Shan Boodram Talks Sex, Breaking Taboos and her Quibi Series ‘Sexology with Shan Boodram’

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The first time I learned about sex was in 4th grade. One of my classmates rushed over to me and said,

“My mom and dad gave me the talk.”

I’m Pakistani — I didn’t know what that meant, but naturally I was curious. I ask and she whispers, “sex.” I had totally heard of this thing, but my perception of it was something akin to a boy and girl just touching hands. So I ask, and she puts her hands up. One hand makes a finger and the other forms into a hole.

Shan Boodram Interview

And it dawns upon me. And I am horrified.

I’m now entering my late 20’s. I know what sex is now. But I’m still learning. Still re-learning, confused, talking to others, my partner, etc. It’s a whole thing.

I’m navigating dating, sex, men, life, and myself constantly. I don’t know a single thing about one of those subjects so I decided to ask an expert — Shan Boodram.

I’ve been a fan of Shan Boodram for years, digesting her YouTube videos where she freely talks about sex, dating, orgasms, polyamory, vulvas, penises, anal, and everything in the world of sex + dating!  She makes me less confused. I grew up in a fairly conservative household where talking about sex, intimacy, or even kissing was uncomfortable. I wish I had someone like Shan growing up.

Shan opened up a whole world for me that I didn’t realize was filled with endless information, and that only led to more questions. Even after getting off the phone with her, I have a million more questions!

Thank God for her Quibi show, “Sexology with Shan Boodram.” It has over 100 episodes and many more to come.

I was lucky enough to ask Shan Boodram a few things, from what vibrator I should get, to how to talk about sex in the South Asian community. So here’s to learning about my body, sex, dating, and everything I can do to make my sex life better for myself and my partner.

How did you get started?

“I got started just because I had a super shitty teenage sex life. So in 2004, I went away to school and that was the first time I feel like I got to see what other people’s sex life looks like. When you’re in high school, people just lie. And in college, a lot of people were struggling, a lot of people were looking for answers, so I decided to seek out the answers myself. And the thing I came back with was, ‘Wow, there is a massive need out there for more sex education.’ The information I found in the libraries, in text books, it’s really dry and boring and inaccessible to the average person. So that just set me ablaze to want to do this for a living. I wanted to be the person that made sex education fun and sexy.

And then I got a position to be the millennial go-to voice for sex education, so I became a counselor in Canada, U of T. Moved to California, associated in sex education, and certified sexologist. I’ve been a lifelong student in this space, I’m still in school right now, I’m pursuing a degree in human development. There is so much to learn and when people ask me, ‘Oh, do you find yourself talking about the same things over and over again?’ And the answer is never. Every day is so different, and there’s always new challenges to overcome. So ‘Sexology [with Shan]’ is such an incredible opportunity; for five days a week we get to bring up a different topic that has to do with sex, love, dating, relationships. And when you think about that it’s so nutty a lot of places mandate sex education for two weeks, and here we are with over 100 episodes and we still feel like we need more time for more conversations!”

What can South Asian women do to help / start expressing our sexuality?

“[There is a] fear that they are freakier or kinkier than their partners. Because the society in general can be really repressed, there’s a fear of even bringing up the topic, there’s a fear of even bringing up non-vanilla elements into the bedroom, a fear of even suggesting that you would enjoy non-vanilla elements. So I think the question of, ‘how do I bring up my fantasies to my partners, how do I introduce sex toys with my partners,’ is a common one because they don’t think their partner would be open to that.  But I think this is a space that if you take a little leadership in, you might be pleasantly surprised how much ahead or how down your partner could be. Especially if you are able to deliver your message with love and with consideration for their pleasure as well. That’s the whole point of sex, every body just wants it to be better. And people are often willing to do the things that are best for you to achieve that.”

What is the common misconception people get about sex?

“That if you study it, it means you’re not good at it. If you research it, it means you’re going to be less responsible. When you see the person on the subway reading a sex book, your thought process is either ‘oh my gosh, they’re desperate’ or ‘oh my gosh, what a freak.’ And that doesn’t apply to anywhere else in life. If I see someone watching golfing videos in the subway then I’m thinking ‘damn, that person must be good at golf! They must really care about it. I wanna play golf with them.’ But when it comes to sex, we are embarrassed about it, we are ashamed in trying to get better at it. So I think that the biggest misconception is that you’re not supposed to devote yourself into learning about great sex in order to have a life that is hallmarked by great, consensual, honest, hot, exciting sex.”

