As I mentioned in my last article, the community I grew up in was full of extreme judgement. The odd part about that, though, was that the discrimination came from people of the same race as me. Same ethnicity. Same background. But what was disgusting and loathsome, was the fact I was being discriminated for my skin colour. The one thing you can’t change. The one thing, I thought, I had in common with these people.
I had a slightly darker complexion then everyone else in my family. The kids at school, who were also Pakistani, weren’t as dark as me. My mum was fair-skinned, my dad was somewhat so. My siblings were both moderately fair-skinned as children, yet I was just different.
I did get called dark a lot as a child, but I just didn’t see it as offensive. I lived my childhood pretty carefree about it all. I was ‘tormented’ within my family for being dark. As I began to get older, all of those derogatory terms began to cut wounds. Which led to deep scars.
I remember feeling out of place. Feeling ugly. Feeling wrong. The kids, during secondary school would ridicule me for how dark I was. I remember how I would just stare at these other girls, and just pray I could have brighter skin.
I would go to my mum’s side of the family and see how her, her sisters, their children, their family, all looked. All fair-skinned. They looked beautiful. It just made me fall into a spiral of dysmorphia.
I couldn’t feel pretty, I couldn’t enjoy myself like any other twelve year old should. I wasn’t happy, nor in a good place. I felt ugly. I felt wrong, out of place even. I felt as if I was the odd one out.
One day, I was washing my face with water, as per usual. I didn’t really have a skin care routine, as such, but I had really bad acne.
I knew my mum had clear skin, so I asked her for advice. She offered me this oval, golden, yellow bar of soap alongside a white paste textured cream, both under the name ‘Golden Pearl’.
It claimed to help (and prevent) acne, as well as remove dry skin. My mum, her sisters, and their mother, used it on a day-to-day basis. As I looked at their smooth, clear skin with awe, longing to look like them, I took the opportunity, oblivious to what would happen next…
“Use this soap. It’ll help your acne. I use it, and look at me!”
I just found it prodigious how this ‘wonder-soap’ could turn me ‘beautiful’. Over the six week holiday period, I used this Golden Pearl religiously.
As the weeks went by, I began to notice a difference. Not in my acne, but in my skin colour. It was turning my skin lighter. I didn’t know how, or why, or even when, but all I could do was weep with joy.
“I wasn’t ugly anymore. I can actually look at myself without crumbling.”
As school approached, I began to regain my confidence and self-esteem. I went in feeling indestructible. It felt as if everyone would look at me with less judgement. It was a dream come true, almost as if God listened to my cries.
One day, after a couple months, I was still slightly conscious of my now, rapidly growing acne. Knowing how insecure I was with my acne, my brother bought me a face-mask to use with him. As I was about to apply it, my mum angrily warned me it would “mess up my face”.
I took the warning as that specific face mask not working with my skin. However, my brother then bought another one, completely different to the last, and she still opposed, saying the same as before. But why?
I thought no more of it and obliged. I just wanted to use face masks like any other teenage girl, but I accepted it.
“It’s not the end of the world, I guess.”
About less than a year after, I was dramatically whiter. Almost like a whole new person. But I was beginning to feel a burning sensation.
My skin would become cherry red at the slightest temperature change in a room, and when it did, it would painfully burn and itch. It’s never done this before.
I asked my mum why and I wasn’t given any reasonable answers, apart from “puberty” but something wasn’t sitting with me. It’s just not adding up.
Questions lingered in and out of my head. I needed answers. Real ones. What was my mum hiding from me? Then it clicked. The soap.
That soap doesn’t just “lighten your face”. It’s doing something else, and I was determined to know what.
I began to read up about Golden Pearl. What actually was it? What was its intentions? I read article, after article. Q&A after Q&A. All I could see was it being called “best whitening soap and cream!” “fades away acne scars”.
I didn’t feel as skeptical anymore reading the good reviews. I felt remorseful for doubting my mum. As I went back, about to close Safari and think no more of it, I saw this one article saying it’s banned from the UK. Confused, I clicked the page link and there I saw it.
Golden Pearl is a bleaching product.
It bleaches your face.
It rips off the layers of your skin.
It makes your skin sensitive to absolutely everything.
It contains lead and mercury.
And, most alarmingly, it can lead to skin cancer.
Honestly, I was at a loss for words. This thing I had been using, was permanently destroying my skin. But could I bare myself to stop using it? It did make me feel prettier, and I did gain a sense of self-worth. But it just didn’t feel right.
“Do I sacrifice my wellbeing and health for a lighter complexion?”
I tried to go about my life without thinking of it. I still followed my routine. But as I started to talk more and more about it with my family and friends, they told me to stop as it was too harmful.
I eventually spoke to my mum about it and she attempted to reassure me, by talking about how much prettier I looked and how it helped my acne (which it didn’t.) I couldn’t decide what the right thing to do was. Ditch it or keep using it?
Eventually, I came to the conclusion to ditch it. It took me six months of deciding but ultimately, it was the right thing to do. I feared what I’d become: maybe even darker as before, and be back at square one, but that’s not the case. Sure, it made me look lighter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean prettier.
Colourism is extremely common, especially in Asia as its advertised everywhere. But it doesn’t sit right one bit. Judging someone based on their colour is disgusting and wrong. Just because you’re a darker, or even lighter complexion than people around you, take that as a blessing rather then a curse.