the unfair project 3

Have you seen parts one and two of The Unfair Project? Hope you have, for some context. 🙂

Last week I toodled into Sephora for some aisle hopping and general ogling. Husband has embargoed my debit card so I now make puppy faces at him in the presence of salespeople, hoping that their Awwwww‘s will wrestle him into defeat, and into giving women back their Financial Franchise. See Figure 1.1 below-



Figure 1.1- Shameless blackmail 


Anyway, I was loafing in the makeup section, and there was a lot of Nude. Nude nail paint, nude lip gloss, nude lipstick, nude foundation. It was Nude Central. But my problem was this, and always has been-


This isn’t my nude. This isn’t what nude means to me, and certainly not what it means to a lot of women- a majority, actually- in this country. Nude is not dilute peach, faint beige, or the colour of a white woman’s lips. Last I checked, my skin was the colour of cheap milk chocolate- the kind you see in mithaai shops around Diwali, the poorer cousin of the truffle, meant only for distant relatives. By these standards, the Economic Times is a nude paper. Say that aloud and see how daft it sounds. Also, this, by the way, is the reason why every aunty ji at a North Indian wedding looks like her face’s just been to the flour mill. There’s no way the parlour-wali’s going to let you attend a shaadi with your neturel face. Thoda fair-fair dikhna zaroori hai. (Actual quotes)

Meanwhile, fashion editors and designers remain donkey-ishly stubborn, and/ or truly colour blind.  Says Paula Cocozza in this 2010 article in The Guardian, “…to anyone who reads fashion magazines these terms will be familiar. “Nude” shades are everywhere this season, having dominated the spring/summer 2010 catwalks, from off-white through pale rose to gold (“nude” in fashion terms does not refer to anything more exciting than these rather muted colours, not even with “nude bras”). InStyle magazine goes as far as to say that nude is the new black: just about the surest way to exclude black-skinned women from adopting the trend, since it’s apparently not acceptable to wear black as black, nor black as nude.

Over at Elle magazine, where the May issue sees the word “nude” repeated nine times on a single page, “nude is the colour for spring/summer”. Editor Lorraine Candy says there is nothing wrong with this. “Nude is a defined colour. It’s white nude, not black nude, but it’s not the colour of my skin either. I’m see-through white…”

The problem is..the language of fashion… Beading, fringing and animal prints are routinely offered as evidence of a “tribal” trend…last month, model Lara Stone appeared blacked up in French Vogue. Black models, meanwhile, are few and far between on catwalks and covers. And even when fashion editors find synonyms for “nude” they are conventionally honey, rose, blush, ivory, words commonly used to make an English rose complexion seem aspirational. There is nothing new in all this, of course: remember American Tan tights, and their promise to bring a healthy glow to all those “American” (read pale) legs?”


Also, do you remember the insane controversy over whether Michelle Obama’s Naeem Khan gown, worn at her meeting with India’s Prime Minister, was really nude?


In the official press release, Mr. Khan described the gown as ‘a sterling-silver sequin, abstract floral, nude strapless gown’. Which seems to have sent Associated Press into a tizzy, because they then released a statement calling it ‘flesh coloured’- never mind the wearer’s complexion. They then corrected it hastily to ‘champagne’. Unexpected complications to having a black President much, America? I look forward to the day you elect a violently freckled President or FLOTUS. Won’t say they were “…spotted at Barnes & Noble”, eh?

In her Guardian article, Cocozza continues, “…it isn’t just the description of a colour that is potentially offensive here, it’s also the way the look is styled, the conception of the entire trend. On the cover of May’s InStyle, actor Gemma Arterton appears in a frock so close to her skin tone that it seems to seep into her chest and shoulders, the two adjacent pallors of flesh and dress somehow bleaching each other out, lightening further the overall look. On the catwalks in Paris, Milan, London and New York, these pale shades were presented almost uniformly on pale skins. It’s a look that’s all about white skin.