Sexology with Shan Boodram
Shan Boodram [Photo Courtesy of: Quibi]

Why do you think South Asians feel like talking about sex and their sexuality is so taboo? How can we help start communication about these topics to normalize them?

“Yeah, it’s such a fascinating topic because I’m South Asian myself. And I think about that often.  My grandma was alive for the [beginning] of my career. And she always had this thing, and never brought it up to me, but she would watch my performances. All of them — YouTube, webinars, series, etc.  A really incredible book was ‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows.’ I think every young person should really learn to empathize with the experience of our parents, our grandparents. And how they really had to stifle their own desires and they just don’t know a different way. And the little progress you see that doesn’t feel like enough, just understand how much it took for them to overcome that. I think the shame comes from outdated principles and practices and, obviously too, it’s of the times. Birth control is still fairly new. It only came out in the past three generations. A lot of times, indulgence in your sexual desires meant you had to take on a lot of responsibility that you couldn’t possibly have been ready for. Or it could have been exposing yourself for risks that there were no medical solutions for.

The times have definitely changed and we don’t have to live in that fear-based way anymore. We can experience pleasure without putting our livelihoods at risk, with the help of birth control, the advances in sexual health. So it’s kind of understanding where their standpoint is, and really recognizing those small steps they’re making are actually really big strides. But in this area, you’ve got to lead them and they probably won’t come willingly. And that’s the thing, there might be some avoidance and it might overtly feel that they’re not accepting, but behind the scenes, they really do understand that this is important. And maybe in many ways they understand that not having these options in their life robbed them of having the kind of intimate lives they would have wanted for themselves.”

What vibrator should I get?

“‘Magic wand’ is really cute pink and rose gold, and it was voted in the New York Times as the best sex toy for all bodies. So if you wanna use it on yourself or your partner, it’s a really diverse vibrator that could be in anyone’s kit.”

My friend tenses up right when she’s about to climax, what can she do to free herself?

“So sometimes tensing up can lead to heightened climaxes, like oxygen deprivation can lead to heightened climaxes. But if this is stifling her from achieving maximum pleasure because of that tenseness— doing something else to focus yourself, finding anything soothing, it could even be running a finger along your palms.

Like if you struggle with anxiety, you might be told do something like that where you develop a routine, something that you do to distract your mind, to remind you to get into that place of calm and connect. Something that you can develop with yourself, something that you can do that is a physical cue for your body to start relaxing and you do it outside of the bedroom, you do that in the grocery store, you do that in the bedroom, and you continue this repetition and you can train your body to respond it in the way you want it to in the moment you need it to do that the most.”

How many rounds can men typically last?

“It depends, it’s always so fascinating because a lot of the distinctions we have between people with penises and people with vulvas really just don’t exist because sex is not that linear or binary. So it’s not like ‘Women get wet and men get hard.’ And it’s more like, ‘No! Men get wet as well too and women also get hard.’ Some men are multi orgasmic, some are not. I’m not a multi orgasmic woman! I can only last one round. But am I broken? No!

Is it normal to only orgasm through penetration?

“It is normal to orgasm only through penetration and nothing else. It’s not the most common though! I think one in every three people with vulvas can consistently orgasm through penetration. The other 2/3 need clitoral stimulation, either isolated or in conjunction with penetration. And that’s not to discount the 1/3 who don’t like external clitoral stimulation.”

[Read Related: Maulik Pancholy Talks ‘The Best At It,’ South Asian Sexuality and Gender Identity]

I don’t know how to flirt. Do you have any tips for me?

“YES, I have tips! I have a whole book called ‘Game of Desire’ that specifically goes into this. It’s so messed up that this is an area of life where people are like ‘well if you’re not born flirtatious, then you’re just not a flirt. If you’re not born naturally seductive, you’re just not seductive.’  And I’m like that doesn’t apply to anything else. I’m just like, I’m not born a natural hardwood floor installer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to do that shit if I watch some YouTube videos!

