get? One of my cousins was constantly commented upon, within her hearing, and she grew up with self-esteem issues. But the mental health of a child doesn’t seem to bother people. For them, color is more important.
Most of the ads and magazines nowadays feature chubby, fair-skinned little cherubs. All the healthy happy babies smiling and cooing at their beautiful, slim mothers are on the lighter side of the color spectrum. Are we propagating some kind of ideal mother-baby image??
As for me, if someone says something derogatory about my son’s complexion, I immediately retort and now they’ve learnt to stop. He is a happy, balanced and energetic boy and we couldn’t love him more. We never talk about people’s complexions and try to make our son look beyond appearances.
Living in times when appearances are a big deal, this is really difficult, but as everyone says, change starts at home. It is probably a good idea for ad makers, TV-serial and movie makers, magazine editors and other media heads to be more sensitive and aware when including babies and kids. We, as a country, need to move towards a more inclusive society, where a person’s real worth and character matter more than his or her complexion or gender. It is only when we rise above such petty discriminations, that we can truly take pride in our culture.
“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings. ~ Franklin Thomas”
Fabida Abdulla is a former software engineer turned stay at home Mother Lion to her four year old son, whom she calls ‘The Cub’. She blogs about her crazy life at Shocks and Shoes.