There’s a moment when every person of colour becomes aware that they’re different. I’m half Indian and for me, this happened when I was five years old, as someone I thought was my friend at school called me ‘brown girl’.
Until then, I hadn’t realised that my skin colour could be used against me, and it felt like I was being told not to love something that was a huge part of me. I retorted with my own insults, but I don’t think there’s a label I could have given him that would have cut as deep.
After this experience, the sense of not wanting to look different stayed with me – and made me think I wasn’t as attractive as my white friends.
I felt it strongest when we started becoming interested in boys, romantically. When I was nine, a white boy asked to dance with me at a school disco. I was baffled, but I was less surprised by what a friend said afterwards: ‘I didn’t think he’d like you because…’.
She never finished the sentence, but I pushed for an answer.
‘Because you’re brown,’ the reply eventually came, confirming my suspicions that my skin colour wasn’t desirable. I felt sick hearing it, but it was also oddly comforting to think that my race, and only my race, was the reason boys didn’t look at me.
I never thought that my friend was racist, but rather awkwardly trying to tell me that people are prejudiced against Indian girls. I wished we had talked about it more, but we weren’t mature enough to know what to say.
As I moved into my teens, I realised that there was a certain look that a girl had to have to be liked by boys my age – white and skinny with long straight hair.
I started typing ‘Indian woman’ into Google to see how readily available a beautiful face that resembled mine was, convinced I wouldn’t find one. You can discover gorgeous Indian women on Google Images easily, but I didn’t see myself in any of them.
I got the idea from my cousin, who is also half-Indian, and had once told me that Indian women aren’t attractive. Hearing this from someone who shares my race was a powerful and damning confirmation of my fears.
As a result, I developed an aversion to any aspect of Indian style: slippers, saris, gold bangles, henna… I even bought a candy pink blusher instead of a richer peach tone that suited me better. I hoped that if I dressed as westernised as possible, I would have a better chance at finding a boyfriend.
It’s not just a problem for Indian women; once, when I was on a date with an Indian boy, he said that white girls didn’t fancy him. His confession made me feel like I wasn’t special to him – like we were leftovers settling for each other because no one else wanted us.
The prejudice I encountered on a daily basis affected my self-worth and confidence – a rude comment would instantly crush me, and there were a lot of them.
Once, at a house party, where I had initially felt great about myself, a boy saw me alone in a room with his friend and ran out shouting ‘Tim and the brown girl are getting with each other!’ It hurt that no one could look past my skin colour.
My parents’ mixed marriage (my dad’s Indian and my mum’s English) also felt like a phenomenon, because most people I knew dated within their skin colour.
But then, seven years ago, I went to university and everything changed for one simple reason: white boys looked at me. I was even rated the most attractive girl in our accommodation by one of them. I was shocked.
For the first time, I also began to notice how gorgeous many famous women of colour are: Beyonce, Priyanka Chopra, Nicole Scherzinger. Indian girls that I met at university also seemed to embrace their looks in a way that I never had – I admired their confidence.
Slowly, my perspective of beauty shifted and bit by bit, I started believing that I too was attractive.
By no means do I think that the prejudice against Indian women has disappeared, but never again will I let other people’s warped perspectives change what I see when I look in the mirror.
I now know that I am beautiful because of my Indian features, not in spite of them.