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A young woman taking a stand against colorism at Dark is Divine and Women in Engineering’s ‘Skin We Live In’ seminar at the National University of Sciences and Technology’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 14, 2014. (Waleed Mustafa photo)

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — In a world where the global definition of beauty is becoming increasingly associated with a fair complexion and size zero figure, it can take a lot of courage to say “dark is divine.” Yet the soft-spoken, undeniably passionate founder of Pakistan’s first anti-colorism campaign has had the courage to say just that for the last two years.

“This campaign is in response to colorism,” Fatima Lodhi told India-West. “We’re trying to redefine the unrealistic standards of beauty propagated by the media and promote a positive body image overall.”

Since Dark is Divine launched on social media in 2013, the campaign has been spreading positive messages about dark skin and using Skype to train individuals to hold awareness drives in their respective cities and become ambassadors for the cause.

“I’ve seen a very positive change,” Lodhi said. “They’re counseling more girls out there, and they have that element of self-acceptance, self-love.”

The campaign has provided a platform for individuals to share their stories of discrimination and raise awareness about colorism’s negative impact on the self-esteems of dark-skinned people.

“Obviously, when they grow up in such an environment where their complexion or their looks do not fit into the definition of beauty set by society, definitely they do feel inferior and have this inferiority complex,” Lodhi told India-West.

To change that environment, Lodhi, who has been traveling to various schools while pursuing her own M.Phil. degree in development studies, said it was essential to work on school curricula.

“That’s the right age to teach our kids that respect for all is important, that everyone is beautiful, and diversity is something we need to celebrate and not discriminate against,” she said. “We need to start working on new curricula and the story we tell our kids.”

Lodhi’s own confidence came from her parents, who she said never made color a topic of discussion.

“I’ve always gotten a positive response from my family and all the confidence a child needs,” she said.

Lodhi also realized that this struggle was not hers alone after witnessing several dark-skinned classmates experiencing the same sort of harassment and humiliation to which she was subjected.

The discrimination ranges from the overt to the subtle and comes from family and strangers alike. The young activist shared her own range of experiences, from schoolmates threatening to paint her white to a teacher telling her that the peach crayon — not dark brown — was the right crayon for coloring in skin.

“We’re always talking about equality and women’s empowerment,” Lodhi told India-West, “but imagine you cannot apply the same definition of empowerment to every woman out there. Because let’s suppose if I was discriminated against my entire life, and you weren’t, the tools of empowerment are going to be totally different for you compared to me.”

Yet she also described how boys and men are also speaking up, illustrating that this isn’t solely a women’s issue. Lodhi explained how it is nearly impossible to avoid colorism in Asian and African countries with the market saturated with skin-lightening products.

“Everything has this element of fairness in it. Even if you try to avoid it you can’t because you’re probably following that brand,” she said.

Lodhi lamented how celebrities are leading the charge in promoting fairness creams for the sake of money without thinking of what kind of impact they’re having on their followers.

“They’re basically endorsing these fairness creams, which is pathetic — seriously — because they’re role models, and people are actually following them,” she said.

“We’ve taken these germs from colonialism from when the British were here,” she asserted, “that the fair-skinned are superior and the dark-skinned are inferior — even in terms of their financial status or class. We’ve been practicing it for ages.”

Having already reached India, Nepal, Bangladesh and, of course, Pakistan since Dark is Divine launched, Lodhi has most recently been spending her time spearheading the International Week of Redefining Beauty that is taking place from June 29 to July 3.

“The meaning of beauty is so misinterpreted. Beauty comes in all shapes, shades and sizes. Beauty is not color-bound, shape-bound or even size-bound,” Lodhi said.

Collaborating with 35 Rotaract clubs, a daughter organization of the philanthropic group Rotary International, the campaign is expanding its reach to 25 countries, such as Mexico, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Canada, to name a few.

Lodhi said Dark is Divine Talk Radio will be having two sessions to celebrate the week. One will be with a dermatologist who will be asked her perspective about beauty and how she responds when people tell her they want to be fair. The other will be with a therapist discussing self-acceptance.

“Girls have started sharing their stories,” Lodhi said, “and we can now tell that dark — this complexion — is divine. It’s beautiful.”

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