Why I Am Going To Stop Wearing Hijab

hijab, brown girl
[Photo Source: Flickr.com/photos/adam_jones/]

by Fatima

I’ve been thinking about it on and off, day and night, yesterday and today. My thoughts are consumed by it.

I’ve worn hijab for almost seven years now. I started wearing it in the fifth grade when I turned 11. There wasn’t any serious reasoning behind it. I grew up around strong, confident women who wore hijab. The masjid had always been a place where I felt happy, where I felt I belonged, I found a sense of community. Everyone at the masjid wore hijab. All the “Young Muslimbajis that I looked up to, who I thought were the coolest people in the world, wore hijab. And I wanted to be cool like them.

Starting middle school at eleven years old, all my masjid friends were going to start wearing hijab full-time. I thought I might as well too. I mean, we’re all BFF’S and could do this together. The hijab could be like a pact of our friendship. And so my hijab journey began.

I had always been bullied at school for being Indian, for having a small house, for how I dressed. I was recognized as different in some way, shape, or form. I had come to accept it as a part of everyday life, for better or for worse.

Deciding to wear hijab in middle school, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. Though the thought of removing the hijab to fit in never occurred to me, I did possibly everything else. I’d wear shorts and hijab, I’d take pictures without it on. Literally, everything you can think of! Wearing hijab was like a tug of war for me, I loved it when I was with other Muslims but felt suffocated around non-Muslims. I never could understand why.

When people asked me why I wore it, I rarely had an answer. Because I didn’t even know. The concept of perception, stereotypes, and how others saw me in general, weren’t things that had ever crossed my mind. In middle school, I was just the loud, outgoing girl who just wanted to make lasting friendships and have a good time. I didn’t understand that what I was wearing on my head was projecting a message to the rest of the world, a statement that would speak before I even opened my mouth. So, when I was mistreated, it never occurred to me that it could be connected to being one of the only two hijabis in the entire school.

When I was 13, my family moved to a different state, and it was then that I had a transforming spiritual experience, which created a genuine relationship with my faith. I actually liked being Muslim, for the first time. It made me feel spiritually alive. I began to think of my faith as what filled me with joy, what gave me purpose, and meaning.

My newly found faith drove me to get straight A’s in school, to better my relationship with my family, and to do good deeds without seeking anything in return. I consider this the most religious phase of my life. My hijab was pinned tightly under my jaw and came down to my bellybutton and my shirts always reached my knees.

However, I had an overly simplified understanding of Islam. I looked down at Muslims who didn’t follow as I did. My own prayers were on the dot, I was confident in my faith, and had even gathered the courage to ask my school for a separate prayer room. I helped other hijabis become confident in their own faith. 

At the same time, I was to an extent, socially inept. When I interacted with people, I carried too much pride. I didn’t speak to non-Muslims, and if I had to, I talked down to them. In school, I constantly felt like I was being ostracized, but saw it as an opportunity to show that I was just being a good Muslim, and I think on many occasions, I succeeded. 

By freshman year of high school, I was in the spotlight. It was one of the first times I was directly asked to answer questions about Islam and essentially speak for Muslims. People would again question why I wear hijab, why I do what I do, and what exactly I was all about. It was scary. It was weird. It was a lot. I wasn’t ready or comfortable to answer, but I tried.

This was the first time I became aware of how I and the Muslim community were perceived by mainstream America. I felt their discomfort when I walked into a room, their hesitation when they interacted with me. Because I had grown up feeling like an outsider, I was used to getting foreign looks from fellow students and teachers.

I didn’t like how I felt when a teacher asked me, “Muslims do ______, right?” or “why do you do ______?” I was forced to publically articulate  my identity because other people made me weary of it. 

During freshman year, I also began to deal with the baggage from my childhood—of being ruthlessly mocked and ridiculed for my ethnicity and heritage to the point that I had disassociated myself completely from it. I was battling an eating disorder and had major self-esteem problems. Though I was openly Muslim, I was still lying about my race. I was still intimidated by white people. I so desperately wanted to be normal: someone who was liked, accepted, and didn’t have to constantly talk about who they were and their identity all the time.  

But I wanted to change that, so I began trying to make hijabis more relatable to everyone, trying to make hijabis seem cool. I followed all the cool hijabis on Instagram: Noor Tagouri, Ibtihaj Muhammad, the fashionistas, and hijabi bloggers. I found the rope to hold on to my faith, my hijab, and my fingers clenched tight.  To prove I could become the catalyst for change, I ran for class Vice President because I wanted to change perception. Everything I did led back to perception. It came to a point where I wasn’t even authentically expressing myself and my thoughts. I was tailoring my actions, my words, my behavior, my dress in order to please the dominant thinking. I wasn’t an individual—I was a representative and my thoughts and personality had molded to be just that. Instead of existing for myself, I was existing for the sake of changing perception.

By sophomore year, this ideology started to become even bigger. I over analyzed YouTube videos produced by fashion hijabi bloggers. They were gorgeous, their fashion was relevant, and most importantly, they wore hijab. I wanted to be them. I wanted to represent hijab like them. So, I did.

I did my makeup like them, I wrapped my hijab like them, I dressed just as fashionable as them. And people noticed. People told me I was beautiful, I was fabulous, and was the “prettiest hijabi” in the school. I learned about feminist theory and decided I was wearing hijab because my body was mine, and I didn’t believe other people were entitled to see or experience it unless I chose otherwise. My goal was to be so cute, so pretty, so beautiful in hijab that people would think, “wow, hijabis are so pretty” and that would finally change their perception of Muslim women. I had convinced myself that this was feminism, this was how to change perception.

Even though I was known as the ‘golden hijabi’ who smashed stereotypes while radiating confidence, the reality was, I was dying on the inside. I was still struggling with my eating disorder. I hated caking makeup on every morning. I hated how I dressed, hated how my clothes were tight in certain places, I hated feeling like my purpose was to be pretty, to be attractive, to be beautiful. I felt like I had to make up for covering the clearest part of what is considered a woman’s beauty by beautifying all the other parts of me. I still felt pressured by mainstream media, by sexism, by men, by society to adhere to certain standards. This wasn’t feminism and this certainly wasn’t the purpose of hijab, as far as I was concerned.

During the second semester of my sophomore year, things changed. I started hanging out with a group of skaters who were known to experiment with drugs. And they accepted me. Part of me couldn’t fathom how they could “accept” me if I wore hijab. I began dressing more like my new group of friends because I was spending more time with them. I approached these friendships with gratefulness, as though they had bestowed some sort of royal honor on me by not rejecting me. I think I became so obsessed with trying to make Islam seem cool that I stopped embodying or even practicing anything close to Islam. I think much of sophomore year, the only Muslim thing about me was my hijab.

Now, at the end of my junior year, my projection of myself has no correlation with my real self. I approached junior year with a wall around myself, a wall for protection, for safety from ignorance, from racism, from people who wanted to stereotype me and reject me as a human being because of my attire.

Wearing hijab is a heavy experience, especially in the United States, as a woman of color, as an individual who has been marginalized for the majority of her life. Identity is important. Wearing hijab hasn’t been easy, I’ve been made to feel as “the other,” and I’ve constantly had to validate my self-esteem.

Even through all the ups and down with hijab, I don’t regret wearing it one bit. I don’t know if this is the case for other hijabis, but it has been a big part of shaping who I am. It has allowed me to understand my identity inside and out in an environment where I am one of very few. When I look around at my Muslim peers, I find my confidence and outspokenness about my faith. I know things about myself that others don’t even bother to think about because they were not put in situations where it was required. Wearing hijab has allowed the most genuine, loving, and non-judgemental people into my life. Some of these friends have given me more insight, more perspective, and authentic love than any Islamophobic judgemental asshole from school could provide, and I am ever so grateful for that.

But at the same time, I feel there are parts of myself that I need to know and explore that would need me to leave hijab, at least for some time. This past year has been so traumatic and stressful for me. Without exaggeration, I can say that I have cried more tears this past year than I ever have. My entire life is a combination of being ostracized, mocked, and marginalized for my identity. It often feels as though I’m not able to heal because new, bad experiences always find a way to hurt me before an old wound can heal. I suppose the opposite argument could be that bad experiences are a part of life and will continue with or without hijab. But what I’ve experienced during my childhood, combined with what I’ve felt while wearing hijab is not comparable to any bad experience. It has psychological, emotional, and even physical effects that need some serious healing.

