Who Put the White in Snow White?
When adults would read me Snow White as a child, I always marveled at the beautiful Princess’s beauty. Her loving mother had wished for a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as coal.
Wow. She sounds pretty.
Except…. (Sound of a record scratching)
Back the fuck up, yo.
Skin as WHITE as snow?
I was raised in a pretty homogenous small town in New Jersey, at least when I was young. It started to become more and more diverse as droves of New Yorkers from Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens started to move a little further out to raise larger families in bigger homes, where they could still commute to the city. When I graduated from high school, my yearbook reflected faces from around the world.
But when I was younger, like in elementary school, there were just a few faces that were the other side of tan, scattered in a sea of white.
One of them was mine.
I remember my friends always being perplexed when it was time to draw a picture of me. I could turn out anything from yellow to orange, red to burnt sienna. Sometimes all in the SAME picture, guys. My favorite was when one of my friends tried to mix black and white together and I just ended up looking like a freakish zebra kid.
Talented kid, that one.
You can see there was some diversity in this picture. There’s Aimee Moy in the back. She was my one Chinese friend throughout Elementary School. There is Terence in the middle in the front row. I don’t know where he is – he moved that year, but he used to sing his ass off in the bathroom, I remember that. The Indian boy next to Terence* is Rajiv. He was my next door neighbor and also Indian, so OF COURSE, he was my “boyfriend” which made us just want to pull each others’ hair out even more. There was Jonathan**, sitting at the end of the front row – half Filipino and half white, he was one of the few “mixed” kids I knew.
At home, the messages I received around skin color were no less confusing. As I heard of cousins’ marriages being arranged, when asked if the girl was pretty, the answers were usually along the lines of “ha, bohut gauri hai.” Yeah, her skin is whiter than a holy cow’s milk. or “Chehra meh taura sa paani hai.” Which literally translates to, her face has water in it.
I don’t know what that means, but it had to do with the girl not having a very white face. Or maybe being bloated.
The message was clear, the whiter you were, the prettier you were.
Bollywood movies played in the background of my house and the message was confirmed. Most of the beautiful Indian actresses were fair-complected, sometimes with light colored eyes. Scroll down and see some of the examples….
Do you guys notice anything similar about these women? Do you? DO YOU?
They all look like they can bloody be cast as Snow White in a Bollywood version of the movie.
I would never look like these beauties. Five minutes in the sun and my skin would darken, throwing my mother into a panic as she wondered if she would ever be able to find a suitable husband for me. At the time, she and my father were still under the illusion that they would be making that decision for me.
Aw, parents. You gotta love them.
There was this one commercial that started playing in my later years of elementary school in the middle of Indian movies. It was for a cream called “Fair and Lovely.” Basically the commercial starts out with a boy and his parents seeking out a prospective bride. The boy sees the girl and thinks she is pretty but is a little disappointed because her skin is not “white” enough. The girl’s mother senses the boy’s discomfort with her daughter’s skin color, so she buys her somewhat tanner daughter a little old “Fair and Lovely” and makes sure that her “homely” daughter applies it every day.
After a strict regimen of just applying the skin cream, the girls complexion starts to lighten. She is transformed into a whiter, and obviously, according to the ad, much prettier version of herself. By the time the boy sees her at the wedding, he is mesmerized.
He turns to his mother, “Vow, Mom. Look at her skin! Kitni fair and lovely!” (How fair and lovely. Oh and look at what a racist jack ass I am!)
The boy and girl marry and ride off into the sunset.
It’s like, so magical, in a really disturbing, ethnophobic and backwards kind of way.
Anyway. The summer before I went to high school, I went to India with my parents. And I saw the billboard ads for “Fair and Lovely” ALL over India. And I saw how it magically transformed these girls’ lives.
So of course I had to have it.
I would slather it on my skin to the point where I actually started to look whiter right away. I mean, imagine if you took ten layers of Nivea and just let it sit on your face. I thought if I let it “marinate” and “simmer” a little, I might get results faster. I would sit there and sometimes look in the mirror to see if I was whiter. What, it’s been twenty minutes?
Damn. Still not white.
I don’t know if it ever worked. To be honest, a minute in the sun and I catch color, so I could never keep up with enough applications of “Fair and Lovely” to stay ahead of the “whiteness” curve, as I like to think of it now. When I came back home, I started playing high school sports, so was out and getting tan and no amount of “Fair and Lovely” was ever going to negate the effects of that.
I don’t know what my mom ever did with all those tubes of “Fair and Lovely,” but I know I didn’t need it anymore.
Eventually, I learned to love the skin I was born in. Because by then, my metabolism had caught up with me, so I had other fish to fry.
Just kidding. Kind of.
I don’t eat fried fish.
My husband is half-Italian and half Puerto-Rican. With me being 100% Indian in ethnicity, our kids are quite a mix. I love their exotic features and their beautiful skin. And I know one day they might have questions about skin color, but I don’t think they will be quite as startling as mine. They are growing up in a much more racially diverse environment than I did. Northern Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., is one of the most racially and internationally diverse places we could have settled. I love that about our area.
When they watch TV, they will see faces that look like theirs. I don’t think I saw any Indian faces on mainstream television till Apu made his breakthrough performance on “The Simpsons.” There are TV anchors with names like “Kiran Chetry.” There are more Indian role models in mainstream American culture like Mindy Kaling, Kal Penn, Padma Lakshmi, just to name a few.
Heck, one of these days, they might even cast Indian doctors on some of the medical shows. Because of course, that wouldn’t be too true to reality or something. Where is Dr. McCurry already, people?
Anyway, I was 14 that summer I tried to make myself white. I like to think that I was just one step ahead of Michael Jackson on that one. A true trendsetter.
As a bonus, I have found some current “Fair and Lovely” commercials for you to watch. Between laughing and gasping in extreme horror, I just ask you to forgive me by ever being influenced by this shit.
This newscaster’s career dreams were always being held back by her skin color of course! Until she decided to take charge!
In this one, one of the girls is accused of “doing cheating” because she saw results faster than the other girl. But the other girl didn’t apply the skin EVERY day like her. Idiot.
At least they are gearing it towards men too! Thank goodness! The stunt double always gets out shined by the much whiter hero until he finds the mens version of “Fair and Lovely.”
A career changing move, you’ll see.
This girl’s dreams of being a Cricket announcer cannot be realized until she is like, whiter. I love how teary her mom gets to see her daughter living her white dreams to the fullest.
* If you have seen Terence, please let me know. None of us in Old Bridge, NJ have seen him since the first grade. I don’t remember his last name, but he is known for singing loudly in bathrooms.
** If you have seen Jonathan Gross, also let us know. None of us have seen him since he moved from Old Bridge, NJ in the fifth grade. Apparently he is too smart to be on Facebook.
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