Rifah Islam Capstone

The idea for the Being Fair project started right at home for me. Growing up watching Bengali television channels, I would always see commercials for skin lightening products. I never truly understood the big reason for these products and brushed off its massive impact. However, after doing research on how advertisements shape our lives and help spoon feed us ideas about the world earlier this year, I realized how much skin lightening commercials have affected my life. Subconsciously, they did impact my ideas about beauty and its connection to skin color. I wanted to learn more about the products, how they work scientifically, how it impacts skin around the world and why skin lightening is a multi billion dollar business today. However, I didn’t want to just state facts. Anyone can look up the negative effects of skin lightening creams.I wanted to share stories. After talking with fellow friends and students from SLA, I realized I was not alone. Many of them have also experienced ups and downs when it comes to loving their skin color. I wanted a platform and safe space where these stories were told and their voices were amplified. My website focuses on personal interviews and roundtable discussions accompanied by classic “Humans of New York” style portraits of the interviewee to go along with their words. This is a project about people’s relationship with their skin color and how they have or are coming to terms with loving it.

Website: https://rislam0.wixsite.com/beingfairproject


Shadeism. Directed by Nayani Thiyagarajah. Documentary. Refugee Productions, 2015.

This documentary identifies the issues that skin lightening brings upon communities, showing that the ideas of beauty and consequences of the ideal severely impact the relationship that one may have with their skin. This is a documentary that uses the voices of those who participated, all women of color who have realized how much their dark skin affect their daily lives. The stories drive the film, which is exactly the route that I want to direct my capstone. Through this documentary, I was able to see how a director and writer weaved in different stories, backgrounds and experiences to create a cohesive and compelling argument that makes the audience walk away with passion to change the issue.

“The Unfair and Lovely Campaign Is Embracing Darker Skin Tones.” Self, 14 March 2016, http://www.self.com/story/the-unfair-and-lovely-campaign-is-embracing-darker-skin-tones

This is a campaign, called Unfair and Lovely. They are working to actively change the narrative of what it means to be a darker skinned South Asian and also promoting self love. It is run by a community of darker skinned South Asians. They use their instagram account to share photos and stories of women who have suffered through oppression, hatred from others or just self confidence issues. This is an inspiration to me because they are South Asian women themselves, who have experiences similar situations to me. I want to use this resource in order to learn how to not just look at the negatives about this issue, but to see how other women are using this to grow as people and help others learn and evolve. In my project, I want to show how people are working to change the mindsets and how they stay positive.

Norwood, Kimberly Jade. Color matters : skin tone bias and the myth of a post-racial America. Routledge, 2014.

This book goes in depth, with some of the latest research on the issues of colorism and the discrimination that follows it. It talks about why this discrimination occurs, why lighter skin is preferred over darker skin and what implications this has for society and how far we still have to go. There is history, psychology and personal narratives weaved into this book. In my project, I wish to incorporate the issues of colorism that exist in America too, so it’s not just written off as another country or another community’s issue. It exists here, is very prevalent and will continue to affect us for years unless we take a stand. I want to use this resource to learn more about where it exists in our society and why it’s so well hidden. Then, in my project I want to expose the taboos of this topic and maybe even incorporate how media plays a role in our beliefs.

Women of Worth. She Leads. 2015-16. http://womenofworth.in/

Women of Worth is an organization based in India which through different workshops, conferences and seminars throughout schools and colleges in the country, tries to promote media literacy, redefine beauty, leadership development and more. One campaign, “Dark is Beautiful” specifically targets the issues of colorism and how to combat that in everyday life. On their website they have a blog that anyone can contribute to, with their own stories along with their events at different schools. They are partnered with She Leads, an organization that promotes confidence and leadership among women. This is an inspiration for my project because as a South Asian, even I want to know how they have been combating stereotypes and what different techniques they have been using to actively change the narrative, especially in a country so obsessed with light skin. I will use this source to give me ideas of how to reach out to different women about their stories and how to make sure their voices are heard.