The hijab had been such a crucial part of my identity that I’ve become too comfortable with it. The significance, the purpose that it once held for me, no longer exists.

I’ve thought about taking off the hijab extensively. I’ve been searching within myself to ponder and confirm that this is exactly what I want and need to do, without even a drop of regret. I am not going to take off hijab for other people. My concern is not acceptance from others, to be liked and loved, to appear more attractive or otherwise. I need to understand myself outside of perception, outside of stereotypes and outside of my existence representing an entire population.

If my hijab has provided me with so many experiences and intrapersonal insight, I can’t imagine what insight I’ll get from the other side. I need to understand my relationship with my faith without hijab. Part of me feels that if I was to remove hijab for a while, it would allow me to address the trauma I had as a child and heal, as I would be physically representative of only that group for the time being.

My hijab has nothing to do with other people, men or otherwise. I wear it for myself and remove it for myself. It is a conviction between myself and God. I hold certainty in that, if I can understand myself without hijab, it will bring me back to hijab with an even stronger conviction. For sure, this is not permanent. I want to definitely wear hijab again. I can’t say where or when, but I know I will. I’ve thought about it so deeply for such a long time. I’m unsure of so many things in my life now, but I am positive and completely solid in this decision.

Fatima is a pseudonym used by the writer to stay anonymous.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Life Coach and Author Shanita Liu Sets Boundaries, Builds Courage and Refutes an age-old Myth in her new Book ‘Dear Durga’

Dear Durga: A Mom's Guide to Activate Courage and Emerge Victorious
Dear Durga: A Mom's Guide to Activate Courage and Emerge Victorious by Shanita Liu | Photos Courtesy of Shanita Liu

In her new book “Dear Durga,” author and life coach Shanita “Shani” Liu takes a different approach to self-help. Liu guides readers by providing a courageous framework. She writes to the Hindu goddess Durga Ma, who is a symbol of courage to Liu. Durga Ma represents power and protection in Hinduism.

Liu ties together the personal. She shares her experiences in witnessing fear-based patterns from her own Guyanese family and culture and noticing them in herself as a mother while proving coping strategies as a life coach. In this candid conversation, Liu explores the journeys of motherhood, writing, overcoming fear and leading future generations by example.

Where did the idea for this book come from? 

It came from a diary entry I wrote in 2018 or 2019. I wrote that I was going to write a book called “Dear Durga.” I created a folder on my computer and it said “Dear Durga Book” and it was almost like I was setting the intention. I didn’t know what it was going to be about, but I did know that Durga and writing to her was an important part of my journey. And so I just had this intuitive feeling that I was going to be able to share this story one day.

How did you decide what the book would be about? 

In 2021, we were going through the pandemic, I just had my third child, and Durga was very much like, ‘okay, now you’re going to go write your book.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what? I’m sorry. I’m, like, trying to navigate motherhood again and my business and everything else that was going on.’ And she was like, ‘no, you’re going to participate in this writer’s workshop. You’re going to learn how to write a book proposal. You’re going to enter it into this contest. You’re going to win the contest, and you’re going to write a book.’ And I thought she was nuts. And all of my fears started coming up – who am I to do this, I can’t do this, I’m not enough, what am I writing about? 

I had to muster up the courage to write this book. And so Durga was a catalyst for me to call on my courage and say, ‘it’s time.’ This moment made me realize what I’ve been doing professionally for the last seven years is walking folks through my framework to help them activate their courage. So even though I was terrified, I realized this book can take the personal and the professional pieces of this puzzle and really put it all in one place. 

When you say that Durga was your driving force for action, do you mean spiritually and religiously, or something else?

For everything, yes—emotionally, spiritually. In 2015, when I was falling apart and embarking on these major life changes in my life, she came through. It was the catalyst for me to say, “I have to start breaking myself out of these fear-based mindsets and really start entering these new phases of my life with courage and disrupting old patterns.” 

[Read Related: Fireside Chat With Debut Author Sophie Jai]

Describe the writing process for this book. How did you find that courage to move past your fears?

Definitely writing to Durga. Knowing that the book was going to be about this journey of me connecting with my courage, I had to accept the challenge. I’m a writer by training. I’ve been writing my whole life. I was an English major, so I knew I could write, but I had to sit down and excavate six years of my life. I had to go into my journals from 2015 up until when I started writing the book at the end of 2021.

