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Where Does the 'Downton Abbey' Fashion Trend for Pale Skin Leave Us Brown Girls?

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Dear Fashion People,

It's that time of year again, when we've barely had time to wipe down the barbecue, when all of you start talking about the trends of next season.

The one that seems to come boomeranging around despite the fact that we clearly live in a multi-cultural, no-skin-shade-fits-all society, is that 'pale skin is in' this year. Thanks to Downton Abbey, no less.

Now look, I realise talking about skin colour makes some of you antsy, but fittingly it's in the news - one of the most successful models of all time - Iman - has just called for a boycott on brands that don't use models of different ethnicities.

I have a slightly smaller request. Can we please stop referring to skin colour as a fashion accessory?

For a brown woman living in modern day Britain, being told that pale skin is 'in' is like being shown to the door of the clubhouse and being asked to leave.

You may be able to do something about your pale skin if tans are in (although why you'd want to voluntarily speed up the ageing process by hours of sunbathing is frankly mind-boggling) but the options that are open to me are either doing a White Chicks, or painting myself as a reverse minstrel.

I've stopped doing the latter since a)I decided that goth and me were never fully going to meet eye to eye and b)make-up brands decided that there is actually a huge market for Asian and black skin beauty products, and have improved vastly on the quality and variety of foundations and concealers.

I don't expect you to know about my angst, but I'll bet I'm not the only one who had to mix several pots and tubes of foundation in the depths of her bedroom like some nutty professor trying to achieve a holy grail of the perfect match. In fact, if you read Anita Bhagwandas's superb feature about the issue in Stylist, you'll know I'm not.

The reality is that I can't do anything about my skin, nor do I want to. I rather like the way it looks, and that's quite a feat considering my own Asian community is by and large not a huge fan of dark complexions.

I realise you are probably aren't even aware of this, but the fact is that brown girls like myself get shafted on both sides. On the one hand we have people such as yourselves telling us that pale skin is 'in' (which means that in a fashion sense, we are not), and on the other, some of us are part of a community that isn't so hot on dark complexions either. And not just for a fashion season.

You see, Asians aren't that comfortable in their own skins. Even if I hadn't worked on an Asian magazine which would not feature dark-skinned girls on the front cover because advertisers felt people wouldn't buy the outfits being advertised, I've overheard scores of comments over the years from fellow Indians about how so-and-so would be pretty if only they had lighter skin, or have seen the marriage prospects of a woman being weighed up on account of her melanin.

You may not, dear fashion editor, have heard of Fair and Lovely but let me tell you, it's no St Tropez. India is currently undergoing an advertising war where an initiative called Women of Worth is trying to ban skin lightening cream adverts because believe it or not, some companies are still selling the message that that 'fairness is the key to success'.

Yes, some of us literally are trying to bleach ourselves beautiful. And it's not just taking place in India, we're still perpetuating this sad little notion across the waters.

So anyway, you may be thinking, what has this to do with me?

The fact is, that I won't be able to change the mindset of my community overnight, and I have been banging this drum for a very long time. But you've got the power to do something - both in what you write and what you don't write.

Make-up for brown skin is already little more than a footnote in the beauty pages (although we are much much better represented online) and while I don't see this changing anytime soon, I do feel that an easy way to kickstart change is by asking your beauty editor, very nicely, to stop flogging the 'pale skin is in' mantra.

If for any other reason than, it is just not actually fashionable.

Jenna Saunders, a commentator from Jezebel.com, wrote: "As we've documented repeatedly on this website, the fashion industry as a whole has a number of problems with race - whether it's the under-representation of models of color on the world's biggest runways, or the spate of ignorant but widely copied trends, like blackface references in editorials."

By all means, try to sell me harem pants, jackets with fringing and coats that give me the body shape of a duck. I'll gladly listen to all the style advice you can give me.

But lay off the skin trends. If you truly mean to be part of the zeitgeist, embrace the change that models like Naomi Campbell are asking for - greater representation for women of colour in fashion and on your pages.

After all, isn't it time we had a rethink about the concept of beauty and skin colour? For some of us, it's not something we can get out of a bottle.

Around the Web

Fashion is racist: insider lifts lid on 'ethnic exclusion' - The Independent

James Brown and John Galliano: Fashion industry is racist - Daily Mail

Kristin Knox: Fashion vs. Racism: Not All Models Are Created Equal

'Fashion probably is a bit racist' | Fashion | The Guardian

Iman's Racist Fashion Brand Boycott (Vogue.com UK)

Iman: Use Black Models Or We'll Boycott

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