the unfair project 2

Let us drop whatever we’re doing this very second (with two exceptions- Sexy Times and Reading A Real Book Made of Trees. Sexy Times must NEVER be interrupted, and as for those who interrupt someone’s emotionally-invested reading- and no- reading on an iPad doesn’t count- think about the Evil you’re doing, and back off, slowly). And let us look carefully at this Famous Person’s picture, because I promise it’ll be worth it:


What- nothing? Not even the first letter of her name? Not even a vague idea?


WHURT!? Not even a clue?

It’s alright, actually. Mindy Kaling isn’t exactly your average celebrity. She doesn’t feature on one of those eminently enjoyable, clickbait-y slideshows about wardrobe malfunctions at awards galas. She also doesn’t feature much on magazine covers, and the only reason editors feature her at all in their fashion magazines (buried in the inner pages) is to elevate their largely vapid, cookie cutter content several notches- and, I suspect, as an apology for their relentless commodification of women. And so, right after a spread that features pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow fake-pottering about her organic garden and eating kale off vintage Wedgwood, all the while beaming at you from a suspiciously pore-free face, you have a little something about Mindy, and there’s lots of edgy and brilliant and talented and ambitious thrown in, and there’s a relatively microscopic picture of her in her office, looking earnestly at you from behind her glasses, very working class in her sensible workday dress. It’s clear. She isn’t supposed to eat off Wedgwood, sport a gown or turn you on with her clavicles or her inner thigh. Her world isn’t supposed to intersect with a Gwyneth’s (and I’m only using Gwyneth as a placeholder here), even though they feature in the same magazine. You know that’s true simply because she’s never given as much visual acreage as her peers.

But that doesn’t detract from Mindy’s star value, because she is a star. She’s a comedienne, a writer (of plays, a book and now her own show, The Mindy Project) and let’s say it, because political correctness has all too often come in the way of truth telling: a woman who’s made it in the television and entertainment industry despite her looks and her colour.


The first time I saw Mindy was on an awards season slideshow that featured a lot of Julie Bowen (Claire Dunphy of Modern Family)- JB in a canary yellow dress showing off her enviable bone structure, JB in a plunging red number that made her clavicles look like pegs you could hang coats on, JB in black, perfectly toned arms bent at the elbows, hands resting coquettishly on hips, doing that thing all celebrities do. And then- like some sort of aberration- came a short brown woman of dumpling proportions, dressed in midnight blue, grinning and waving a chubby, cellulite-ey arm at someone. It was so jarring- this person that didn’t care that her sparkly dress was doing her body no favours- that I had to look her up…


..and I’ve never looked away since. Mindy is my Number One Girl Crush, for now and forever. She’s whip-smart, insanely funny, endlessly wise, kind, compassionate and cares about women’s place in the world. I like that she doesn’t let any of that come in the way of her love for fashion. She straddles nerddom and chicness with ease, and that makes her the Ultimate Nerdydevi. Bonus points- she’s Indian-origin, comes from a hard working immigrant family, is just brown enough to be exotic, but not brown/ black enough to be meta, if you know what I mean (Lupita Nyong’o, Alek Wek, Naomi Campbell) and yet, she towers above her contemporaries. Also, she doesn’t care that magazines show her like this:


Promise me that you will get your paws on her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? , which is a funny read for women that are nerds (closeted or otherwise) and are having trouble straddling the many relationships (personal, professional) they’re in. Also stream her show The Mindy Project; she plays a Nora Ephron-obsessed gynaecologist who agonises over boyfriend troubles, competition at the workplace, and the right shade of nail paint for a party.

Before we get on with our business here’s more Mindy, because Mindy.

Mindy Kaling offering some homeless birds sanctuary-



Mindy Kaling making glasses look like they should be on the runway, now- 


Mindy Kaling nailing the World’s Oldest Filter, Black & White-


Mindy Kaling rocking purple, which totally makes me want to go and buy myself purple clothes-


And Mindy Kaling Proving That Hoops Can Be Worn Successfully By People With Round Faces. Mindy- Vogue/ 1- 0:


And a still from The Mindy Project, where Mindy demonstrates a totally legit phenomenon while making clashing prints work-


And now for some more gorgeous chocolate coloured women! (That sounds so wrong it’s right.) Hope you’ve seen Part 1 of The Unfair Project.

5. Malavika Anderson, Arts Festival Organizer, Cambridge. Likes the winter sun in Delhi, embroidery from Kutch and Gems (the sweets rather than the sparkly things on jewellery)




When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

I grew up in Kerala where I my skin was just like everyone else’s around me. I first started getting the ‘un fair’ treatment when I moved to Delhi at 17. I never cared about it specifically and none of my friends did! But all teenagers obsess about the way they look and I too had those anxieties. Then someone gave me a beautiful compliment – told me I looked like a Chola Bronze. I totally loved it!

You do, Malavika, you do! How did you nurture this ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ realisation into self-love and confidence?

I think confidence for me came from a young age and very much from the environment I grew up in. I’m very fortunate to have parents who, from when I was a little girl, taught me to be aware, engaged with the world around me, be critical, ask questions and not be afraid to have a personality. This was at an age when it was very fashionable to be ‘Clueless’ (like in the film!). Looking good is important to me but I think the more confident I am about myself, the better I look. Pretty clothes, nice shoes and beauty parlours also help!

What do you think of fairness creams? *note to self- I think you’re the Kryptonite of fairness creams!*

For me, it’s political. People in our country are obsessed with pale skin and there is an industry out there making shit loads of money off this obsession. Most of the adverts for fairness creams are downright racist and anyone who endorses them should be held responsible. Plus they are probably really bad for your health anyway, so why bother?

What’s your beauty regimen? *ears cocked, Reynolds poised over foolscap*

I don’t really have one but I’ll give it a shot. I wash my face twice a day and always moisturise before I go to bed after removing any make up I might have on (I use the Body Shop’s Vitamin E night cream). I spray on a bit of Dr.Hauschka Gesichtstonikum now and then. I wear very basic make up. On a normal day to work I wear Kajal (Colossal Kajal by Maybelline), eyeliner and mascara by MAC and just some good old Vaseline lip balm. I’ve recently started wearing more lipstick than I used to but I stick to browns and nude colours (MAC and No 7) in the day. If I’m going out at night I may go for a bright red lip. I also recently borrowed (more like ‘neglected to return’) my best friend’s neon pink lipstick (Lakme) which we agreed works well when mixed with some of the colours I use and just helps brighten things up a little bit!

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts? 

We can afford to forget sunscreen and still go out and get an auto rickshaw in the Delhi summer!

Nerdydevi notes- 

Malavika was at college with me- same course, different section. When I first met her, she had her (thick, beautiful) hair up in a messy bun, ears busy with piercings, heavily kohl-ed eyes that were borderline raccoon, and a gorgeous smile that threw me off with how open and not-reined-in it was. The first few days at a girls’ college can be tricky; you’re negotiating new friendships, learning the ropes, trying hard to be cool and not call dibs on the seat at the front. And so, smiles and introductions are hesitant, there’s a lot of sizing-up, and there are Judgements. Malavika seemed beyond all that. She was incredibly cool, and I mean it in the best, cheesiest ’90’s way. She really didn’t care, and I loved that about her. She was also a bit of a theatre nerd (she campaigned for Dram Soc Prez, I think), and at any given moment during college hours, she was a contained explosion of laughter and air kisses and kindness. Thank you for doing this Malavika. The photographs are beyond gorgeous- You + Sachin Soni’s Photography = Big Win! Much, much love!

And oh! oh! She’s also been written about for her beauty in The Hindu, which is as legit as legit gets, really. Everybody knows that if it’s in The Hindu, it happened.

6. Krithika Rangarajan, Doctor. Likes vanilla flavored tea, filter coffee, blueberry cheesecake, swimming, the smell of mud before it rains, belly dance and bharatanatyam.




When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

Don’t really remember, must’ve been quite early on. I don’t remember feeling bad about it, perhaps because I was always a bit of a tomboy, or maybe because luckily, as kids, there was much less access to television, movies and advertisements to corrupt our minds.

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence?

It was only in college that I gave up my tomboy-ishness and since then I’ve always been pleasantly surprised to be complimented on my looks. I am someone who loves myself. I love my life, I celebrate every occasion and achievement big or small. My confidence is an acknowledgement of the fact that I bring to the world (like everyone else does) a very unique combination of characteristics, every one of which I admire and am proud of.

