Photo Credit: Screenshot/Youtube Thumbnail/Zee Music Company
As I watched Beyoncé’s Black Is King, never before had I seen such beauty on my screen, such power. I felt tears in my eyes. When I saw the scene with a Tamil model, I was in awe. Dark-skinned South Asians are rarely represented in American television let alone in South Asian media.
People in South Asian countries have a variety of skin colors. Yet beauty in those countries continues to be synonymous with fair skin. Beyoncé did something that the South Asian community could not even do for its own people: she empowered dark-skinned brown folx.
Twitter erupted in tears from girls within the South Asian community, proud that finally they were being portrayed on a television screen. I was so happy that South Asia was finally recognizing the deeply colorist ideology many still hold within the community, which is what made listening to “Beyoncé Sharma Jayegi” even more disappointing.
The fortitude of dark-skinned women that Beyonce highlighted in Black Is King did not find its way into Bollywood, despite many acknowledging Beyonce’s empowerment of women everywhere.
Why do we continue to stay within “conventional” beauty standards when there is such a diverse amount of people in South Asia? And how do we change that?
The problems with “Beyonce Sharma Jayegi” goes beyond being highly colorist and speaks to a larger issue present within both American and South Asian communities —the habit of comparing girls to one another. Frequently, South Asian girls are taught, from a young age, to base their beauty according to how “light” or “dark” skinned they are. Soon enough, girls begin defining their worth according to how they measure up to others.
Whenever I travel to India, I am always complimented on the fairness of my skin which according to South Asia’s beauty standards makes me beautiful. However, if Katrina Kaif or any other Bollywood actress was next to me, my skin would become too “dark.”
South Asian girls are used to aunties within the community comparing them to others, telling them to “be more like her” or “learn to cook as well as she does” or “do not go out in the sun if you want to be fair like her.”
The lyrics in the song, “Ho tujhe dekh ke goriya Beyonce sharma jaayegi”, translates to “after seeing a fair lady, Beyonce will feel shy/ashamed.” This problematic lyric perpetuates the habit of judging girls according to the color of their skin and thus furthering colorist ideology.
In many ways, Bollywood continues to be moving backwards instead of forwards. Recently, many Bollywood actresses were accused of being hypocrites for voicing their support for Black Lives Matter while being on the cover of whitening skin care brands at the same time.
Furthermore, the colorism in shows like Indian Matchmaking suggests that this issue goes beyond Bollywood and some in the South Asian community still clearly refuse to be inclusive.
Including Beyonce’s name in the song is immensely disrespectful, given everything she has done for dark-skinned girls everywhere. Dark-skinned South Asians are emboldened when they see the grace Beyonce embodies. Because their very own community does not see them, it is shameful that these girls have to look elsewhere for representation. Actresses like Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra, and Ananya Pandey continue to dominate the industry with very little opportunity given to anyone else. Bollywood remains exclusive to very few body types, skin colors, and castes.
Barely enough has been done to address the number of issues present within Bollywood. After the producers, Vishal-Shekar, got wind of the outrage with the song, they decided to change the title to “Duniya Sharma Jayegi,” simply putting a bandaid on the real issue instead of addressing it. The song should have never had those lyrics in the first place, it should have never encouraged comparing girls to one another, and it should have never included Beyonce’s name. Until Bollywood and South Asian societies actually begin to be more inclusive of all skin colors and body types, no apology or temporary fix will be enough.
We continue to compare girls to each other, evaluate their differences, and use it to indicate their worth as individuals. I am tired of the comparison and being told that my beauty is dependent on what I look like in comparison to other girls. Beyonce recognized the inherent beauty of all black and brown skin colors when our own community was unable to celebrate them. Paying our respects to everything she has done for dark-skinned women by including her in a song that perpetuates colorism is extremely tone-deaf and disrespectful. It is time we finally recognize that girls of all body types, skin colors, and castes are beautiful in their own way.
Given these problems in our own media, what can we do? We can voice our opinions and continue to criticize the hypocrisy within South Asian communities. By now, we should be past this conversation but it is evident that the Bollywood industry only responds to backlash. It’s unfortunate that young dark-skinned girls have to continue to wait to finally be accepted by their communities.
In the future, hopefully, we will not need to look outside of our own community to be empowered in our own skin. We should pay proper respects to everything Beyonce has done for dark-skinned women everywhere, and remember that we ourselves define our own beauty.