On the 15th of September 2013, Nina Davuluri made history by becoming the first woman of Indian descent to win the Miss America title. Immediately after her victory, there was a backlash of racist comments on social media that has since been highly publicised. Thousands of tweets were published about how Miss America apparently "isn't American"and therefore shouldn't have won. In my opinion, this is highly unfair- Nina was born and brought up in the States and therefore qualifies for the competition. Just because she doesn't embody the image of a typical blonde and blue-eyed beauty does not mean that she didn't deserve to win. As Nina herself said, "Miss America is viewed as the girl next door, and she is always evolving."America, as a country, is a huge melting pot of different cultures and through Nina's win, it is evident that the Miss America pageant is celebrating this diversity.
|Nina Davuluri at the traditional dipping of toes in the Atlantic Ocean after the pageant. Source: Vancouver Sun.|
As the media coverage of the negative messages on social media died down, another debate emerged. This time it was about whether or not Nina would have won the pageant back in the country of her origin: India. Why? Because her skin is too dark. Many Indian and South Asian writers have noted that you wouldn't be likely to see someone of Nina's skin colour in a pageant. Indian beauty queens, such as Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai are typically fair-skinned, because South Asian individuals often see light skin as being more beautiful. Back in 2003, when Miss India contestants were being prepped for the pageant, they had weekly sessions with a dermatologist. Each and every one of the women ended up taking some kind of medication to alter her skin.
This obsession with fairer skin drives a market of skin lightening products. India's whitening-cream market was valued at a whopping $432 million in 2010. Such products are hard to ignore- whenever I go to India, I always see several advertisements for different kinds of whitening products. These advertisements often feature a darker-skinned woman getting turned away from marriage or a job before the product appears, suggesting that by lightening her skin, all of her problems will magically disappear.
Yet there is a double standard involved here. While people in Asia are trying to lighten their skin, people in European countries are trying to darken it. Being in an international school which has eighty-three nationalities, I hear different people expressing different opinions regarding their skin tone. I have heard several Indian's complaining about how they're too dark, but I've also heard several people from Europe complaining about how their skin is too light and refuses to take on any colour. In the same way that South Asians use lightening products, Westerners use tanning products to give their skin a darker glow. What's even worse is that all of these products have major health risks: tanning beds expose skin to sharp UV rays that could cause skin cancer, while whitening creams can contain dangerous chemicals that cause hypertension and even some forms of cancer.
So what does this mean for us? Why do we expose ourselves to such dangerous health risks just to change our appearance? The skin colour debate is one that will continue across the world for a long time, but here's what I have to say about it. We should be comfortable just the way we are. If we are born with darker skin, so be it, and if we are born with super pale skin, so be it. I'm originally Indian, but was born and brought up in New Zealand, so when I was little, I was always surrounded by people who had fairer skin than I did. Now in Dubai, I'm surrounded by people who all have different skin tones. I think that no matter where you are, you should be comfortable in your own skin. As Steve Maraboli said: "There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
PS: If you don't love Nina yet, you should read this. Congratulations Nina! You're an inspiration to us all.