Dusky Divas and Dating Apps: Once upon a quarantine, a lovely girl met a charming boy over an online dating app. They spoke to each other day and night about everything under the sun. Deciding to meet during a partial unlock, the girl struggled with the butterflies in her stomach throughout the cute little date. You were hoping something along the lines of two beautiful people falling in love and living happily ever after, right? Sorry to burst your bubble as the first time they met, was also their last time.
The anecdote is unfortunately based on a real story where the protagonist was a young dark-skinned girl fresh out of school. Our prince charming not only ghosted her after that day but also made sure that she knew how she was “a little too dusky” for his liking. As much as it sounds like a Bollywood script, it compels us to ask the basic underlying questions arising in the psyche of young boys and who conditioned them to think like that.
If we focus on college-goers or girls who are fresh out of high school, we will realise how the pandemic and dating apps have been the first time many of them interacted with the real world, outside the strict boundaries and protection of school, their hometown and even their parents. Considering this, it won’t be entirely wrong to assume how much self-esteem and confidence is attached to the world of dating and validation from a potential romantic partner. Dating apps thrived in the last year when most of us were just bored to death. Looking for potential matches, we were mostly living off the validation we got from them and stayed sane.
Universally, it was agreed that getting a match served as an ego boost. This shows a deliberate choice on the part of the company since matching with someone causes the screen to dim and fill with hearts, and the apps say “Congratulations!” However, every coin has two sides. The seemingly harmless and fun ego boost also made way for many to suffer from an inferiority complex and a deep-rooted sense of doubt and shame about their selves. Low self-esteem, low confidence, self-loathing and a myriad of skin lightening methods creep into beautiful young women.
Most desi men ignore their bias even though it is embraced hugely by them.
This brings us to another problematic aspect of online dating apps: the need for women to use filters. Innumerable apps have been developed just to help women seem a couple of tones lighter. While this may seem like another childish practice, its causes are not minuscule at all. We need to ask ourselves if these practices are not the result of eurocentric beauty standards. Why do people of a region, where the standard complexion is supposed to be dusky owing to the climate and racial evolution, go gaga over the complexion of their colonizers and set that as the norm in their society?
If we say that women are free to not use filters then we will fail to acknowledge the social acceptance they get online after doing so. It is the socialisation that our men have gone through that has taught them the discrimination. And this specific type of socialisation is simply the result of a patriarchal and highly misogynistic society. Do we want to use these skin lightening filters? Are we born with the thought of us being “ugly”? Or do the men make us feel more wanted if we bleach our skin to the point that it burns?
Why do people of a region, where the standard complexion is supposed to be dusky owing to the climate and racial evolution, go gaga over the complexion of their colonizers and set that as the norm in their society?
Talking to queer women to get a clearer vision of whether the judgement of women solely based on skin colour is a practice specifically among men or not, we found out, it certainly was. One of the members of the community revealed that they looked at a person’s aesthetic and the quality of their picture primarily, while also checking for the authenticity of the profile. While tattoos, hair colour and piercings made to the list of determining factors, complexion was not one of them.
Preferential treatment to the lighter skin?
This brings us to question the kind of socialisation the men of our generation went through that made them into their light-skin-worshipping selves? This preferential treatment of the lighter skin, due to the post-colonial hangover, is directly connected to socioeconomic status and perceived quality of life and the retention to the societal beauty norms. Since fairness has been understood as a cultural marker of class, wealth, and social status for centuries in our country, dating apps consisting of young men with ancient minds have not escaped this spider’s web.
Advertisements serve to reinforce the connection between social interaction and skin colour. The equation of fairness with beauty and the accompanying negative connotation of lack of beauty associated with darker skin colour in India has been further solidified by skin lightening products like “FairNLovely”. And let’s not forget to talk about the associated moral and behavioural qualities linked with complexion, highlighting the far-reaching impact lighter skin may have on an individual’s life and cultural capital within the Indian context. Furthermore, darker skin colour has been associated with adverse moral and behavioural qualities.
We have to question the kind of content popular media feeds us that leads young men into this trance over dating apps. Movies like Bala, where a light-skinned woman was mysteriously made darker, give an image where the society only has milky white women. No matter how many “Black Lives Matter” stories we put up on our Instagram, our real bias stares back at us gapingly while we are right-swiping to increase our list of potential partners.
Once we start implementing the equality we preach into our practice, our brown queens will regain their crowns. Until then, for every song like “There are complexities in complexion; But your skin, it glows like diamond” there will always be a “Tujhe dekh ke goriyaan; Beyonce sharma jayegi!”
Co-authored by Aditi Narayani, Debarati Mitra and Sanjana Sinha. The views expressed are the author’s own and not that of SheThepeople.