“Obama looks amazing,” says Reina Lewis, professor of cultural studies at the London College of Fashion. “It’s a fabulous dress. But on her skin ‘nude’ is revealed as a colour rather than neutral.” Indeed it seems misplaced to think of these shades as neutral, when the debate makes it clear that this trend is anything but.”

Know how to solve this? I do. Name every shade of ‘nude’ after dessert. This might be a clever ploy to ensure that..ahem..certain people end up with ALL OF THE CHOCOLATE, BWAHAHAH! YOU LOSE, PEACHY! WATCH ME AS I GET MY COCOA ON!


I’m happy to report that one designer has taken this idiocy head on. Christian Louboutin’s homage to the nude trend is as multi-hued as the colour, and he offers you five classic red bottomed beauties (at 500 USD a pair) in one shade of nude each.

Louboutin colour-match nude shoes.Louboutin's colour-match nude shoes for non-white women.

And here’s a lovely, lovely project by Brazilian artist Angelica Dass, who aims at creating a ‘chromatic inventory’ of humankind. She creates a human match for each of Pantone’s ‘nude’ shades, proving that it really does take all kinds to make a world.








And now for my lovelies!

10. Alisha Mukerji, Lawyer, New Delhi. In-house counsel with a government company. Likes books, animals, steak with fries and wine to unwind after a long day.




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

I guess it was when family members (the extended family idiots of course) pointed out that my younger sister was fair and they couldn’t understand how I got the short end of the fairness stick. I think I threw a fit and demanded to know why I was “different”. Then I promptly went back to getting lost in my fantasy world…

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence? Also, what do you think of fairness creams? *

I was the proverbial nerd with my nose always buried deep in a book. So I guess when I was asked out by a boy for the first time I realized “hey, I think I have passable looks”. He clearly thought I was gorgeous. My family and friends never allowed me to be anything less than fabulous. And for all the naysayers, a “Bitch Please” usually suffices. Whenever I go to buy products the sales lady usually always tries to peddle all the fairness creams to me. Ridiculous. I have to explain everytime that I actually love my skin tone and don’t want to change it into a deathly zombie paleness as that is what I imagine these fairness creams do. Fairness creams are the opium of the Indian masses.

What is your beauty regimen?

I use a good SPF cream and liquid liner, both by L’Oreal. I sometimes use lipsticks by MAC. And I always wash off my makeup at the end of the day with a face wash by L’Oreal and use night cream by L’Oreal. And I gym and swim and eat very unhealthy food!

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

Red lipstick looks gorgeous against our skin tone.

Nerdydevi notes-

Alisha is, and always will be Ally McBeal to me- conveniently-named lawyer (Alisha= Ally), goofball and all-round stunner. We were at college together, where she was an utterly sweet, perennially happy, ridiculously generous presence. I especially loved that she was laughing all the time. She has one of those gorgeous laughs that infect the voice- so when she’s talking, she’s also laughing, which is amazing but never easy. Don’t believe me? Try it and remember me when you end up snorting snot-bubbles and looking not-pretty. Alisha was also a great listener, and she could listen to you vent about a smelly DTC bus, a particularly vicious period (uterine, not educational), or The Perils of Ingrown Hair for hours and not have one unkind word to say for your callous stupidity. Not one.

Alisha, I love you. Let’s not meet in a pool in another city next time. Hugs and kisses, and thank you for doing this.

11. Tanya Jain, Development Professional, New Zealand. Works in the not for profit sector to make whatever little difference she can make to the world. Loves the ocean, the rain, flowers, children’s stories, friends and family and CHOCOLATE in most forms.




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 I ever cared about my complexion enough to know or think too much about being fair or dark. Although, thinking back – my mum is fair and dad is dark and mum always told me how she and dad used to joke about their children being zebra striped!!

Anyway, I think it was in school, when I was probably 16 years old that I learnt that fair and spotless skin is widely desirable. My naani worried more about my acne than I ever did – and asked me to visit the dermatologist regularly (which I never really did :P) Also, one of my very close friends was obsessed with being fair – and I remember finding that really weird – but it didn’t bother me or make me any less comfortable in my skin, and that’s primarily because of my parents and family where the idea of beauty was never about appearance or skin colour. I am so thankful for that!

