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Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Tall Tale of The Color

While some Americans have made bitterly racist remarks about Miss America Nina Davuluri based on the color of her skin, it seems that people in India have problems with her dark skin as well. Some even speculate that Davuluri wouldn’t have been fair-skinned enough to win a pageant in her parents’ home country. - Watch the full clip here

Surprise surprise. Oh wait, sorry. I am not surprised at all.

I often looked at my husband at night when he slept so peacefully next to me, and thought, what did he actually see in me? He is funny and kind, with muscular build and handsome face. His smile is really disarming and when we walked together I noticed people checking on him. When we walked together in Bali a lot of women, old and young, commenting in Balinese and Bahasa Indonesia on how good-looking he was. He is so perfect and I am not. The only reason I don't go berserk whenever he talks to other women is because I know how much he love me. And I still went berserk sometimes. Can't help it. All of this, our marriage and all, for all I know could have been a really cruel joke all along. Like I said, why does he want me anyway? I am not perfect.

He has difficult time understanding my insecurity, because in his mind I am perfect. He thinks I am beautiful and assured me that countless time. I told him how lonely I was because my society thinks I did not "make the cut", and he can't believe it. He would look at me and smile happily and say: "You are so pretty!". It is, trust me, something that never happened in my previous experience. Sweet, yes. Sexy, maybe. But never pretty. Never beautiful. Never desirable.

But it was not my fault. It was just how my society made me. We gravitate so heavily towards "fairness". At one point the winner of Miss Indonesia was a Caucasian descendant who looked so Caucasian she could easily pass as one. The Judges' argumentation: the Caucasian look will helped her secure better position in the upcoming Miss World. Yes, feel free to collectively bump your head to the table. All the commercials, movies, news anchor, all the places where you can see, all fair-skinned and I very seldom see (if any) dark-skinned Indonesian beauties. It was the same for social events, where the fair-skinned one will get the most attention. A relative of mine overheard her father-in-law said to her husband: can't you even get a fairer wife? In 1937 Miguel Covarrubias wrote in his book "The Island of Bali": To the Balinese, the average features of Nordics are not to be admired.... a girl with golden skin is considered beautiful even if the other requirements is missing..." Apparently the preference change with time.

My little sister in a TV commercial, one of the very few TV commercials 
that actually starred dark-skinned beauties a.k.a normal Indonesian women

It doesn't make any sense though. Our tropical climate gave us the rich pigment to protect ourselves from the sun, why do we even want to throw it away? It was comical how the dark-skinned women from the tropical country tried hard to whiten their skin yet their counterpart from the colder climate flocked to tanning bed to make them look "glowing and healthy". It is also absurd to know that the only place where you can be yourself is a place faraway from home, because only then your beauty can be appreciated.   

There are a lot of Ninas in the world, the dark-skinned women who are alienated in their own society but somehow getting acknowledgement in a place faraway from home. Which is a shame, because I kind of like my home. But a lot more don't have such privilege. I wish I can urge people to change their preference so these Ninas can get the fighting chance that they deserved, but I can't. Nobody can change other people's preference except themselves. I wish I can urge these Ninas to not give in to whitening cream and other product to fit in the silly demanding society, but I can't. I understand their loneliness far too well. What I can do is to ensure that you understand that beauty is beauty. It comes in different types and shapes. One would find you attractive and others would not. In the end, beauty is in the eye of beholder. If you think you are beautiful, then you are. The goal is not to be beautiful enough to be accepted by others, the goal should be beautiful enough to be accepted by yourself. Because in the end, you would live with yourself forever.

I was putting on rogue on my cheek last Saturday night before we went dancing when I remember so many other times I put on my makeup. Eyeliner first, making big cat eyes; then rogue, lipstick, and face powder. I remember feeling elated in every single one of them, and as I checked my self in the mirror I always feel a surge of pride which often followed by an ecstatic: "Damn I look good!!". Others may be more beautiful than me, society may deemed I am not beautiful enough, but who cares. I like what I see in the mirror. And in the end, it's all that matters.

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