It took me 18 years to realize that i"m under represented. I was so used to seeing beauty, fashion, and just everyday life through the eyes of a white person that it never occurred to me that feeling excluded is not supposed to be normal; beauty products should suit my skin tone, clothing and accessories in 'nudes' should match my skin tone, my experiences should be heard.
The craziest thing about my experience with inclusion and representation in the media is that I didn't even know I was missing it until I actually had it. It must've been about three or four years ago that I came across Deepica Mutyala's Youtube channel, I think from a collaboration she did with makeup artist Melissa Alatorre on YouTube as well. Besides Lilly Singh, Deepica was the first South Asian woman I found on the platform and really any social media platform that spoke about her experiences. From there, my eyes were exposed a whole new world. I related to her content; I could actually take advice from her recommendations, and honestly I just felt like I was watching a friend who understood me - even if the topic was something as small as makeup.
Before Deepica, I was watching strictly white people on Youtube, and watching their Youtube videos. I still love their content and continuously watch their makeup tutorials, but I have an entirely different perspective now when I watch. Before it never clicked why the nude pink lip that one girl was wearing in a video looked fluorescent on me. It never occurred to me that the pearly highlighter shades would look like a patch of white powder on my cheek bones, and it never occurred to me why the blush shades they recommended never showed up on my cheeks. I knew we were different skin tones, but I was only ever exposed to shades that suited lighter skin tone and began thinking that these shades were universal.
I knew I had a darker skin tone than them, but I guess since I was never exposed to other makeup artists on beauty bloggers of different skin tones, it never clicked that its not okay that I can't relate to the beauty gurus I watched. I shouldn't feel left out of the conversation because I don't wear a lighter foundation. There shouldn't be a subgroup of people who wear darker foundation colours separate from those that wear the lighter colours. It should be broader conversation including all skin tones, all skin types, all genders - everyone.
I think growing up in a majority white suburban town has huge influence on my perspective as well. I didn't have a lot of South Asian friends to relate to so all my cultural traditions were looked at weirdly. I felt ashamed, and for what? Embracing who I was? I put that side of my in my back pocket and only brought it out with people who looked like me, which was not very often. Once I got to college, I was greeted with a predominantly Indian/South Asian friend group. There, I really embraced my 'brownness.' My friends taught me that being Indian isn't some rare thing that keeps me from relating to my peers - I just happen to relate better to a different group of peers. I finally found people who understood what Indian parents were like, celebrating holidays, and the overall Indian culture and it felt GREAT. This was around the time I found Deepica's Youtube channel, and it all came together. I embraced my brown skin, I came to the realization that I have a place in the conversation and just because its different from the majority, does not mean that its not worth voicing.
What I've learned since my new understanding is that representation is so unbelievably important. If I had representation outside of the Bollywood movies I watched growing up, I probably wouldn't have spent the first 18 years of my life rejecting that whole side of me. I wouldn't feel like I wasn't part of the conversation. I would understand my culture, my skin tone, my life better. Nowadays, we are slowly getting more representation on TV, social media, and in our products, and I've seen such a significant shift. The amount of times I've seen people talk about how much they relate to a brown girl's youtube video or Instagram post is unbelievable. We spent our whole lives thinking our experiences were exclusive to ourselves, but a lot of the time they are universal, we're just not given the chance to experience that world. I've learned that any chance I get to help to someone older or younger than me to embrace their culture, or expose themselves to people that look just like them I will jump on it.
I used to be a counselor at an elementary school. I worked with the kindergartner's and there were a few Indian boys, and a Chinese girl that were part of my group. When the Indian boys learned that I was Indian too their eyes went so big realizing that someone that they look up to is just like them. And the Chinese girl I looked after would tell me about how she didn't speak English at home with her family, and was too shy to speak in a different language in front of her other classmates. I knew I had to make point with her that it is so cool that she could speak another language and that her Chinese culture is worth sharing with her classmates. Little encouragements like this make a huge difference and I speak from experience. Whenever someone would take interest in my culture or have something positive to say about India or me being Indian I felt 10x times better about myself, and was more willingly to open up that part of me to them.
I'm still learning to open that side up, I'm always searching for Muslim or South Asian influencers online, and I'm always looking to expand my cultural knowledge. Thankfully I made Indian friends and I found Deepica on Youtube that help me embrace it better, but it doesn't hurt to expand that circle. I cannot imagine how differently my perspective of the world would be if I continued on how I was growing up and hiding an entire half of who I was.
It's definitely easier said than done, but I encourage you to speak out about your experiences, speak out about your culture, demand representation, and support those creators that look like you. It'll make a world of a difference for future generations.
And finally, I'd just like to thank my friends at Rutgers, and Deepica Mutyala for helping me embrace my Indian side and acknowledge that I'm not the only one experiencing it. Without them, I'd be missing out on my amazing culture and the amazing world I'm a part of.