I am not 'big & dark', I am loved*
"Hi everyone, I am Shyam. I am an 18 month old boy and live with my Mumma and Dada in Leicester. I enjoy playing with my friends and love seeing animals at the zoo and farm. I love playing in water and can easily spend hours exploring how water works with the different equipment my parents provide me with. I am really interested in vehicles at the moment, especially tractors. I love listening to Bollywood music (thanks to Mummy not playing anything else since I was in her tummy) and have just started to practice my bhangra moves with them. One song in particular had a robot and ever since, I have been obsessed with them and look for them everywhere! I love food, no matter what cuisine, and always ask to share Mumma and Dada’s food. This is me."
To me, he looks like a happy, cared for and an extremely loved little boy. To me, he is my world and my happiness. Tell me what you see?
Being a parent is the most rewarding yet challenging role; and although many believe the challenges come from the child, I have found that our challenges have come from others and their opinions. Opinions I feel I have to protect my son from. I have always been a firm believer that children are children, and should be viewed as nothing else. They take things at face value and honest in their communication. They are very much black and white- no grey areas at all; and this is what I love about them. It is this, I feel, that helps me in my role as parent to understand his needs and how best to support him emotionally and developmentally. It really is as simple as yes or no. No hidden meanings, no agendas, nothing. Just pure innocence.
However, I find that growing up, children are fed information (some directive and some indirective) that can impact not only the way they view the world and others, but most importantly how they learn to view themselves. How they can begin to feel they have to conform to others in order to feel included. Things we say can influence how children start to look at themselves. That black and white image they have in their innocence is filled with shades of grey. Shades that make no sense to them and force them to question themselves. Is this fair? I don’t think so.
The other day my husband took my son to a Kirby Muxloe Castle, not far from our house, and was approached by a little girl (around 4/5) who asked “which country have you come from”. When my husband responded he was from England, she appeared confused. Luckily her grandparents were there to explain maybe my husband’s parents were from another country and she went on to continue playing. I wasn’t bothered at the fact that she asked him where he was from, but what baffled me was that she appeared confused at the fact that he was from this country. I honestly believe the girl was just intrigued and using her black and white with communication which is completely OK, however what compelled her to ask that question? What had she been exposed to, for her to ask if he was from another country? As adults, we were able to look over this, but then I thought to myself, what if Shyam was to be asked this question in a few years? For him, he was born in England, his parents were born in England so naturally this question would not make sense. You can almost imagine him questioning himself as to why he was being asked this, looking at himself to see what the difference was between him and her; and noticing that the only obvious difference in them besides gender was colour.
Having lived in a predominant Caucasian community, I never felt out of place growing up. I integrated within the community and had friends from different cultures. This is what I would hope for my son. However, I have already started to notice that people are highlighting features in him at the tender age of 18 months which I feel are inappropriate and honestly do not make a difference to him as a person. Trying to protect him from this is proving to be difficult and can really impact on a parent trying to look out for their child and allow them to be just that- a child.
My son has beautiful curly hair and we’ve decided to grow it and tie it up in a top knot. He’s fine with it (most times where it doesn’t annoy him) but people have felt the need to tell him he looks “girly” or that “only girls have long hair”. We didn’t realise there are rules that identify what a girl can wear or should look like and what a boy can wear or look like. My son is tall and chubby. He likes his food and his dad is almost 6ft. But because he is always seen with me, I get told “oh he’s big for you isn’t he!” or “You’ll need to start monitoring his food intake.” I understand and appreciate that there is a worry on childhood obesity in the country, but if you look back at both mine and my husband’s baby photo’s we were both chubby until we were 4/5. We were only given homemade food and I am providing a balanced diet for my son. He has been on 91st centile since he was 6 weeks old and sustained that- so actually he is doing pretty well. But you see, I just felt the need to justify this when I don’t need to. And this is what I fear he will feel he needs to do or change the way he is because others have a particular idea on right and wrong.
The number of times people have commented on how “dark” my son is has really been the biggest challenge we’ve faced. “Oh you and your husband aren’t that dark, he’s so dark”, “Oh he’s got a right tan on him”, “Will you use any skin lightening products on him?” NO! The colour of my son’s skin does not change who he is as a person. He is no better or worse that the fair skinned child next to him. He had no control over his skin colour so why is it that close to home and extended communities, force him to take control to want to change it. It even comes up in general conversation where I understand people may not directly be outlining it but it doesn’t need to be said. “He looks like your mum, and he’s even got her complexion.” The more you mention it to him, the more apparent it will become. And even though my husband and I are trying to support him to feel comfortable in his skin, I fear one day it may affect him.
Yes my mum is of dark complexion, but she is the kindest and most humble human being. Yes my son may have received his complexion genes from his maternal grandmother but that does not need to be highlighted to him on numerous occasions. My mum has voiced how ‘guilty’ and ‘at fault’ she feels because his complexion resembles hers. Why? Because she was bullied for her own complexion for years from those who were close to her that she doesn’t want the same for her grandson.
I'm not saying everyone does this maliciously, in fact I genuinely believe many say things with ignorance and cannot recognise the impact their words can play on another person. However, it should be something we consider- just think what if I was asked this question, or what if someone made this remark about me? How would I feel?
Our son is not ‘dark’ he is British Indian. Our son is not ‘big’ he is healthy. But most of all, our son is very much loved and to us, this is all that matters.
Beauty does not come from fairness, it comes from the heart so I pledge we stop focusing on our children’s physical traits but look at how to support their emotional awareness. Allow them to accept themselves by accepting them in the way they are. Allow our children their innocence.