Riya Abiram | Art by Elizabeth Cheng
6 years old:
“Once upon a time in mid winter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven, a beautiful queen sat sewing at her window, which had a frame of black ebony wood. As she sewed, she looked up at the snow and pricked her finger with her needle. Three drops of blood fell into the snow. The red on the white looked so beautiful, that she thought, “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as this frame.” Soon afterward she had a little daughter that was as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony wood, and therefore they called her Little Snow-White.”
She was mesmerized as her father continued to detail the story of the fairest of them all, whose extraordinary beauty left all who crossed paths with her awe struck after moments of laying eyes on her. When the tale was over, after her father had tucked her into bed and kissed her good night, she would get up from her bed and sit in front of the mirror, thinking about Snow-White’s skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as shiny black as ebony wood, that had made her so captivating to her kingdom and was so different from hers.
8 years old:
With the new mega crayon set her parents bought her, __ drew herself with a brilliant red and blue dress, and a purple flower tucked behind her dark and curly hair. A vast rainbow appeared behind her, made truly iridescent with specks of gold and silver glitter she had sprinkled across its arching pathway. She colored her skin in last, choosing the crayon that suited her best- the darkest shade of brown. As she observed the final product, she couldn’t help but feel pride in her drawing. She felt like someone in the dress, someone striking, someone who would turn heads, someone larger than her life. She rushed to her mother eager to show off her finished piece.
“It’s nice, but you can’t draw yourself with such a dark skin tone. It looks dirty,” she said casually. She held back her tears as her mother turned away, never once mentioning the vibrant colors she had so passionately added to her drawing, but instead the color she had made her skin. She felt insignificant- as if nothing could ever make her as awestriking as the princesses she so often thought about. For her next drawing, she chose the lightest shade of brown. The darker colors no longer appealed to her.
10 years old:
The sun was beaming as her grandmother pulled her aside from her soccer game, leaving her cousins to continue the game without her.
“You cannot afford to spend more time outside,” she said, in a gentle tone “It’s not good for your skin.” She watched as her grandmother pulled out a pink bottle labeled “Fair and Lovely,” from her drawer and handed it to her.
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Unsure of what she was reading, she applied the white cream to her face after little coaxing from her grandmother. As she peered into the mirror and observed her pale and ghastly skin, seemingly devoid of life, her grandmother assured her that “she would look beautiful” if she continued to wear the product every day. “When you use Fair & Lovely, you’ll be ten times whiter AND happier,” the model on the bottle claimed, depicting her once tragic life as a dark skinned woman transformed to perfection within weeks.
Her mother and father observed the scene, providing tight-lipped approval to her grandmother’s remarks. They let her go after the conversation finished, and never talked about what happened.
14 years old:
Her younger sister was six years old, and was introduced to the world of fairy tales. She would read story upon story of delicate and fair princesses whisked off their feet by a Prince Charming, and would use her brand new crayola box to scour every surface she could reach with her messy drawings of her prized princesses. As she pulled her from her work to critique the figures she could barely make out, she picked up the crayon box her sister had carelessly thrown on the ground before getting distracted by another one of her toys. Her hues of bright red, blue, and yellow were dulled from their role in each princesses’ intricate ball gowns, though nothing compared to the beige crayon that was practically reduced to ashes. Among the stubbled crayons stood the brown, almost untouched aside from a few background details. She glanced at her sister who had lost all interest in her drawings.
“Why didn’t you use your brown crayon?” Her sister simply shrugged and responded,
“Princesses don’t have brown skin.”
Her sister had worn a plastic crown ever since she knew what it was, and had forced her to play her royal servant as soon as she could speak. She had always seen her as a princess of her own right, with a strong will and sparkling confidence. She couldn’t understand how her sister could believe anyone else was more of a princess than her. She smiled as she picked up and handing it to her sister.