 It was wild to re-experience myself going through these various obstacles, these discouragements, these discomforts and then find the strength through this courageous energy I had within me, to take these small steps and overcome each obstacle. The excavation of my own life was an interesting part of the process for me to get clear on the themes based on what I remembered. 

The writing process was very spiritually and emotionally transformative because I’ve been doing all this work with my own courage that I sort of had to channel it with my own creativity to write and to marry what I had been doing professionally and what I had been going through personally. So, once I formed the book proposal, the blueprint for what I was writing, and submitted it to the Hay House contest, I then learned I won the runner up prize, I was able to write the manuscript pretty quickly. At that point, I was like, ‘okay, I know what I’m writing about now. I know I have the courage to do it.’ Durga was right, after all. 

Walk us through the four steps for somebody who is just hearing about this and is interested in your way of approaching courage. 

I have a Courage Kit framework, and I’ve had to walk my talk through it, but I’ve used it with hundreds of clients. It’s a four-phase process to support you with activating your courage and keeping it alive. The first phase is activating your courage and calling it in, identifying your courage metaphor, how to access that energy and how to commune with it and build a relationship with it. The second phase is about aligning with your needs because, as mothers and women, we don’t ask ourselves what we need due to this societal expectation and cultural conditioning. That’s an important part of emerging victorious. Victory is important because it means to attain fulfillment. Being victorious means having the courage to honor yourself so that you can be victorious, whatever that is like for you. The third phase is alleviating stressors so you can feel your best. Then the fourth phase is taking action so you can start making baby steps towards your goals. 

How was this journey impacted by being Indo Caribbean? What role did your culture play in this? 

The role that my culture plays is huge. In the book, I talk about the legacies of sacrifice that I come from because of indentureship. I’m three generations removed from that history of colonizers exploiting indentured laborers. When you come from these legacies of sacrifice, fear-based mindsets and behaviors accompany it. When I was acting from a place of martyrdom and sacrificing my own needs, I realized I learned that from the women who came before me, who learned it from the women before them. 

When you zoom out you realize this has happened across cultures. Why are women in our culture asked not to use our voices? Why are people telling us to shut up, play small and don’t cause trouble? Our voices have been collectively suppressed, and over the last few decades, we’ve been liberating ourselves. We’re going to honor all parts of ourselves and express ourselves as we need to, and we need courage to do that.

Why dedicate the book to your younger self?

I had to dedicate this book to my Little Shanny because her voice was suppressed, and due to cultural and societal expectations, she wasn’t allowed to be her fullest self. She’s very lively and creative. In the book, she is writing and we make rap songs and other things to call on our creativity. This book is an honoring. As I was honoring all parts of myself and healing my own emotional wounds, I was liberating her at the same time.

How would you describe your relationship with Durga Ma? How can others who are not Hindu achieve that sort of relationship with their metaphoric courage figure? 

Regarding Durga and myself, I don’t say, ‘I got this courage metaphor, now help me.’ You have to build a relationship with it. In the last eight years, I’ve been able to build a solid relationship with her where my courage is almost automatic. If I feel or think about fear, my automatic courage alert starts going off. The stronger connection I build to her, the stronger our relationship becomes, and the more self aware I become about making courageous choices. 

But, in the introduction of the book, I clarify that folks can use the Durga archetype or work with Durga whether they are Hindu or not. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from because she embodies victory over evil, maternal protection and an unapologetic courage that we need for fulfillment. So I encourage folks to connect with her because people who are meant to resonate with it will resonate with it and if Durga doesn’t resonate with you, you understand you have this courageous wisdom inside you. If telling my story about the way it looks for Durga and I, inspires somebody to ponder a relationship like that, that’s great! In the end, I just want folks to walk away feeling comforted and equipped with tools to be their most courageous selves.

How do you take this idea, this archetype, and apply it to yourself or anybody? 

We’re human beings and I think sometimes we just need something visual or tangible to hold on to. Sometimes I need an idea or person to help ground what’s coming up for me, so the metaphor is really helpful because I can visualize and interact with it.