What you think of fairness creams? *give it to ’em, Doc!*

The concept of fairness creams is an evil marketing gimmick that exploits association centres in the human brain. They first create an association between fairness and beauty, then create insecurities by making people disregard their beautiful skins and finally project their product as the one-stop solution.

What’s your beauty regimen? *inaudibly, so Krithika can’t hear: let’s swap faces. I’ll give you all of my vintage comics. Nerdyswear!*

Generous hydration, healthy diet and exercise constitute the most component.
I use Olay ultra-moisture body wash, Neutrogena sun screen in the morning and Nivea fruity shine lip balm. I love washing my face with fresh fruits. I find it vastly more refreshing after a long day than fruit-flavoured products- they are more fun as well as more comfortable on the pocket. Before bed I use a body butter from Bodyshop- blueberry is my personal favourite.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts?

I love how dark skin reflects the colour we wear, and looks a different shade with different coloured’s like choosing not only what colour we want to wear, but also thereby choosing what shade we want our skins to appear.

Nerdydevi notes- 

Krithika Rangarajan was vastly intimidating at school, where we shared a section till she switched to another. She was a mathlete, a Robotics wiz, a brilliant Everything (prefect, student, and talent powerhouse), and a foregone conclusion, as far as the Pre Medical Test results were concerned. We never spoke much, but she was unfailingly polite and kind, a quality not many associate with the students from this school. I loved how balanced she seemed- self assured but not cocky, driven but not apathetic or indifferent. It stands to reason that she topped one of the country’s toughest exams (for the supercurious- the AIIMS Post Graduate Exam), and didn’t let it affect her person.

Krithika, because of who you are and what you represent- a nerd that’s transcended her nerditude, a ‘woman of colour’ who challenges the beauty ideal- your support on the project means a lot. *wipes single tear hurtling down left cheek* Much love, and more power to you!

7. Bhuvi Gupta, PhD student, Jewellery artisan, Creator/ Owner at BiiGii’s Little ShopLikes committing to memory the narrow streets of aged cities, green jade and gold-shot lapis, and being able to smell clay, copper or brass on my fingers!





When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

I don’t think this was the first time–there has to have been an earlier just as there were many ‘replays’–but one of the first I remember is when I was made to play Surpanakha (yay!) in kindergarten–because I wasn’t fair enough to play Sita (*coughing fit*)! I remember feeling extremely wronged then. Not only was I not given the lead role, I was made an asura to add insult to injury (I’d tell my three year old self how awesome that was, if I thought it’d make any difference, between the Ramayana and the auntijis). It wasn’t until much later, until studying literature had fortified me that I could even begin to understand and challenge the indignance and sense of injury I’d felt then.

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence?

This is a tough one! This has been more of a cumulative thing (and I’m not sure I’ve laid all my demons to rest), since the way beauty is configured is always in comparison, and as constant beauty-work in the sense that beauty is always an ideal outside oneself, only fleetingly attained. What I did/am doing is more easily answered—I went to an all-girls’ college, was lucky to have a no-rubbish mum, to find friends and lovers who were never stingy with compliments, discovered selfies and have continued studying the important stuff (gender, caste, literary and cultural theory!).
As for fairness creams, their adverts have kept us entertained, providing excellent material for many a laugh riot.

What is your beauty regimen?  

At the risk of sounding like a rebellious teenager, I don’t exactly have one. I struggle to wash my face (the orange tube of Pears face wash has been a decade old friend, and of late Baba Ramdev’s neem-tulsi cleanser and aloe vera gel have made it to my shelf!) before bed. I exfoliate using a towel mitt and/or gourd loofah twice a week and use natural oils- sesame or coconut, often with a few drops of tea tree or clove oil in my bath to keep my skin hydrated. I try to drink enough water and eat some fruit daily. For makeup I’m using 5 different brands of kajal (whatever I happen to find in my bag/dresser), my current lip balm is a shea butter Nivea stick and for (shaadi) makeup I use Lakme and Colorbar lipsticks -Raspberry Rush and Irish Rose-and the Lakme Gold Dust Shimmer Bronzer. I almost never use a base/foundation, except if it’s meltingly hot- in which case, Lakme loose powder again. Thassit, really! Oh, also I slather on multani mitti or fruit pulp (usually papaya) when my face feels particularly ‘ugh’.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts?

