I am someone who strongly believes in self love. However, in order to fully love myself there are personal obstacles I have to overcome. One of my biggest obstacles is my skin colour. Growing up, my skin colour was the first thing people noticed about me. I was no stranger to comments like ‘’How long did you stay in the sun?’’, ‘’Did you forget to put sunscreen?’’, and ‘’I think you need to stay in the shade for abit’’. I tried my best to not let these comments get to me, but constantly being faced with them eventually made me insecure about it. I couldn't help but think that there was something wrong with the colour of my skin.
Part of my childhood was spent in Oman where I attended an International School. During my time there, I became friends with children of varying skin colours. I noticed how no one seemed to make a big deal out of their skin colour. I was free to enjoy whatever I wanted and that was swimming. I trained with an instructor twice a week but I also swam for fun on the weekends. All this time in the water and under the sun no doubt made me even darker than I usually was, but no one seemed to comment on it. I was free to enjoy swimming and how it made me feel.
After five years in Oman, my parents contracts came to an end and it was time to move back to Malaysia. Part of me was relieved to be moving back as I was homesick, but there was also a part of me that was scared. I wasn’t sure how quickly I would settle down in school and how easy it would be to make friends. On the first day of school, I was quickly reminded about how I was I was darker than most of the girls. I found it strange to see my classmates pile on layers of powder in order to appear fairer. What was even stranger to see (for me at least, coming back from abroad), were girls who used umbrellas to shield them from the sun as they walked to the bus stop. I was taken aback to the extent to which people would go to make sure their skin didn’t become darker. I later learned the reason behind this was because fairer skinned girls were considered to be attractive. I vividly recall some boys being head over heels for this one girl simply because of her fairer skin. All these instances made me feel out of sorts, conflicted, and frankly just lost. I wasn’t sure if I needed to be like the other girls in order to be accepted and attractive or whether I should continue just being me. At one point in my life my skin colour didn’t seem to be such a big thing, but now it was.
In an attempt to let go of these feelings, I decided to throw myself back into swimming. I swam up to 4 times a week. These sessions eventually paid off as I was selected to train with the Sarawak State swimming team. ‘’You shouldn’t join them because it’ll make you darker’’ and ‘’You are already pitch black as it is’’ were quickly becoming things I heard a lot of from friends and family. There didn’t seem to be any rejoicing about the fact that I had been good enough to train with the State. I just couldn’t understand why I needed to stop swimming simply because it was affecting my physical appearance. This exposure to the outdoors also made me develop patches of white spots on my face. In Malay we call this ‘’panau’’. The fact that I was darker meant that they became more visibly obvious. I recall someone coming up to me and asking if I had ‘’kurap’’ (fungus) growing on my face. One comment which I’ll never forget was when a friend called me dirty because of it. I’m pretty sure we can all agree when I say that these aren’t the nicest things to say to someone who is only 12. Just when I thought it would end there, it didn’t. During Raya people would also pick on my colour. They called me ‘’Hanis hitam manis’’ and ‘’hitam legam”(pitch black). I didn’t think much of the name calling then, I just pushed it aside hoping to forget it.
But, I wish it was as easy as that. Constantly hearing comments about my skin colour gradually built up my insecurity about it. As with all things that build up, eventually there comes a tipping point. The tipping point came when my mother bought an umbrella for me to use every time I walked to the shops behind my house. I also stopped swimming as my parents did not want me to become engrossed with training but also because of how dark it would have made me. I couldn’t help but feel angry as everyone in my life seemed to be making such a big deal about how dark I was. At this point I decided to resign to fate, I came to accept that people would always comment on my colour and all I would be remembered as was ‘’Hanis hitam manis’’.
Several years later, I was still insecure about my skin colour. There weren’t as many comments but my colour was still the first thing people noticed if it was my first time meeting them. I tried to not let it get to me and I just kept my feelings to myself. At the beginning of this year I was assisting Harper’s BAZAAR with a photo shoot. The makeup artist working that shoot complimented my skin colour. It was so refreshing to hear this! I told her about my struggle with my skin colour and she reminded me that everyone is beautiful in their own way, it doesn’t matter what colour you are. Later on when I joined Root Remedies, I found out how common this issue was. By talking to others in the team I realised I wasn’t the only one who had such experiences and that was assuring! It was something more common than I thought and it is something people need to start talking more about. Hence, when #ProjectTrueSkin launched I felt it was important to share my story with all of you. I hope it helps anyone going through something similar.
Looking back, I now know how unhealthy and destructive it is to let the words of others get to you. Whilst the comments may seem like something you can easily brush off at the time, continuously hearing the same thing eventually takes a toll on you. You need to remind yourself that you aren’t defined by what others think of you. Everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin. No one should take that away from you.
Do you have a story about your skin tone and how it affected you? Share your story with the hashtags #ProjectTrueSkin and #StoryOfMyShade on Instagram and/or Twitter. Share before 10 December 2019 and receive a discount code from us as well as a thank you for sharing your story.