It’s about understanding what IOI’s — indicators of interest — so that is understanding how the brain perceives attraction and then mimicking those actions so that other people can pick up those cues from you or you can just deliver a positive experience to others. So, basic ones would be body language, insuring that your hips are facing somebody else when you do things, it’s thinking about the S posture, one hip to the side, head to the side, it’s lowering your voice a little bit in your register, so that the person can tell you’re in a breathier space. If you think about all the things you experience when you’re aroused, those are the things you wanna try to mimic in like a flirtatious environment. And when in doubt, compliment somebody else. I think that’s the most flirty-est and easiest thing to do. Flirting is a skill, and just like any other skill — like cooking rice, or painting, or tying a sari, a skill can be learned as long as you are diligently practicing and devoting yourself to it, and open to change and trying some new things!”

“Sexology with Shan” is streaming on Quibi now. Shan Boodram is the teacher we never knew we needed growing up. Now as adults, we couldn’t be more grateful for her knowledge.

By Sarah Khan

Sarah Khan is a writer, producer, and social media strategist. From writing personal essays to producing videos for BuzzFeed, Sarah … Read more ›

Dr. Samosa on Sex, Love and Coming out — the Ultimate Taboos in South Asian Households

Dr. Samosa
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Samosa | Photographed by Farzana Chowdhury

I’m going to be a sex therapist. 

I was taken aback when my late cousin shared this with me on the cusp of our twenties. 

As a fairly modest Indo Guyanese girl raised in the Connecticut suburbs, the thought of discussing a stranger’s love life seemed not only foreign but shocking to me. Nevertheless, my cousin was always bold in this way. She took pride in the more daring aspects of our Caribbean culture with natural confidence. It was one of the things I loved and now miss most about her. 

Admittedly however, it was over a decade before I started to understand some of her deeper curiosity in love, sexuality and mental health. This awakening was thanks greatly to Dr. Samosa. 

[Read Related: 3 Indo-Caribbean Mental Health Counselors Talk About Community’s Stigma]

In early 2020, Dr. Sarika Persaud, a New-York based, Indo Guyanese psychologist specializing in relationships, sexuality and complex trauma, took to Instagram as “Dr. Samosa,” an alias inspired by her favorite South Asian snack — and one she feels is a common thread for brown girls. 


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The platform became a safe space for brown girls to connect on topics like mental health, psychoanalysis, sexuality and relationships. From discussing sexual empowerment to building a strong sense of self, Dr. Persaud quietly became a confidant for those craving practical and candid insights the community shied away from. 

Dr. Persaud and I sat down to talk about her journey and breaking these taboos in the South Asian society.

Her interest in psychology started as a journey of self-discovery as a pre-teen.

“I think I experienced myself as different from my peers,” she explained during our interview.

She didn’t get caught up in teenage drama and avoided certain types of relationships and people. Meanwhile, the friends she did make saw her in “this sort of teacher role.”

“I became curious about that about myself — how, in some ways, I found it beneficial to feel my feelings and have a depth people were drawn to, but also use it in ways to isolate myself,” Dr. Persaud said.

She was also beginning to identify as bisexual.

She shared, “I think I was avoiding my sexuality in some ways and psychology became a way for me to understand myself more. It’s always been this confluence of philosophy and science and even art for me.”

Dr. Samosa
Dr. Samosa photographed by Nushie Choudhury

Growing up in Queens, New York, Dr. Persaud saw fellow Indo Caribbean women at a “very specific intersection of religion and culture.” It was the nexus of Caribbean values which welcomed sexuality and more modest Indian traditions. Caribbean influence seemed to “remove a boundary” on how Indo Caribbean women felt permitted to present themselves sexually, she explained. On one hand, after her Bharatanatyam dance classes, she saw her didis (the older girls) leave their classical moves behind for sexy Bollywood choreography and dancehall songs. 

“It was exciting, like they were just beginning to find ways to express their sexuality,” she reflected. Then, around the same time, Dr. Persaud discovered a copy of the “Kama Sutra” at home and her mother was appalled. “What’s wrong with your daughter?” aunties asked.

Confused, Dr. Persaud thought “You own this. This is from our culture and it’s a Sanskrit text. It’s literally a religious text. It all seemed so powerful — and yet so many people were afraid of it.”

Something didn’t add up.

In 2013, she started a blog to bring a voice to topics like these. As word of her content spread, Dr. Persaud was met with backlash from her temple. Leaders said her blog was inappropriate and dishonorable to her community, but she stuck with it and her family stuck by her.  

A few years later, when she launched Dr. Samosa to share her research and insights with a wider audience, sexuality came front and center.

“Sexuality — how you understand and honor what you want and like, and the ways you let yourself experience that pleasure — is intrinsically connected to how deserving you feel in the world,” she explained.  


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For example, if you think you’re worthy of a raise at work, a partner who desires you, or a family that listens to you — all can be linked back to a block in your relationship with yourself as a sexual being. 

However, if you can feel confident in something as “primal, instinctual, and personal” as your sexuality, Dr. Persaud argues you lay the foundation for confidence in these other areas of your life.

Dr. Persaud says the fear of sexuality comes into play for South Asians.

“Being comfortable with your sexuality means being comfortable with your power,” she explained. “If everyone felt empowered and had a healthy relationship with themselves sexually, a lot of our relationships and hierarchies in society would change. And there are just so many people who benefit from women and marginalized communities (like LGBTQ+ and those with chronic illnesses) being disempowered,” Dr. Persaud said.

Throughout her work, Dr. Persaud has found it’s especially difficult for South Asian women to feel pride in themselves as sexual beings.

“There’s so much shame about the self and the body. Women especially are held to a double standard and it’s so confusing. If you look one way, you won’t get a husband. If you look sexual, no one will want to hire you for a job. Regardless of the South Asian ethnic group, there’s the same shame and belief that your body has to look a certain way, and if it doesn’t, you’re not desirable. Everything gets tied up in sexual shame.”

It’s undeniable that Bollywood movies have also heavily impacted many of our views on love and sex, but Dr. Persaud didn’t condemn this.

She says, “People need to realize Bollywood started from a tradition of classical drama and dance from ancient India. Those dances were meant to be explorations of dreams and mythical and philosophical ideas. Bollywood is just a continuation of that. It’s meant to be a break from reality.” 

Real relationships are much more fraught and complicated than in films, but that doesn’t mean you should be ashamed of looking to Bollywood as a way to be in touch with romance and love in your life.

“They’re a fantasy,” Dr. Persaud added.  

She also argued Bollywood isn’t necessarily as “censored” as many claim.

“People don’t have to watch others physically have sex or kiss to be in touch with their sensuality,” she noted. “It can be much more nuanced to see two people just embracing in a way that stirs up feelings. Like, how does it feel to have your lover’s head against your chest? Culturally, we just explore and express sexuality differently than the West.”

When it comes to becoming more comfortable with our bodies and sexual health, Dr. Persaud says it starts with self-reflection.

“Ask yourself why you’re afraid of being sexy or seen as sexual. Are you afraid your family will reject you? That you’ll be thrown out of your home? We all have different triggers, and once you identify yours, you can get to the issue underneath it all.” 

[Read Related: What South Asian Parents Won’t Tell You About the “Birds and the Bees” and… Vaginismus]?

Dr. Persaud encourages women to ask themselves important questions.

“If you’re afraid that if you assert your sexuality, your family will reject or not support you, how can you be more financially independent? How can you find pride in being able to take care of yourself?” She urges women to take inventory of what they like. “Look at books and movies and what you see in the world and consciously take note of what you react to. This puts you more in touch with yourself.”

When it comes to fostering open conversations with others, Dr. Persaud says to lead with vulnerability and clarity.

“If you wonder whether your friends have had sex yet and are embarrassed to ask, voice that concern. Share how you’re feeling or ask yourself why. Leading conversations with vulnerability allows people to connect a little bit more; to feel safer to share.” 


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“If you’re uncomfortable with something your partner does or want more of something else, talk about what you want to change and why it’s important to you. It’s not a shortcoming on their part, but rather you saying ‘this is what I need for myself. Is this something we can talk about and work on together?’” 

With South Asian families, especially older relatives, things can get a bit more complex. Boundary setting is important as the family can bring out your biggest triggers. 

“You need to be at a point where you own yourself,” Dr. Persaud explained. For example, if your mom finds out you were out with someone and questions you about it — “A bai? A boy?!” — you should be able to say confidently, ‘Yeah I was on a date,’ and also not feel obligated to give more details. Of course, that may not always be safe for someone younger, but at a certain age, it is OK to be private, to have that shield to protect and develop yourself and your confidence,” Dr. Persaud says. 