Saint Louis, Catherine. “Creams Offering Lighter Skin May Bring Risks.” The New York Times, 15 Jan. 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/16/health/16skin.html

This article in The New York Times addresses the health risks that come with using skin lightening creams. Most users don’t know about the ingredients that are in them or what kind of damage they can cause. The idea that their skin can even be lightened overpowers any harm it can do. By the time they see the negative affects on their skin, it is often too late to turn back. Through my project, I don’t just want to state the issues that skin lightening can cause to one’s self esteem. I also want to prove through hard facts that these products are not healthy and will not even help one achieve what they are promised. Facts can be an extremely persuasive force, which is why I am so interested in adding it to my project.

Gabler, Roe Sam. “Dangers of skin whitening creams.” Chicago Tribune, 2010-15, http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/chi-skin-creams-safety-storygallery.html

This group of articles and studies show the different type of ingredients in the most popular skin whitening creams throughout the world and how they affect our skin. Specifically, they have a study that focused on the mercury levels in these creams. There is also an article on a bill in the U.S that calls for tighter restrictions on the ingredients that can be put in cosmetics. Again, I want to incorporate this information in different blog posts and weave it into the narratives. I also want to ask people if they know about the ingredients and what they can do to their skin and see how they feel about that. I mainly just want to have a big blog post that analyzes all the ingredients and prove with facts why it’s not healthy for our skin.

Dhillon, Komal Kaur. Brown Skin, White Dreams: Pigmentocracy in India. Dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2015.

This source is a dissertation about the pigmentocracy that exists in India. Pigmentocracy is the preference to lighter skin in a society, which leads to privilege for one group and discrimination for another. In this paper, the author shows research of how this began during colonization and how it still exists in modern day India. With the help of this paper, I want to figure out the root of this issue and where it actually started. I also want to see why after so many years of independence, pigmentocracy still exists today and what that means for Indians and others around the world. I want to use the research in this paper to back up my narrative. This will be included in my personal blog post.

Ghose, Tia. Indians and Europeans Share 'Light-Skin' Mutation. Live Science, http://www.livescience.com/41040-skin-color-genes-identified-india.html

This article talks about how Indians and Europeans share a mutation that can cause light skin. They also found that this gene is more prevalent in North India, rather than South. The study also branches out to 54 other ethnic groups in the subcontinent and finds that some groups like people from Tibet do not show this gene at all. I want to incorporate this information along with more factual information in a blog post. I think it will be interesting to incorporate this into the interviews that I do to see how many people know about this/how much genetics influence skin color.

Jones, Trina. “The Significance of Skin Color in Asian and Asian-American Communities: Initial Reflections”.  UC Irvine Law Review, 2013. http://www.law.uci.edu/lawreview/vol3/no4/Jones.pdf

In this paper, the author explores the pedestal that skin color is put on in Asian and Asian American communities and how that affects the relationship that people who are a part of those communities have with their skin. This paper also talks heavily about the role media plays in continuing to hold this message of fairer skin being “more beautiful” high and strong. It also focuses on how women are more likely to be held to these standards than men, especially when it comes to marriage and expectations of elders. I want to use how different Asian communities deal with this issue and how it exists today in a blog post about this issue exists in different communities. I will also weave it into different narratives that people share with me.

Hunter, Margaret. “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status and Inequality”. Mills College, 2007. https://www.mills.edu/academics/faculty/soc/mhunter/The%20Persistent%20Problem%20of%20Colorism.pdf

In this paper, the author focuses on the different struggles and dynamics that exist in the United States in terms of skin color. It touches on a wide range of communities, such as African American, Hispanic and Asian. It does a detailed analysis of the history, why it still exists today and how it continues to shape the way we view our world. It also talks about the economic and political advantages that come with being light skinned. In my project, I want to incorporate this with any interviews I get of people who have been raised in the U.S and have immigrant parents, so I can compare their experiences and see if there are any similarities in their experiences.