No matter your age, size, gender or background, South Asians are told to stay away from the sun as to not become darker. Time and time again, young brown girls are asked to lighten the tone of their skin as if it were erasable. But three students from the University of Texas have had enough of the notion ‘dark is not beautiful,’ so they began the campaign #UnfairAndLovely.
The idea behind the hashtag is part of a photo series—shot by University student Pax Jones—features sisters Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah, who want to combat the underrepresentation of dark-skinned women in media.
[Co-creators of the #UnfairAndLovely Campaign, Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah. | Photo by Pax Jones]
Even though the campaign is seeing lots of positive attention from South Asian women, the students make it clear that their goal in starting this was to include all dark-skinned people negatively affected by Eurocentric beauty standards.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Jones said:
“#UnfairAndLovely is for dark-skinned people of color. #UnfairAndLovely is meant to be an inclusive space. It is for the dark-skinned queer, trans, genderqueer, non-binary, poor, fat, differently abled people of color.”
Colorism tackles stigma within communities of colour that elevates lighter skin at all costs—after all, there is a reason skin bleaching creams are so popular. It speaks to the pernicious qualities of white supremacy that skin tone is such a volatile issue—routinely ignored by campaigns or supporters of anti-racism and racial equality.
Even speaking about this is a difficult thing to do, as much of the instances where lighter skin is privileged amongst brown communities comes in quite innocuous moments. The Dark is Beautiful movement, launched in 2009, seeks to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin color bias as well as to celebrate the beauty and diversity of all skin tones.
(Shoutout to our friend, actress, and DIB ambassador Sharon Muthu for partnering with us to eradicate the dark-skin color stigma. Check out our Twitter chat on the topic, #DarkIsBeautiful.)
The necessity of this campaign is self-evident, given that much of their work revolves around educating people on the constructed nature and systemic favouring of lighter skinned people, even within racially diverse communities.
Supported by actress Nandita Das, the Dark is Beautiful campaign helped push the Advertising Standards Council of India to ban discriminatory commercials for fairness products in 2014.
Please support the #unfairandlovely initiative by posting selfies, commentary, and of course, by sharing our post with friends. This week, until March 14, the #unfairandlovely hashtag is teaming up with the founders of #reclaimthebindi—a campaign combating non-South Asians wearing bindis—to celebrate solidarity amongst women of color.
Maryam Jameela lives in Lancashire, England. She graduated with a B.A. in English literature and an M.A. in gender studies. She is passionate about writing all things desi and will begin her Ph.D research into desi film and literature at the University of Sheffield, U.K. in the fall. You can read more things that she has written here.
Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of spring and is observed near the end of winter. It’s also referred to as the festival of colors or the festival of love. Although my daughters and I are not Hindus, (we are Sikhs) we still celebrate Holi. Our Holi celebrations always include reading about this festival, making colorful art, playing with the colorful powders, and making some delicious, traditional sweets. This is always such a great occasion to discuss the diversity of Indian culture with my daughters. I use this opportunity to teach them about inclusivity and respect for different cultures around the world. All across India, different states celebrate this festival in their own meaningful ways.
My first experience celebrating this beautiful festival was in university. My roommates, friends and international students put together a lovely day of Holi celebrations outside. We were completely covered in variety of colors — pinks, purples, and blues. There was music, laughter, dancing, and an overall joyous atmosphere (including bhang, which is essentially a cannabis milkshake). It was particularly heartwarming to see so many Indian students coming together as a community, so far from home, to connect with such a beloved tradition.
For those of us, brought up in Canada, such celebrations were amazing opportunities to genuinely experience the true spirit of Holi. Similar to how it is done in India, everyone became one – there were no small groups or cliques doing their own thing; class lines and caste systems, predominant across India, disappeared. Everyone joined together; our skin tones hidden under the bright colours of the Holi powders. It surely was an unforgettable time.
As a child, I got to experience Holi only through Indian Cinema. Bollywood films like “Silsila,” “Darr,” and “Mohabbatein” stand out in my memory. The actors are dressed completely in white at the beginning of the song, enjoying Holi celebrations, and are then painted from head to toe, in various bright colours, by the end of the song. Since then, I’ve learned that certain colours hold meaning and significance. Red symbolizes love, fertility, and matrimony; blue represents the Lord Krishna; and green stands for new beginnings.
Now, as a mother, I don’t want my children to experience our culture through a screen. So we bring these Holi traditions into our home in our own creative ways. We certainly tend to get creative since around March there is still ample snow on the ground outside and a chill in the air!
The activities we have fun doing are:
Making rangoli designs using coloured powders (this is a helpful site we’ve used)
Making paper flowers to decorate the house with (like the ones here)
Making tie-dye shirts (we’ve got a kit for this because the girls love it)
Baking a traditional Indian snack, like gujiya (we bake them because I get paranoid about the girls being around hot oil).
“Let’s Celebrate Holi!” by Ajanta Chakraborty and Vivek Kumar (for three to seven-year-olds)
“Festival of Colors” by Surishtha Seghal and Kabir Seghal (for two to eight-year-olds)
“Why Do We Celebrate Holi” by Anitha Rathod (for eight years old and above)
This year, Holi falls on the same date as International Women’s Day! To combine the two celebrations, my daughters and I plan on sketching South Asian females we look up to the most, and then adding bright colours using different types of paint. For another element of texture, we might add the paper flowers to these as well. I’m thinking these are going to be frame-worthy pieces of art!
