This article originally appeared on VICE India.
India’s opening batter Smriti Mandhana is a frequent headline-maker—whether it’s by whooping the opposing team’s ass with teammates like Shafali Verma in the recent match against West Indies or by casually beating Indian men’s cricket team captain Virat Kohli to become the second-fastest Indian cricketer to make 2,000 runs in international cricket.
But the news she is indirectly making today is nothing to cheer for. The cricketer is currently trending because a jerk decided to photoshop her image from a post-match press conference by not just making her skin tone several notches lighter but also adding make-up like lipstick and kohl.
This, in turn, has led to many members of the Twitterverse going apeshit about Indian beauty standards, calling out whoever was behind the unnecessary edit for going to town with Photoshop tools to make Madhana’s features resemble a more cliched, classist and generic idea of beauty, one that you usually find plastered across the marketing agenda of fairness creams.
Growing up as a girl in India, many nosy neighbourhood aunties would compliment my fair skin tone, telling me I was lucky I didn’t have to use homemade herbal preparations or pray to the lord almighty, even going so far as saying I could “get any guy I wanted” because I was fair. It’s actually pretty ironic how unfair India’s aversion to dark skin tones is, making women bleach their skin with dangerous chemicals in the pursuit of a colour they are made to associate with not just beauty but also power, class and status. I might have been spared the tirade of scrubbing off my ‘tan’ but I could see the damage in self-esteem it did to girls all around me. Girls who were smart, talented, ambitious, kind—but lacking in confidence only because they were constantly told how their dark skin made them unattractive.
At the same time, in direct contravention to every idea of the ideal beauty that has been shoved down our throats for so many years, Bollywood, the biggest industry setting the standards of who’s appealing and who isn’t, seems to have its own brownface problem. Clearly, everyone’s got issues with skin colour here and the obsession becomes even more evident in an age where almost everyone slaps on face filters on their selfies to enhance their skin tone or brush away their blemishes. But hey, at least in that case they’re choosing to do it to themselves, as opposed to a random lurker on the internet editing a photo without even asking the person in the picture. So the first wicket down is consent or, rather, the sheer lack of it.
And when you take into account all of Mandhana’s shiny achievements and then notice that someone’s simply brushing them off on Photoshop, it’s even more infuriating. I mean, the lady was just trying to enjoy her cricket match and kick some ass. Why the hell should she need lipstick and kohl when the sweat of hard work is already the only highlighter she needs? No ball, bro.
Then again, one could speculate that since cricket is more of a “male sport”, one traditionally dominated by the male species for many years, this seemed to be the best way for Mandhana to maintain her femininity according to this photo editor, before she sends all the rishtas scurrying away on her pursuit for runs. All out.
Of course, while the intent behind this photoshopped picture that has been the subject of much chagrin and ranting remains a mystery, one thing’s for sure: We Indians REALLY need to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Not so we can analyse the melanin levels we have, but so we can introspect and examine our idea of beauty and what it costs us all.
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