You've probably heard or read the words of 18-year-old Aranya Johar already, even if you don't recognize her name—after all, her slam poem "A Brown Girl's Guide To Gender" went viral this March. (If you haven't seen the original video, chances are you've seen a gif or two of her performance on Tumblr.) In her latest poem, called "A Brown Girl's Guide To Beauty," she takes on "unfair" beauty standards: everything from the pressure boys feel to be muscular to the discrimination against darker skin.
With a guitar accompanist and a mic in front of her, Aranya begins with a story of her childhood. "Since the age of 9, I've been slapping my face with fairness creams. Every face wash was a slap in the face because I was a skin tone that was ugly....I was told boys only like girls who are fair and lovely." She also acknowledges men's narrow beauty standards, describing macho stereotypes perpetuated by magazines and how her cousin's brother won't eat starves himself to get six-pack abs. Both men and women in India also have to deal with colorism, which favors light skin tones and discriminates against those with darker complexions.
"I am the color of the strong, fragrant tea aunty sips while remarking, 'Bipasha would be prettier if she was fair,'" Aranya says. "The color of our skin dictates our beauty and that's not the only thing that's unfair." She describes how spouses are often chosen based on their physical appearance, and urges, "instead of looking for grooms who are fair, let's look for grooms who treat people fairly, because the color of someone's skin isn't what we should consider when we look to marry." She tells of a boy whose girlfriend gives him lightening creams for his skin, and of how her "unhealthy" thigh gap was one of the only things that gave her confidence.
The poem touches on many beauty expectations that both men and women have to deal with—weight, skin tone, body type and breast size to name just a few—and it's a pretty bleak picture. However, there is still hope. In the end, Aranya rejects society's outdated and discriminatory expectations. "Forget Snow White, say hello to chocolate brown," she says, "I'll write my own fairytale."
True beauty lies within, and Aranya's powerful poem brings us one step closer to truly embracing all sizes, shapes, and shades.