Dr. Persaud also reinforces the importance of knowing your boundaries when reflecting on “coming out” to parents. She wanted to be open about her bi-sexuality with her parents; that she was dating — but not just men. She stresses however, one does not need to be excessively open.

“Not everyone has to come out and not everyone has to come out to everyone. You’re likely not facing anything new from your parents when coming out. If they are critical and judgmental generally in life, they’re probably going to be like that again. South Asian dads can really just be like, ‘Okay, don’t tell me you’re a sexual being,’” she laughed. 

While Dr. Persaud is thankful for her parents’ acceptance, there are members of her family who’ve been less than supportive. She credits her confidence and sense of self for drowning them out. 

“I’ve found the more I become comfortable with myself, the more I have this sexual energy that I can use creatively and in other good ways. If my dad rejects me, it doesn’t change that I am bisexual. Or if my mom rejects me, it’s not going to change this thing I know so deeply about myself. I’m just sharing something true. I can’t change it.”

Toward the end of our conversation, I shared with Dr. Persaud that I wondered how my own family would react to this article. I felt a bit of shame.

But she reminded me, “You can also find pride in it — ‘Yeah, I’m really proud of the fact that I’m one of the people breaking the stigma. I’m talking about something important to people’s health.’” 

And she’s right, as was my dear cousin in her early ambitions. These conversations are never easy, but walking in curiosity, confidence and pride can help us find our power as South Asian women. It can help break the stigma surrounding love, sexuality and relationships in our community and their roles in our greater health. 

In so many ways, sexual health and mental health are not only connected but interdependent. In fact, Dr. Persaud believes the more confident people are in their bodies and identities, the more confident they are as a whole — and the more attractive they are.

“Sexual attraction and energy comes from people being competent and peaceful and calm with themselves; knowing who they are,” she said, and the more we learn to embrace this and speak about it openly, the more we can not only grow but thrive.

For more on Dr. Sarika Persaud’s (aka Dr. Samosa) doctoral work and writing, visit her website or Instagram @doctor.samosa. For more on how to talk to your family or children about sexual health, visit

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By Ramona Sukhraj

With a B.S. in Marketing from the UCONN School of Business, Ramona has made a name for herself publishing over … Read more ›

Painful Sex is More Common Than you Think

Close up on couple having intimacy moments

Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing. 

Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:

  1. Deep pain/burning during or after sex
    • Pain descriptors: sharp, stabbing, deep, dull, burning
  2. Vaginal Dryness
  3. Low Libido
  4. Tightening at the vaginal opening

[Read Related: 12 Beliefs About Sex That South Asians Need to Throw Out the Window]

Treatment Options 

Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.

The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex. 

[Read Related: My Awkward First Time at the Gyno]

Chiropractic Physician

Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.


Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms. 

Ask for help

“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”

  1. Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms. 
  2. Locate a pelvic floor physical therapist through Apta Pelvic Health or Pelvic Rehab.  
  3. Locate proper chiropractic care that is trained as a licensed acupuncturist; look for credentials such as DC, LAc. 

[Read Related: Not Your Auntie’s Tips: 5 Sex Myths Busted]

How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way

Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.

To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare. 

Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.


Reference: Tayyeb M, Gupta V. Dyspareunia. [Updated 2022 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:


Photo by anushkaniroshan stock photo ID: 2071991336

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By Jasmine Bhoola

Jasmine Bhoola DC, LAC - A chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Midtown East Manhattan. A graduate from the University … Read more ›

‘The Black Rose’: British Asian Shweta Aggarwal Voices her Truth Against Colourism and the Battle to end her Skin Whitening Cream Addiction

Black Rose

I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.” 

Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind. 

[Read Related: Liam Neeson’s Week of Rage is Every Person of Colour’s Truth]

Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too. 

Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially  when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,

I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.

During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance. 

The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose! 

Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type —  the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way. 

[Read Related: Dear Priyanka Chopra, Endorsing Colorism and Discrimination is not ok. It Never was and Never Will Be]

It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits, 

Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you. 

I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance. 

But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,

The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and  not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour? 

I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?  

A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride! 

I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.

“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.


Photo Courtesy: Shweta Aggarwal

By Sejal Sehmi

Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. Editor Sejal Sehmi is an IT consultant by day, whose passion for writing stemmed from challenging … Read more ›