When I was young, until about the age of 11 or 12 I never knew I had brown skin. Weird isn’t it? As I was going through primary school I remember a teacher calling me ‘that black girl’ of which I really didn’t understand because as far I was concerned I may not have been white, but I clearly wasn’t black either (Let me just be clear in saying that this was in Brisbane. In Melbourne I always felt like I belonged, maybe it was all the ethnic people everywhere and the memory that I had Mauritian friends in prep who I spoke to in creole and ate lentils with me). The only reason I really thought about the colour of my skin was when a girl a lot younger than me told me she couldn’t play with me because I was ‘black’ and her parents told her she wasn’t allowed to talk to me anymore because I was a ‘boong’. I was outraged and just couldn’t believe anyone would say such a thing, and what on earth was a ‘boong’? (So, so sorry to use such a horrible word but it is only used in the context of this story, I would never use it in my life and I hate it.) As I got older I spoke to my Mum and Dad about this and they told me many a story of outright racism. Of my Dad being told to smile in the photographic darkroom at Telecom and my Mum being yelled at for taking jobs away from ‘real Australians’. It was then that I realised I was different and that I wasn’t like the other girls in my class or even in my school.
The book ‘Is everyone hanging out without me?’ by Mindy Kaling has sprouted this inspirational conversation in me. What a great book? I have only read about 70 or so pages (it is only 200 or so long) and I totally love it. She talks about being a ‘chubby Indian kid’, eating roti and hanging out with her very anglo friends. Mindy Kaling is a brilliant comedian and role model for all women and girls. However as a woman of multicultural heritage it makes me so happy that a woman who is a) Ethnic b) Naturally curvy c) Intelligent and opinionated d) 100% herself has become so popular. I mean I never had anyone like Ms Kaling to look up to when I was growing up. In fact I feel like I had no one. Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Blossum? Yeah of course I truly loved them all, but they were not like me or the women in my family. So who did I bond with on TV? Yep, The Cosby Show and my all time idol, Lisa Bonnet.
The Cosby Show was for a while the only show that I could say, hey those people look somewhat like my family. I though Lisa Bonnet was so cool, so stylish and yes so smart. She went to college and I followed her their on that other show that I can’t remember the name of. Back in Australia though I was a little lost for role models. I didn’t really bond with Kylie and Sally from Home and Away was just way to boring for me. I do however distinctly remember watching Acropolis Now and feeling some strange affection towards the character Effie, with her big hair and loud personality. She was a woman I could relate to, one I had seen before in my own home, with a little less of all that.
I remember watching these women and thinking, they are all very cool and interesting. But where is someone that looks like me?. My whole life I tried to find someone on TV or in the movies that looked like me. No one at school looked like me, no one at the school dances looked like me. Where on earth was I from if nobody in the universe looked like me? (Of course my Mum, cousins and aunts looked like me, but I wasn’t interested in that)
Then came my obsession with Marissa Tomei, who I thought I kind of looked like (not). She was ethnic of some description and totally beautiful and got to act with Robert Downey Junior in ‘Only You’ which for a time was my favourite film.
I even went so far as to take a photo of Marissa to the hair dresser and get my hair cut into a short pixie do (very 90s) just like her. When I got to school the girls told me I looked like Toni Braxton – not the reaction I thought I would get. However in hindsight I think Toni Braxton is bloody beautiful but at the time if I wasn’t looking like Marissa something was very wrong.
As I went to Uni a show called ‘The Secret Life of Us’ came on TV and all of sudden a brown woman appeared in front of me every week. Deborah Mailman. When I went out to bars men would tell me I had beautiful lips like that lady from that TV show – what a line huh? Again and again people would tell me I looked like Deborah Mailman. Years later I have also realised that Deborah Mailman is very beautiful, but of course at the time I was outraged, partly because I was 19 and she was way older and I also thought I was much thinner, which turns out I am not. Whoops.
The point of all this ranting about brown skinned women is to say that I think the next generation of half Sri Lankan, half Mauritian girls will have Mindy Kaling to look up to. A woman that is not a caricature of her ethnicity, nor is she overly serious about her heritage, the jokes about Sriachi and chicken wings are ones I hold very dear to my heart. She is hilarious, went to uni, has her own show, has written a book, wears awesome clothes that have totally inspired me to add more colour into my wardrobe and she isn’t afraid to say she likes to eat two breakfasts or has a very, very healthy appetite. Her character of Mindy Lahiri in ‘The Mindy Project’ is also slightly delusional like me in that she sees herself as ‘petite’ like a tiny bird. So thank you Mindy Kaling for bringing me joy and helping me find a woman on TV that does look a little bit like me and who is young, hot and completely herself.
P.S. Also a special mention to Neneh Cherry, who when I saw ‘Buffalo Stance’ made me think one of my cousins was on TV and made me want to wear high top sneakers and a gold puffer jacket, this lead to a short time thinking I was actually black and sassy. I wished for some time that I could look just like her and had an English accent too.
Role models, idols, obsessions?? I will elaborate on these topics even more very soon. For now enjoy a flashback video: