It’s rainy England in the mid noughties. She was 9 years old, getting ready in her mother’s mirror. Her face screeched and pulled as her mother yanked her hair back in a vicious ponytail, scraping her skull with the bristles of the brush. It wasn’t that painful, but she made it look as if it was the most painful thing in the world. She stares at herself in the mirror. A unibrow, mustache and hair on the neck. None of this really phased her yet, but her frizzy hair was ready to accompany her to school.
She had quite a few friends at school, her main group was her two best friends. She got on with a lot of everyone. She was super lucky that she had an extreme diverse community at her school and none of this was ever questioned, the children went about their days as if race was something they were aware of, but it didn’t matter. Though, on the back of her mind, she always felt there was something different. A barrier that separated her from every other individual.
Going home, her usual routine was to ask her grandmother for an egg sandwich and sit down in front of the television. She loved television more than anything, specifically disney channel as the stories, comedy and characters were so fun and enjoyable, she had the opportunity to escape for a little bit in the lives of Raven Baxter, or the Suite Lives of Zack and Cody. Hannah Montana was her favourite though, she always felt a strong connection to Miley Stewart.
She’d watch the movies and tv that Disney had to offer. She didn’t notice, but on the back of her mind she knew that all these girls you wanted to be, were white. Her idols, the girls on her t-shirts and necklaces, the tickets to the films she was buying, the movies she was counting down the days to watch – a large majority of them were white. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few black characters that she also had the chance to look up to, like Raven and The Cheetah Girls, but other than that?
The next morning she had returned to her mother’s mirror, staring at herself as her mother continued to yank the hair behind her ears. She was aware of her skin, her colour and her culture. It wasn’t usual, it wasn’t pretty, it was weird and embarrassing. That day her mother had to go to work early so her auntie dropped her off at school. Her auntie was lovely, but she listened to BBC Asia every morning, blasting the latest hits all the way from India itself. This was the most embarrassing part, she couldn’t at all turn up to school blasting Indian music out of her car, so she asked her auntie if she could drop her off a little earlier to meet her friends. The girl met no friends that day, instead she walked on her own to school to avoid embarrassment.
It was as if a flip had switched and the little girl was seeing more than usual. She noticed how the boys acted around the white girls and sometimes even the black girls, but her or none of the brown girls were getting none of the same attention. Was it something about them? Was she not funny or nice to be around? Was she not pretty enough? She sat on her own that day, getting down to her work at one of the tables because she wasn’t particularly in the right mind frame to talk to her friends. In fact, her friends were the last people she wanted to talk to that day. From the corner of her eye, she notices a group of boys begin to walk over to the edge of her table. They don’t notice she’s there at all. Their conversation was quite absurd for a group of nine year olds, discussing which girls in the class they would rather get with. Her name was brought up and her ears perked up, like a meerkat she looked over and saw their disgusted faces, laughing, at the thought of being with her. They saw her and acted as if they weren’t talking about anything, she put her head straight down and continued on with her work.
She was 12 years old. Now in secondary school. Her insecurities and shyness has built up, but she has a group of friends and family that she feels very comfortable in. This weekend she was going to her father’s house, home to her half-sister who she admired more than anything at the time. She was pretty, active and funny, a sister closer to her age that she could just be silly around. Her sister wore lots of makeup, the young girl however wasn’t allowed. With her sister was the only time she explored the world of makeup, and due to her sister’s much lighter skin, it turned the girl into a much lighter girl.
They took photos together on her sister’s webcam and the little girl actually felt pretty for once. They took a bunch of photos that the young girl found confidence in, within herself and within her appearance. She put them everywhere, on MSN, Facebook, Bebo and began to feel a bigger confidence in herself. But in reality, nothing changed. She was still brown, she was still Indian and she still had a family of Sikhs and Punjabi speakers. Reality kicked in when she realised, there was nothing she could do.
She was 20 years old. She’s studying in her third year of university, working towards her final project and dissertation. She has accepted herself, her family and her background but it wasn’t easy. She realised, if society isn’t telling her to love her differences, she had to learn to love them themselves. She goes by Kayla these days, due to years built up of being insecure about her own skin colour. However, the truth is, she is Amman Rani Kayla. Her culture and her skin colour is what makes her unique. She has spent so long fighting it, she has finally learned to accept and begin to teach herself from the beginning – about the cultures, the stories, the food and the language. She doesn’t regret her childhood, but she has learned why she should love who she is. It makes her unique in this world of copycats, she wants the youngest generation of girls who want to be white, to learn that they are beautiful in themselves and they don’t need anyone to tell them otherwise. It starts with change and the change must be within ourselves.