The social media sphere is seeing a paradigm shift — one that could possibly alter the deep-rooted and often ill-oriented concepts of beauty and its stereotypes.
Let us sample the case of Soorya G K, now an independent translator and artist who uses her artwork to break the social norm which once branded her ‘dark-skinned’ and hence inferior.
While Soorya was a higher secondary student, she got a call from a classmate one evening. After the call, Soorya was ‘questioned’ by her father who suspected that it was her boyfriend. During her desperate attempts to convince her furious father, Soorya blurted this out in anguish: “Dad, do you even know me? Have you ever noticed the way I look? How could you think that any human being will be attracted to me?”
A young Soorya was then upset at being judged by everyone for her dark skin, Dalit identity, financial status, body type, and frizzy hair, Soorya spent most of her adolescent life fighting insecurities and depression.
Soorya is now part of ‘Black Ink Blots,’ a social media platform founded by friends Aravind Divakaran, Rejidev B, and Lakshmi Marikar. The Instagram page black_ink_blots, started in July, has over 4,500 followers now. Described as ‘black ink blots in your white visualscapes,’ Black Ink Blots gives a platform for the not-so-fair men and women to write about themselves, their achievements, the stigma they faced due to their skin tone and how they overcame it. It also regularly features dark-skinned celebrities and people for the LGBTIQ community.
In another post on the page, model and singer Aleena mentions how the first word which she would have probably heard in her life was in itself racist. ‘Burnt husk,’ was how the nurse described the baby (Aleena) to her mother after her delivery, in the labour room. Aleena says it is the responsibility of each ‘dark’ girl to break the inferiority that society has imposed. “This is an active and energy-consuming process. No wonder we are always exhausted,” she writes.
“It was during our discussion on the predominance of fair-skinned people everywhere — in ads, films, and photographs — that we thought of doing something to give visibility to the ‘dark skin.’ We initially planned a photo shoot, but it didn’t work out due to fund crunch. Then, we decided to launch a page. We wanted to initiate a discussion on the topic, get more visibility to dark-skinned people and enable them to share their experiences,” says Aravind Divakaran, a Kaduthuruthy-based martial arts instructor.
Aravind remembers that the discussion began when the film ‘Rachiyamma’ was publicised. The lead character is played by Parvathy Thiruvoth while writer Uroob (who wrote the short story Rachiyamma in 1969) had portrayed a dark-skinned Rachiyamma. The controversy over the casting resulted in discussions on topics like ‘blackfishing,’ the act of ‘fairer’ people using make-up to portray dark-skinned characters in art, films etc.
Rejidev says the page intends to discuss more topics. “Aravind and I are from the Dalit community and Lakshmi is a Muslim. We often discuss the absence of dark-skinned people in mainstream art and culture. Even if a dark-skinned model is featured, it will be for ethnic clothes. We don’t see them in casual wear. Apart from the page, we plan to do a lot of activities which got delayed due to the COVID crisis,” he said.
Nothing wrong with curly
Gone are the days when Malayalam film songs and poems lavishly praised the beauty of the curly hair. From once being a synonym of beauty, curly hair fell from its glory days to be termed ‘unprofessional’ and ‘unkempt.’ Chemical straightening or smoothening were the only options for curly girls to get a ‘good’ look till many of them first heard about ‘CGM.’
Curly Girl Method or CGM, a haircare popularised in 2001 by US hairstylist Lorraine Massey, involves various techniques to help people embrace their natural hair.
Still, it took decades to reach the country and has slowly been picking up through various curly hair groups like Indian Curl Pride. Now, a platform — Kerala Curly Sundaries — a Facebook group recently founded by a group of eight women, are making waves among Malayalis.
Founded by Renju Antony, Viji Sanjay, Neethu Jawaharibabu, Megha Sujith, Anisha Anoop, Ammu S Prasad, Aswathi Sudheep, and Sunitha J S, the group has nearly 4,000 members who share tips and DIY hair products to keep the unruly curls.
Neethu, who stays in the UAE, said whether she was opting for chemical straightening was the question she regularly encountered during every visit to beauty parlours. "I don’t have a count of the number of people who asked me about straightening at the time of my marriage. Luckily, I didn’t budge and have never done any harm to my hair,” she said.
The concept of CGM not only involves embracing natural curls but also maintaining it in an aesthetically appealing way. Some of the basic rules of CGM are to use a shampoo that is free of sulphate or silicones and ‘putting an end to’ using combs on dry hair. Well-defined curls usually involve the use of conditioners, leave-in gels, and regular deep conditioning.
Neethu said they decided to launch the group to create awareness on the curly hair methods. “A majority of girls in our state have curly or wavy hair. However, we often use wrong methods that will eventually damage the hair. So, this group serves mostly as an awareness platform and shares various options. All of us share videos and detailed posts of various techniques in CGM,” she said. Most members in the group vouch for the fact that following CGM was the best favour they did to their own hair.
(Jisha Surya is an independent journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram)