Updated: Jun 25
This project Dark Skinned and Lovely isn't just about showcasing the beauty of these incredible dark skinned south Asian women, it's also about giving them the chance to tell the world about their lived experience as dark skinned south Asians in western society - meet Tabitha Mary.
What does representation mean to you as a dark skinned south Asian woman?
"Representation means so much to me especially as I grew up as a child of immigrants, in a small city in Germany where I was one of a handful of brown kids, not just in my class but in the entire school. Experiencing colourism from a young age, apart from the people in my family I wasn’t really exposed to any dark skin role models or celebrities who were happy about embracing the skin that they were in.
I was raised believing that being of a darker skin complexion was something to be frowned up
This made it difficult for me to relate to people or feel represented as I never saw anyone that looked like me. I was raised believing that being of a darker skin complexion was something to be frowned up or something seen as ’less desirable’ and a ‘negative’ in society so I often wondered what it’d be like to be born into a white family instead, if my life would be easier and if I’d feel more ‘normal’."
Do you feel like you are represented within wider society?
"I do feel way more represented today than I did growing up, we’ve come a very long way but there’s room for improvement. I always say I’m grateful for our move from Germany to the UK as this exposed me to so many different people and cultures that I wouldn’t have if I stayed. Being born in the 90s, and seeing how the media - advertising, the film industry changed, I can certainly see the increase in ‘diversity’ and representation, but media aside we also need that in everyday life - seeing people that look like us making strides, making moves, in big positions and most importantly having a positive impact on others, on real people."
Growing up in a westernised society, how has that impacted how you view your heritage/ appearance/ ethnicity as a south Asian in London?
"As I grew up around white people there were definitely times I felt alienated, different and even embarrassed due to my skin colour, features and culture which was a struggle for my young self to understand. This on top of growing up in a South Asian household and community, where darker skin was seen as ‘less desirable’ made it harder for me to embrace my culture, my skin and feel beautiful being of a darker complexion. I did eventually become desensitised to such comments, to the point where hearing “she’s pretty for a dark girl” is something I saw as a genuine compliment. I didn’t start loving myself until I was about 19, and it’s been an amazing journey since - embracing my roots, culture and most importantly my true self and encouraging others to do the same."
....there is still a lot of unlearning/learning that needs doing...
Representation isn't fair within western media but also in south Asian too - how does this make you feel?
"Although I previously said that the media (Western) has come a long way there is still a lot of unlearning/learning that needs doing. The media shouldn’t be inclusive for the ‘sake of’ ticking off the diversity box or so called Tokenism, instead the media needs to be a space where everyone feels heard and represented. Growing up watching Tamil/Bollywood movies, it was evident that representation was lacking - seeing the screen filled with fair skin actors and actresses only, especially those in lead roles - this is all I knew growing up and these were the people we admired, aspired to be. This inevitably has a knock on effect on one’s self-perception, self-image and as a result self-esteem, making it more and more difficult for people like me to accept and embrace the skin we’re in because of our distorted idea of ‘beauty’. As a darker skin South Asian, I definitely feel responsible in enforcing this positive message to whoever I can. I always encourage those around me (family/friends/on socials) to do this as it took me a sad 19 years to come to the realisation and make this change for myself."
Concept: Mathushaa Sagthidas @mathuxphotos
Creative Directors: Mathushaa Sagthidas @mathuxphotos
Photographer/ Photo editor: Mathushaa Sagthidas @mathuxphotos
Crowns/ earrings by Anisha Parmar @anishaparmarlondon
Make up and hair: By the models
Styled: All of us
Mathushaa Sagthidas’s photography showcases a strong interest in fine art, contemporary fashion, and styling; skills further studying fashion promotion at Ravensbourne University London and fine art photography at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL. Mathushaa’s work is often examines her identity - Tamil Eelam ethnicity and British nationality, which is a pivotal part of her work. This complex cultural identity is often reflected through traditions, history and strongly by fashion photography. Mathushaa feels that her work surrounding Tamil culture plays an important part in embracing the history and heritage. As Tamils were once considered “an enormous strain on the system” in London during the nineties, the time of mass immigration (5:48 – 6:17, Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A, 2018). Something she finds ironic as many institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum were built and have financially grown off the backs of colonisation of the sub-Indian continent. From these few glimpses of research that has impacted her artistic growth, she begun to develop to a deeper appreciation of her parents’ background and felt luckily to learn about their history first hand. This has led to an engagement in a new process of constructing south Asian identity through that projects she creates.
View the full project here.