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

I don’t remember any one such life changing moment. There are days I feel beautiful and other days major body issues take over. But again, the whole idea of feeling beautiful comes from being happy and content with yourself and life – and if you are looking good to yourself too – that’s a plus! ☺

What do you think of fairness creams?

I feel angry and saddened by fairness creams and the fact that they have such a huge market in India. It speaks so much about how shallow and meaningless our concepts of beauty and even success are (if fairness cream ads are to be believed). One of the most unnecessary, self worth damaging, stereotype promoting products! Ugghhh!

What is your beauty regimen?

I really don’t have a beauty regimen. No fixed face wash or creams or anything. Use Johnson Baby Soap to wash my face when available. The only make up would be Shehnaz Hussain Kohl that I use pretty much every day. Love it even when it gets all smudged.

Use a scrub or one of the Himalaya or Fab India face packs – Papaya or Neem or Multaani Mitti, whenever I can or feel like. Mum got me some MAC make up soon before I got married so use that occasionally – Studio Fix, eye liner, mascara and a few lipsticks I sometimes play with 😛 😀

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

I wouldn’t like to think so. I don’t like the idea of anyone having any kind of advantage over another because of the colour of their skin. There’s nothing like a bad tan, just more depth/angles!

Nerdydevi notes-

I may not be Tanya’s best friend- she has so many I’m down to counting on my toes now, the fingers are exhausted- but she certainly is mine. We met at college, and the first real time we spent with each other, I was a jerk to her, abandoning her sniffling and broken-up-with-asshole to board a bus to see my boyfriend for lunch.

After all these years, I’m amazed that she didn’t boot me out of her life, and I’m so grateful. She’s taught me everything I know about feminism, body confidence, relationships, cheap shopping, negotiating with autowallahs, vernacular literature for children, and cherry picking scrunchies and silver jewellery at GK M Block market. She’s also one of the kindest, bravest, nicest and most generous people I know. Much like a vintage leather wallet, she should have ‘100% genuine’ stamped on her hide, because that sort of thing isn’t easy to come by.

Doesn’t she look beyond amazing in these pictures? They’ve all been clicked by her husband Gagan, a very fine gentleman who does magical things with his Leica.

A few Fun Facts about Tanya-

1. She’s the only person I know that can recite Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’. All of it. You just have to go ‘Bundele harbolon ke munh..‘ in your quietest, no-one-can-possibly-hear-me voice and she will hear you and not stop till she has it down to the last stanza. She will also do that with a Dr. Seuss or Safdar Hashmi poem.

2. She’s a connoisseur of cheap, trashy Bollywood songs. She collects them for laughs, hate-watching and ironical-singing, like one would gifs of Aishwarya Rai rolling her eyes.

3. She’s incapable of telling a joke without laughing at it first. It’s adorable and hilarious.

4. She’s written some VERY COOL textbooks for little children. She worked at Pratham, where she developed content for schools in rural and semi-urban India.

Thank you TJ, for dragging my butt to amazing places. I love you. :-*


12. Mayoori Sangameshwar Hanagodimath, Advertising. Senior Brand Services Director at Lowe Lintas, Gurgaon- but she says that’s just survival. Her real job is spreading love by volunteering at Samarpan Foundation and Lightmovement. Likes the spirit of fun- both bottled and otherwise! 😉




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

I was milky white when I was born and slowly became more brownish with time passing. I love earthy, grounded naturalness. The comments I heard entered my ears but never my brain. Maybe I don’t take anyone seriously!

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

I realised I was beautiful but I truly saw beauty when a person of vast, undefinable beauty* taught me to believe that beauty is all about perspective and that this beauty is undeniably real and present in every single creation. When everything is beautiful, everything is beautiful. Period. You read it right. That’s how I meant it.