There’s nothing like a bad tan, just more depth/angles!

Nerdydevi notes-

Bhuvi was perhaps the only Lady at Lady Shri Ram College- soft-spoken, elegant, polite, well behaved and very proper. While the rest of us goofs blackened the face of the college with our unladylike behaviours (even though ladylike behaviour is at best a myth and at worst a Victorian relic), Bhuvi was quiet and determined in her observance of adab and tameez.  She also dressed beautifully, which had me scratching my scalp, because everything she wore was simple. Hopelessly unfashionable that I was, I couldn’t get why my basic garments couldn’t come together as perfectly, and I chalked it up to Ladylike Genes and gave up trying. (One week, I wore my grandfather’s brown sweater with cream wool socks and sandals. What!? I thought cream and brown went well!)

Today, Bhuvi is a dear friend and a major source of wymminspiration. While she studies for a fancy PhD in Sociology, she also creates beautiful jewellery that wouldn’t look out of place in Tilda Swinton’s closet, or Nandita Das’s dresser. Her work is a labour of love, research and careful literary referencing, and each piece comes with its own backstory. I’m often pestering her for her earrings and brooches, all of which are happily affordable, great show-off fodder and conversation starters. And oh- she’s also just launched some lovely hair accessories and long, complex and entirely covetable neck pieces. Shameless plug? Yes. 🙂 You can check her out at BiiGii’s Little Shop on Facebook. Kisses, Bhuvi! :-*

8. Juhi Ranjan, PhD student, Computer Science at University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Likes cooking with hubby, hanging out with friends, long chats with parents, and vacations in Europe.



When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

I was aware of this as early as 10 yrs old, because my grandma and mother would give skin care advice to making my skin color lighter. I believed that a lighter skin was better, and I would apply a lot of natural skin treatments like multani mitti pack with lemon and curd pack with turmeric. Although it didn’t whiten my skin, it definitely helped remove tan and keep my skin health and glowing. I still am made conscious of my ‘un-fair’ skin by elderly women, whose first reaction on seeing me after a long time is to comment on whether I’ve become fairer or darker.

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence?

I have always felt good about my facial features, but my confidence about my skin color came about pretty late, when I came to US at the age of 25. Here I saw women who were dark and gorgeous and confident about their skin color. I started liking my skin color more and focused on maintaining a healthy skin routine of cleansing and moisturizing.

What do you think of fairness creams? 

It’s a large profit-seeking industry in India which just goes to show how fairness obsessed we are. Their ads are actively promoting the fairness fetish that Indians (specially the women) seem to harbor, not to mention they are loaded with chemicals that are harmful for the skin in the long run.

What is your beauty regimen? *For Juhi, whose pictures don’t do justice to her gorgeousness, I’d rather ask ‘Aapki khoobsoorti ka raaz kya hai?’ Angrezi mein feel nahin hai! 🙂 *

My morning starts with a basic cleansing ritual – Neutrogena face wash followed by Olay moisturizer. I usually use a Biotique kajal, MAC lipstick (Verve) as basic make up, I wash my face before bed and apply Loreal Collagen Re-Plumper night cream. For parties, in addition to my basic make up, I apply VS-PRO Illuminating Face Primer with MAC Studio Fix Fluid. Weekly I apply face packs such as Himalaya’s neem and Everyuth’s cucumber pack.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts?

Our faces have a natural warm glow that many lighter skinned women have to make an effort to achieve (For e.g. Caucasian women go to tan parlors, applying artificial tan sprays etc). Also, higher melanin levels in our skin protect it from sun damage and keep it younger looking.

Nerdydevi notes- 

I will be honest- Juhi and I never really hit it off at the Girls’ Hostel room we shared with four other people at school. But that’s just the point- there were six of us in one room. Six. Cliques and intrigue were inevitable, and I never really got to know the only person who could make a cotton nightie look like haute couture.

I thought Juhi was by far the best looking girl in the hostel, but my immature high school self never told her. It seemed like a stupid thing to do. Women don’t go around telling other women they’re pretty, or nice, or whatever. Real women do it behind your back, and throw in a double-edged compliment. “She’s pretty, but what a pity she doesn’t doesn’t know yet!” or “It’s all very well now, but let’s see if she stays as modest when the men wake up to the coffee.” It’s horrible, and if I am to believe Sheryl Sandberg, Madeleine Albright and Ellen DeGeneres, that’s just what women do wrong- not letting their praise, kindness or gratitude be known to other women.

