I have vivid memories being a young girl and seeing Fair & Lovely, a popular skin whitening product among Indian women, on my mom's vanity. I never thought twice about it, never thought it was strange — it just was what it was, a regular part of my life. I only knew a childhood where I saw my mom putting it on, so naturally, I also put it on. I never questioned it because I grew up in a world where being light-skinned was considered the most beautiful.
Growing up and hiding from the sun was also a huge part of my childhood and life. I remember literally shielding myself under umbrellas because I knew my mom would be upset if I came home tan. The weird thing was, my classmates and friends would always compliment me on my skin. I have very distinct memories of my friends saying, "I wish I was as tan as you!" It's ironic how they wanted to look like me and really, I wanted to look like them.
Looking back at it now, I realize it really affected me subconsciously more than it did physically. It makes me sad to think that I lived my life not happy with who I was because of Fair & Lovely and because of my skin color. The product stood for a beauty standard that I didn't fit into. Beauty and makeup should be there to empower women, not alienate and create beauty ideals that aren't inclusive.
I realized I wanted to be a TV host when I started to watch E! News as a kid. I remember thinking, I'm meant to be on that red carpet. I wanted to interview celebrities and musicians just like Giuliana Rancic. But when I watched her, I saw a girl I could never be. She was thin and white, along with everyone else on the network, and it made me long to look like them. I truly felt like the only way I could be on TV was if I fit that standard. It made my resent my skin color for standing in the way of my dreams. But now, my skin color is why I fight to be in the media and do campaigns that put my face out there. Truthfully, I don't enjoy being in front of the camera for beauty campaigns. In all honestly, it's pretty awkward for me. But I know that there is a girl out there looking at these campaigns, seeing me, and thinking if she can do it, I can do too. That makes it worth it.
It wasn't until recently that I really accepted my skin color. It took a lot of life and growing up to finally come to a place where I felt like I needed to change my mindset. Finally, I have come to a place where I can confidently say that I really love all the things about myself that I was trained not to because of silly beauty standards.
I no longer want to be white like I used to as a young girl. Now that I'm older, I have learned to embrace my culture and where I come from. It makes me unique and I love that. I have a story to share and my goal with @livetinted, the brand I am launching, is that we can all have conversations around who we are and where we come from and realize we are all connected in a way that still allows us to be ourselves. My skin color and the pigmentation of it is one of my favorite parts of who I am. I hope that mentality has shifted for Indian kids growing up now. I'm proud to be Indian-American and I hope that they are too.
As told to Sara Tan