Featured, Off the Shelf
Leave a comment

Loving My Dirty Skin

It started at the age of five. Fair and Lovely India’s favorite skin-lightening and beautifying cream. I owe this regimen my first memorable medical concern; a rash that angered the skin on my face to scar over redden, burn and peel. I hid indoors for two days, embarrassed for others to see me in public. When the reaction subsided, I remained embarrassed of what stayed the same ugly dirty brown skin.

When I turned 13, my cousin came to stay with us. The neighbors named her “velutha penne’” or “white girl” in my native tongue Malayalam, an endearing compliment to signify how beautiful she is, blessed with the skin of the after-pictures in the ads I saw for Fair and Lovely.

When I was 20, I learned about matrimonial sites for Knanayas, my endogamous ethnic South-Indian community, where a criteria for choosing a bride to filter by is “complexion.” Oh, what I would do to be “wheat” skinned!

What would I do? “Scrape off the inside of ripe banana peels and rub it on your face.” “Wasps’ nests should be mixed with water to form a clay-like facemask paste.” “Stop running outside for exercise, the sun has clearly clouded your skin.” “Lather your body, head to toe, in turmeric before showering once a week.” “Drink more milk and yoghurt water; if your insides are white, your outsides will be, too.”

Need I go on?

When I was 24, I learned about the power of melanin. It was my first dermatology lecture in medical school. The dark pigment rooted in my hair, skin and eyes. What protects me from cancer, gives me eyesight, what adapts to the weather around me and keeps my hair youthful from graying. My skin was redefined. I embraced this protection passed on to me from my ancestors. I learned to love my dirty brown skin my espresso latte, sun-loving, beautiful chocolate skin!

Today, at 27, I received my headshots, edited to appear “more professional” and “cleaned up.”  My melanin erased. I am reminded again of the before and after pictures of the Fair and Lovely ads. Perhaps I should have felt anger, discriminated against or unseen. Instead, I remembered hate. The five-year-old hiding in the house, hating my dirty brown skin.

In the art of healing, a wound stretches and scars,
from the naked eye, we see only the blemish that mars;
The bruises may linger, beneath the surface, far below,
in hues of purple, blues and black, healing ebbs and flows.

We weave through life, our actions vast,
unaware of the shadows they have cast;
An innocent drizzle turned to a hurricane,
unphased wiping out a whole terrain.

Hurt and healing as I may be,
every being carries a scar, never on their sleeve;
So I too tread gently in my actions vast,
unaware of the shadows they cast.


Hannah Korah (4 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of Arizona-Tucson

Hannah is an MD/PhD student at the University of Arizona-Tucson who joined the program in 2020. In 2018, she graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and cell science with a minor in bioinformatics. After graduation, Hannah dedicated 2 years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-NIDA branch to research novel therapeutic treatments for opioid addiction in a behavioral animal model. She is currently completing her PhD in Medical Pharmacology. She enjoys hiking, trail running, and reading in her free time. Hannah is looking forward to experiencing the variety of opportunities the program has to offer her in helping her decide the right path and specialty best fit for her.