Juhi, thank you so much for doing this. I’m sorry for all the stupidity in high school. Love!

9. Ankita Chawla, Writer. Loves good television, adores Roald Dahl, breaks into a song at any given (or not) opportunity, and never shares her Jamun.



When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

I have never really thought about myself in terms of fair or dark. The concept of ‘pretty’ or ‘beauty’ has always been completely different to me. I like my complexion so whether I’m ‘fair’ or not hasn’t had any effect on me.

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence?

I’m quite vain; I have a problem resisting reflective surfaces! But jokes apart, while I’m mostly comfortable in my skin, nobody feels beautiful 100% of the time- thanks to the media. But that’s never been because of my complexion. I am the person I am because of my family and education’s stress on substance before surface. An early exposure to things beyond the dressing room mirror (like a bookshelf) helped.

What you think of fairness creams? *(in the voice of Simpu) Salo Pankass, khade ho zao! Anser bataao!*

I think they echo a crazy obsession to ‘fix’ dark skin. While what a person puts on their skin should be their own business, the BIG problem here lies in the claims that fairness is the ultimate prerequisite of desirability, ambition, and professional capability. It’s extremely regressive.

What’s your beauty regimen? *listens carefully because Ankita has skin that’s suspiciously glowy*

My ‘beauty regimen’ is very basic. The only thing I stress on is being CLEAN. I wash my face twice-thrice a day, especially before I sleep at night.

I like Himalaya Neem face wash, it works wonderfully. These days I’m using Nature’s Secrets Papaya face wash my sister got me from Colombo- I think its a local Sri Lankan brand. Also, I LOVE Philosophy’s Pure cleansing moisturizer.

I use a face scrub- St. Ives apricot or anything put together in the kitchen once a week. And only because Delhi-Gurgaon in public transport is murder for your skin.

Just wash your face when you get back home. And most of the problem is sorted. I drink a lot of water. I am a fruit junkie. And I love Green tea; I think these things also help a lot.

I am TRYING to make a habit of wearing sunscreen. If I remember to, I use the tiniest amount possible of Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock, SPF 60.

I use eyeliner everyday, but rarely use kajal or kohl. That’s because kohl always gets smudged no matter the brand, and makes my skin look very dull.

I love lip balms- and have used every possible brand. I have found my favorites in Maybelline’s Color Bloom and C.O Bigelow’s Rose Salve.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts?

I don’t know if this is just in my head, but un-fair women age slower. Their features shout more than wrinkles.

Nerdydevi notes- 

Considering the amount of time my friend TJ and I spent talking about Ankita, it was stupid that we didn’t meet much when in uni. And yet the few times I did, I liked her. She had (and still does) telephone-wire curly hair (landline, you 21st Centurions!) and off-kilter humour. She’s the only person I know that can carry off a plaid shirt and not look like the lumberjack of American movies about Horrors in the Wood. She’s also a massive TV buff and I warmed most to her when she changed her cover picture on Facebook to one of Elizabeth Moss (Peggy Olson of Mad Men). If you’re an Elizabeth Moss/ Peggy Olson fan, you’re *chokes up* my friend for life. She’s also one of the few women I know that don’t get feminism- neither the ideals nor the movement.  And yet, she seems to me to be quite the feminist. (Don’t kill me, Ankita! In my dictionary, the f-word is a good word! :-*)

Thanks for doing this, Ankita! Lurve!

Hope you enjoyed this instalment of The Unfair Project. If you loved it, please share it!


6 thoughts on “the unfair project 2

  1. Wohoo! Thank you Ro 🙂

    and I won’t kill you, the f-word is a good one in my dictionary too and i am most definitely one. Who isn’t- if you’re a thinking, independent, strong, won’t-shut-up-because-you-want-me-to kind of a woman today- chances are you’re a feminist! I only get uncomfortable when it is appropriated in ways that are very selfish, then we often lose focus.(debate for another day!)


    1. Theggs yaar! :-* The funny thing is, I get where these women that don’t identify as feminists are coming from. They’re basically rebelling against an ersatz feminism. So I am in full agreement, actually! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s