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Brown is beautiful

02 May, 2018

Shehzil Malik, a Fulbright scholar with an MFA in Visual Communication Design, is probably one of the coolest artists to come out of Pakistan in recent times. The designer and illustrator uses her interest in art to highlight social issues faced by South Asian women in a thoroughly captivating fashion. In a recent post of hers on social media, Malik addressed the obsession our country has with fair skin tones and the discrimination dark-skinned women face because of it. She speaks to MODE more about this highly pertinent and prevalent epidemic.

A teacher of mine recently reminded me that one of my first projects back in university was on the subject of Brown is Beautiful. It's a topic I keep returning to because it's a conversation that keeps repeating itself. I turn to art after a specific incident brings it back to my attention- from the idea that an illustration with dark-skinned women will not sell in Pakistan; to both my female and male friends being made to feel inferior to their fairer-skinned counterparts; to family members happy to have left the subcontinent and escaped the pity that comes with being dark-skinned; each conversation makes me realize how deeply ingrained our perceptions of complexion and beauty are.

It's not hard to realize why we all feed into this idea of fairness being better, of "gora" being the ideal. We're a post-colonial society with startling class differences. Our advertisements, media images, fashion and beauty industries help perpetuate a narrow definition of beauty. From a young age we are indoctrinated into believing a better life awaits the fair-skinned.

This bombardment of one-sided messages is why we need more voices that talk about the variety of our lived experiences. We need to reexamine the ideas that are passed down to us and discard the narrow and the misguided. Worldwide, people of color are demanding and fighting for more representation- and it is only by being seen and heard that our existence will be validated. My message through my art remains the same- own your reality. You are brown and you are beautiful.



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