*her guru and guiding light

What you think of fairness creams?

Like many other advertised products, the fairness cream category is just one more ‘created’ need, a distorted reality. It first creates insecurities and then offers itself as a solution.

What is your beauty regimen?

For the times I want to be my true self, I wash my face with cold water using Avene face wash ( I like its minty coolness) and wipe it dry with Neutrogena toner followed by Avene sunscreen lotion. I use pink MAC  lip balm, or Nivea guava or glycerine.

On days when I feel like decking up, after wash, tone and moisturize, I use kohl, lip stick and BeneTint as a blush.

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

Contrasts show up beautifully! Unfair fairness! 🙂

Nerdydevi notes-

Mayoori is a human unicorn. Unbelievably beautiful to the point of being mythical, sparkly, and very hard to pin down. We worked together at BBDO, and became good friends quickly. Over the years, I’ve seen her move mountains with her faith, shun bitterness and pettiness, and emerge bathed in light, poetry and benevolence, like a Sufi saint. At the risk of sounding like a hag who reads crystal balls, I’d like to say that she’s one of the purest people I know.  I don’t know anyone else that would laugh off and dismiss an offer to act in a big-ass biopic, or be bonafide parent, sister and counsellor to dozens of kids in need, just like that.

Miu Miu, you know how much I love you. I miss the old times. Here are two crudely-made gifs, for old times’ sake.



13. Himani Anand, Technical Officer/ Researcher, Chandigarh. Likes holidays, watermelons, the feeling of a warm bed in the winters, chocolate fondues, rollercoasters, the ocean – whenever I can get to it, being in love and being loved, people who can begin a thought provoking conversation, questions like these that make me realise things about myself, and life – well, most of the time!



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

Sometime in my teens, I became very uncomfortable with myself when I found myself dark and overweight in the mirror. It did make me a silent and reserved teenager for most part of my growing up years, but I never came down to believe that I was ugly.

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

I was a late bloomer and realized that I’m beautiful when I went to London for my Masters, chasing my dreams. I realised beauty is something that comes from a commitment to that genuine place inside you, accepting yourself for who and how you are – eccentricities included! I stopped obsessing about my “unfair” skin and started defining my own beauty, leading me to a confident, self assured woman with a healthy self-respect, inner strength and a sense of accomplishment.
Fairness creams = an amalgamation of hundreds of hideous chemicals applied on your self!! Never used any, and never plan to do so either!

What is your beauty regimen?

I’m pretty lazy to have a daily beauty regimen..! I just make it a point to begin my day with a glass of hot water and lime which helps in detoxing (atleast that’s what I’ve heard my mum say!!), wash my face with clean n’ clear morning energy face wash. I use a light moisturiser (usually Olay – the most basic one, for summers and Nivea white for winters) for the day. Apart from that I just use a kohl pencil –L’oreal Magique these days (it just doesn’t smudge!) and a tinted Maybelline Lip Balm.

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

Being a researcher I’d like to put in some logic here, our skin is less prone to sunburns and more melatonin means lesser chances of developing cancers of the skin.

Nerdydevi notes- 

Himani you lovely piece o’ lovely, here’s a gif of Anne Hathaway looking at you va-va-voomily and borderline sleazily, because this sums up my feelings for your beauty:


Himani was one of my five roomies at high school hostel (Yes, we were six to a room. Yes, you could liken the room to a tin of good lookin’ sardines), and the most special. Unlike me, she came from a rich family, but never let it show- and I will always be grateful to her for that. She was (and still is, I’m sure) an amazing person with a very sensible head on her shoulders, at an age when most of us boy-crazy loons were far from figuring it out. She taught me how to love my body- my unwaxed limbs were my favourite parts to hate, I was terrified and suspicious of wax and I was mortified about it all.  She told me not to be an idiot and not to care. The only other person who did that was my mum- so when she said what she did, I knew I could trust her. Thank you, Himani- for then, and for now- for agreeing to do this. Much love.