 The metaphor offers information because when you’re scared and fear is clouding your judgment, it’s easy to default to doubt. Your courage metaphor offers information, encouragement or directions – targeted guidance. As long as you connect, communicate with and build a relationship with it, it will help you. That’s why I use “Dear Durga,” channeled writing, as a common thread throughout the book, it’s one modality that works. If this modality doesn’t work for you, then try interacting with it differently. But at the end of the day, regardless what modality you find, you can leverage that metaphor’s information to inform your next step.

How did motherhood and becoming a mother play a role in writing this book and also your career as a life coach? 

I started life coaching when I became a mother. I was pregnant while I was in my Life Coaching Certification Program, and Durga Ma showed up just a few months before I found out I was pregnant. I think she knew I was going into the next phase of my life, and I couldn’t continue on my own anymore. So motherhood was a huge act of courage for me. I left a toxic job so I could embark on motherhood and begin making professional choices that would support me once I became a mom. 

The beautiful thing about motherhood is that you become a different person – you change. Your ability to care, give, create and grow changes. Motherhood informed the work that I did with other women in their mind, body, spirit wellness and it forced me to focus on my own wellness. Also, Durga Ma just happens to be this maternal archetype, so maternal protection and nurturing felt important to my process as I was healing wounds. This is a powerful energy that can support other moms because we need support. We’re caring for little human beings and, as it is, most moms are under-resourced. Courage is a resource that doesn’t cost any money, that can help with life’s challenges.

Did you have to endure little battles with people around you to gain support for the kind of work that you do? 

I don’t think anyone around me discouraged me. The battle was within myself and having the courage to say, ‘I’m this life coach who’s going to focus on courage.’ I had to get over my own impostor syndrome, self doubt and fears that were weighing me down about coaching with this mindset among many other coaches. When I started, I was focusing so much on self care, but then I realized it’s so hard for women to self care because we have a fear of doing it. Everything goes back to fear. That’s why I realized the root of all of this is coming back to our courage. 

As an Indo Caribbean mother, there can be a lot of expectations. Did the courage framework also help with that? 

Absolutely. Most moms are givers, especially those of Indo Caribbean heritage. We saw our moms constantly sacrificing everything so we can have high-quality lives. But this trajectory of motherhood and bringing my courage in through my own framework forced me to ask for help, set boundaries and put my needs first. Obviously we put our children first, we’re always protecting them. But I began to honor myself. To realize I can honor myself and my needs while managing motherhood felt really important. But that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to do that because we’re breaking out of old patterns from our family’s example. This is why, in ‘Dear Durga’ I tell a lot of stories about my grandmother, because she was a major influence in what I thought motherhood should look like. 

Can this in turn create a healthier experience for the child?

Absolutely. You’re a demonstration to your children. Your children do not do what you say, they do what you do. I have daughters and a son, and I don’t want my daughters growing up thinking that when they get married or have kids and start a family, they have to clean the house all the time and never experience joy. I want them to see that Mommy can experience joy and fun and she can work, and she can do these things. It may not look perfect, but they can see that I can do all of these things without it costing my mental health and sanity. 

Do you have a favorite story that you use in this book for reference?

It’s not my favorite, but the story about my grandmother’s death and the shock that my family and I felt stands out the most. She was the matriarch and anchor to our maternal line. So, when she passed away, it created chaos. As a little girl, it wasn’t until she passed away that I questioned: ‘Who was she? What was her life like?’ It allowed me to see what my grandmother was like outside of being a grandmother. When the funeral happened, I heard stories about how she sacrificed, whether it was for her education or her family. It gave me perspective on everything that went into my family coming to the U.S. But it also made me think, now that I have the privilege and the opportunity to change things, am I going to take advantage of that?

Liu champions personal growth and overcoming fear, emboldening us to find our courage, be vocal about our needs and refute the age-old myth that Indo Caribbean women must struggle to be successful. “Dear Durga A Mom’s Guide to Activate Courage and Emerge Victorious” is now available for purchase.

By Usha Sookai

Usha Sookai is an undergraduate student at New York University, studying Journalism and Social and Cultural Analysis. With a passion … 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 ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.

I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.

We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!

[Read Related: Uncovering the Brown Boy in Hiding Through Poetry]

Confessions to a Moonless Sky

Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.

If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.

But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.

[Read Related: ‘headspun’ — Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›