Your Skin

“Melanin is not your enemy”[1]

Hating the sun was a learned attribute. I remember returning from
a holiday, and a boy in my class not recognising me because of the tan that had
kissed my skin. My mother, frustrated as she had tried to keep me shielded
with parasols and hats, to prevent me becoming ‘too dark’ - a common fear for
many South Asian women.

My mum’s skin was fair, olive at most when the sun would sweep it[2]. A tan
that Mums in the playground would envy, a glow that radiated modestly. I have
my father’s dark roast, enriched with the rays, sweat dripping like dark
chocolate streams as we poured ourselves into the sea.

When you are young and Brown, they try to stop you playing
outside. Girls must always be careful. It is always different for girls.

For when we feel the warmth bestowed upon our cheeks by the sun,
we enrich. The dark pigment will tell people that our status and class, that
our hands must bare labour to survive, a trait that is frowned upon by others.
Our dark Brown skin doesn’t tick the boxes in the survey when they try to find
us a husband. Whiteness is wealth, whiteness is power, and anything close to it
is close enough.

Aunties and Mothers will plaster their cheeks with anti-agers,
retinols, and skin bleach[3]. Fair and Lovely[4] to keep
the melanin at bay. They will celebrate the fairness that coincides with
starvation and iron deficiencies, and they will instil a fear of nature’s
greatest feeder.

May bank holiday, I sat in a tent while the sun cooked me
from the outside like a boil in the bag rice. Layer after layer of factor 50,
as though the melanin would be activated from steam alone. I proudly stated “I
don’t want to tan” to my white peers[5],
as though it made me closer to them in some way. Nightly routines of lemon
juice rubbed into my cheeks, across my moustache and sideburns. Constantly
spending my childhood erasing parts of me in hope it would remove the otherness
of being the token Paki friend.

Doing anything and everything to create as much distance
from my brownness as possible and falling into a hole of misplaced identity
that would take years to climb out of. Parts of myself would stay stuck in the
hole, parts I do not know if I can every reclaim to this day.

I was twenty when I fell in love with the sun. I accepted I
was South Asian[6],
and allowed the melanin to thrive through my body. I grew back the hair that
had been ripped from my arms and I allowed my shoulders to bathe in the warmth.

My largest organ has been nourished once more.

[1] Joy Crookes, Power.
(Blue May. Comps. Joy Crookes, Alex Hope, Audra Mae, Ntuthuko Nhlumayo
and Blue May, 2021).

[2] My Great Grandfather on my
maternal side had blonde hair and blue eyes- apparently. The single photograph
we have is in black and white. He does look fair, but it is hard to gauge how
light his skin is. I never get a straightforward answer when I ask where our
family is from. Punjabi, Kashmiri, Pakistani, Kenyan. I know all these
locations play some part in my heritage.

Fatima Asad,
‘I Tasted White Privilege In My Pakistani Community’, Muslim Matters

[3] Injie Anis,
‘Why Skin Lightening Products Are Still So Prevalent in Pakistan’, Well+Good,
2021 <>
[accessed 3 March 2022].

[4] Laura Jones,
‘Unilever Renames Fair & Lovely Skin Cream after Backlash’, BBC News,
25 June 2020 <> [accessed 12
February 2022].

[5]  I feared tanning until I was 21. Even now,
when the heatwave hits, my mother will warn me not to “get too dark”, as
opposed to staying safe in the sun. I don’t entertain it. I tell her I am proud
to look like my ancestors who laboured and let the sun kiss their skin. I am
proud to be Brown and I am proud to let my body thrive.

[6] Yasmeen
Thantrey, ‘It Has Taken Me Twenty Years to Accept That I Am Asian’, That’s
What She Said
, 2017
[accessed 13 June 2022].

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