I’ve never considered myself to be a part of the fashion world here in New York. Until a few years ago, I couldn’t even tell you what my style was. Today, it’s clear how much my clothes are influenced by my time living in India for six years as a teenager. You’ll usually see me pair a sari blouse with a pair of pants, a khadi print skirt, or a dress that my family’s tailor back in Kolkata made of cloth my mother and I spotted and loved in the store next door.
My Indian heritage is an integral part of my identity, so when I was asked if I could write about South Asian designers debuting their collections, how could I say no?
I first heard about South Asian New York Fashion Week (SANYFW) last year from a friend who walked the runway for one of the designers. I’d heard about the infamous New York Fashion Week of course, but based on the name, I assumed this venture was to increase the representation of South Asian designers, especially because fashion is an industry with high barriers to entry, making it especially difficult for BIPOC designers to break through and showcase their talent.
I wasn’t far off the mark, according to one of this season’s designers, Sandeep Tupili, cofounder of the brand Maison Tai.
“I come from the South of India and growing up I never saw clothes like this on the runway,” he said. “Now, as a gay Indian designer, I’ve never really been supported like this, in a space like this. This community is truly incredible.”
Community is what I found in the days I ran around attending the various SANYFW events, which took place between September 9 and September 13, starting with actress Richa Moorjani headlining for Raas, a contemporary luxury clothing brand from India. I’m a journalist who reports on BIPOC influencers, I’m Indian, and I used to be an editor at Brown Girl Magazine, so I knew a lot of faces in the room already when I walked into the press gathering, the first event of the week. I was unprepared, though, for the immediate warmth from the people I just met. Faces that lit up whenever they saw me, engaging in conversations about representation, and checking in to see how my day was going.
It’s that kind of community that Shipra Sharma and Hetal Patel, cofounders of SANYFW, have been working so hard to cultivate this second time around, based on learning lessons from season one.
“I really want to see these designers create their own network and create their own connections because we can provide the platform, but for the designers to get to the next level, it’s about the people who get involved with their brands,” Sharma said. “I’m honestly so overwhelmed with joy because 10 years ago, I couldn’t even fathom having a space like we do today where they could do this.”
Another one of the designers I met was Sheel Svarini, who graduated college only two years ago and took this season’s SANYFW by storm when she debuted her collection Svarini, which she describes as a “Bridgerton”-inspired play on Indo-Western clothing. When she walked out after the models displaying her designs at the multi-designer fashion show on September 13, she was met with cheers, whistles, and some standing ovations.
“I was designing my clothing as I watched the show last year, so it’s really a full-circle moment for me,” she said. “I didn’t study fashion at all, I was studying engineering, and there’s no way I could have done it without the opportunities I’ve gotten here.”
You could feel Sheel’s joy every time in the space—every time she saw me, she, quite literally, picked me off the floor in a hug. For Archie Agarwal, founder of handmade fine jewelry and accessories brand Studio Kiyan,it was a tap on the shoulder and a long hug whenever she saw me.
“Spaces like this are so critical for the young boys and girls out there to see that they’ll be accepted for who they are,” she said. “I can only imagine how many designers will be here in the next few years, and it could be because they saw us on their social media.”
Maheen Haq, the designer behind Babougie, agrees. At the multi-designer presentations event on September 11, she was one of the people asked to explain more about her brand, and she highlighted how grateful she was to the packed room of South Asians who showed up in support.
“When I was young growing up in Pakistan, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of options because I couldn’t find clothes in my size,” she said. “Not many people, even today, would accept a brand that prioritizes hand-blocking printing from Pakistan so that just shows what kind of community Hetal and Shipra are trying to build.”
Meanwhile, Promiti Prosun of the brand Chaa Latte, embodies the concept of community in her clothes. Our interview was interspersed with revelations about our similarities—we’re both Bengali, we both quit our jobs during the pandemic in 2021 and pivoted careers: me to journalism and her to fashion.
“The space to be seen like this wasn’t there before,” she said. “My collection is about community actually, about feeling comfortable and accepted when you’re walking into spaces dressed in your clothing.”
It’s designer Madiha Dhanani, founder of brand Jamil by MD, who highlighted the unique element of SANYFW on their last night of shows: helping people from the diaspora embrace both sides of their identities.
“We keep our worlds so separate, American and Indian, and it’s time we start blending our backgrounds together,” she said. “That’s what makes SANYFW so important. It’s creating the room for us to showcase the way that fashion is moving forward.”
After Dhanani’s collection debuted on the runway, excited conversations were already breaking out about what next year’s SANYFW would hold and how much bigger it could be, especially given this year’s recognition by outlets like Good Morning America, NBC News, and Bloomberg.
As for me, I’ll eagerly be awaiting the chance to meet more inspirational South Asian designers and creatives next September. It’s goes beyond the designers and clothes for me, it’s about it’s about continuing to support the community that was fostered this year.
The expansion of digital content across radio, television and the internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.
Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.”
In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.
How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?
The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!
While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated,
Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.
Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences.
Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channels, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,
All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.
Tell us about your current position.
“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”
What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?
Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.
I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!
Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “Go back to the dishes” or “Go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions about being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,
I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.
Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.”
Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at?
I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.
Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada.
How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color?
What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over. And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way.
I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.
How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?
I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry.
I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshensand those interviews aired nationally which was massive.
Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.
She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith and that,
We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.
At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges.
Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.