You don’t forget the first time you get turned away from a makeup counter because they just didn’t carry your shade. Or the time your aunt hands you a tube of Fair & Lovely. You will always remember the first time you realised that drugstore foundations in the city you call home range from porcelain white, to light beige. Hell, even your palms are darker than that.
I have been made aware — and made to be ashamed — of my dark skin from the first time I was teased about it in primary school. And every dark skinned woman growing up in Singapore has similar experiences about being made to feel less of a human being because of the colour of her skin, about never being able to find makeup to match their skin tones, about being handed whitening products at makeup counters.
The reality is, colourism is a deep-rooted prejudice that has been ingrained into our minds in Singapore. This sinister by-product of racism has manifested in such an awful way that the darker you are, the worse off your experience with discrimination is likely to be.
Even when you’re shopping for beauty — something that’s supposed to be fun — you’re reminded of the colourism that you face on a daily basis. Until Luxola came into the market a few years ago, I had to ship my foundations from a brand called Face Atelier in Canada. While I’m thankful for Fenty Beauty and the range of foundations available for deeper complexions at Sephora, until today, drugstore brands in Singapore don’t stock as extensive ranges as the US. Maybelline’s Fit Me! Foundation, for example, has an extensive range of 40 shades, but only 14 is available in Singapore — and only one will suit a medium-dark skin tone. I get it on a business perspective; it’s a much smaller market when it comes to beauty products for darker skin. But that doesn’t mean that makes it any less frustrating. Why can’t I have the same luxury of choice as my fairer skinned counterpart?
With privilege comes power. Just like the #heforshe movement, when it comes to colourism, you need to be able to step back, check your privilege and speak up when colourism is happening right in front of you. Are you working on a social media campaign for a client? Make sure all skin tones are represented. Are you a hiring manager? Don’t dismiss somebody because of the minority-sounding name. Are you a beauty buyer? Bring in the full range of concealer shades, please!
Colourism and racism needs to be discussed more instead of being muttered during the pledge and then swept under the proverbial rug until three radio DJs say something stupid on air.
As for me, I don’t know how or when, but there was no grand magical moment that healing happened. Maybe it was a mix of travel, working in the US, but I’ve rid myself of the shackling mentality that I couldn’t be beautiful because I am dark skinned. Because let’s face it — there’s a whole lot of melanin magic happening here.