14. Bushra Ahmed, Writer (for now!), Delhi. Likes books, anything owl-like, silk dupattas, beaches and my rum.

For Ro 1

For Ro 2


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

Aah, I had a strange ‘advantage’ in this department. Being a bonafide mongrel or muggle is kind of great. My mother is from Lucknow and fair-skinned and my father from Karnataka and as dark burnt chocolate as it goes! So, the question of me being fair and pretty got a tad muddled at home from the onset. Though of course, I did see the whole is-the-girl-fair-and-pretty syndrome all around, I guess I was really thankful I didn’t have to face all that at home.

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

I guess it was there all along. Not due to vanity, but I never did take the way I look very seriously. Throughout college it was all about hurriedly pulling on a Fab salwar kurta, kajal and dashing off to a late class. Even surrounded by fair-skinned women, while I was later studying in the UK, I never felt that being dark-skinned makes you less beautiful. Thankfully, my close circle of friends have always been women who have been extremely comfortable in their bodies and we sort of revel in our differences and different shades of skin colour. It takes one comfortable-in-her-skin woman to know another!

What do you think of fairness creams?

I find them hilariously stupid, and do get amused of how women still fall for the trap that ad campaigns create. It is perhaps time for these companies to stop peddling such flawed, regressive tropes and take some responsibility. I know of women who stay indoors all the time (with even the blinds closed to keep the evil sun out!) and their dressing table is full of a strange concoction of fairness-inducing beauty products. It is sad. I guess the key is, own it! Whether it is your dusky skin or blemished one. It’s beautiful anyways.

What is your beauty regimen?

Oh my! I am a very careless woman when it comes to a beauty regimen (which as my grand ma insists is a bad thing). I try and use this sandalwood paste twice a week on my face. For the face, a nice Almond and Papaya face wash from Fab India. I do obsessively apply Vaseline rose-tinted lip balm and carry it everywhere with me (which I so hope the India office introduces here!). And a make-up remover by Nivea to take all the cake of the face.

Kajal is ubiquitous in my make-up list. After an almost life-long search I have stumbled upon nice kajal by Sephora. An everyday eye shadow + blush shade by Maybelline works for the eyes. And my recent foray into the world of lipsticks resulted in a wine red lipstick from BodyShop.

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

All colours look good on us, whether it is pale, earthy tones or bright fuchsias. And everywhere I have travelled, I have had women envious of my very tanned olive-skinned look. Who needs those hours-in-the-sun tan?

And there is something so mysterious and ethereal about a beautiful, dark woman!

Nerdydevi notes- 

It is impossible to not love Bushra, even if you don’t know her that well. She’s the sort of person women instantly warm to, and men instinctively woo. I love that she effortlessly melds chaste Lucknavi tehzeeb and oomph, an almost filmi love of verse and her blase-ness about romance, and Queen’s English and exquisite gaalis. She’s brilliant. I’ve known her since college, and I don’t know anyone that has the ability to care so much, and yet throw care to the winds. She’s also moronically unconcerned with her appearance, which is lucky, because she’s the effing Bomb.

Bushra- megatons of love to you. I wish you all the beach vacations and manicured lawns* you could ever ask for.

*Inside joke. Speaking of which- I humbly offer you this gif, Bush. 😀


Phew! The End- of instalment 3 of The Unfair Project, that is. Big thanks to tumblr and glickr for the gifs. Hope you enjoyed this. If you did- and if you are or know a beautiful dark skinned person that suspects they’re a looker but isn’t sure- please do share this! All my love.


7 thoughts on “the unfair project 3

  1. Ro the Doe! I don’t remember all of Jhansi Ki Rani. Lots of it, but not the complete thing.. and I don’t have all those best friends that you are counting… and you didnt abandon me.. and I dont think I taught you many of those things… and I love you for being so wonderfully creative! ❤ :*

    And Bushra! We will never get over the manicured lawns 🙂 I hope it doesn't make you morose! 😀 Love and Hugs!

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