Miss Universe Australia, Priya Serrao, has spoken out against colourism in the beauty industry and revealed makeup artists often still don’t know how to work with her skin colour.
Three months since she was crowned, Priya says she’s been left looking “darker or way too yellow” because makeup artists don’t have the correct beauty products to suit her complexion.
The Indian-born model, who moved to Melbourne with her parents at age 11, admits there’s times when she’s only realised the makeup mismatch when “the photos come out and your face is a different colour to the rest of your body”.
“My skin is olive and the number of times I’ve had the wrong shade of foundation put on my face,” the 27-year-old told HuffPost Australia. “It’s either darker or way too yellow or just the wrong mix of things they put on my skin.
“And I’m just too polite to say anything… then I just go home and wash it off or I mix my own foundation and try to make it look better.”
Priya acknowledges this isn’t always the case but admits having it happen to her “numerous times, even after Miss Universe” is disappointing.
“Even now, sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh please don’t’,” she said of awkward situations in the makeup chair.
Priya was born to Indian parents in Secunderabad, which is in the south region of India. She spent most of her childhood in Oman and Dubai before coming to Australia with her parents at age 11.
She says “I am paler than the average Indian person”, but she has been confronted with colourism which is deeply ingrained in South Asian communities across the world.
For years many Eastern cultures have viewed fairer skin as the image of ideal beauty, fuelling a whole industry dedicated to skin lightening creams and bleaching products, with India’s ‘Fair and Lovely’ product one of the most infamous in that category.
“The number of times I’ve had the wrong shade of foundation put on my face”
“Growing up I was always told by my grandparents as well, ‘You look so nice, stay out of the sun. If you stay in the sun too long you’ll come back tanned’’,” said Priya. “You’d get told off because you hadn’t put a hat on or you shouldn’t be outside very much.
“I remember in 2012 I went to South America for three months and obviously spent a lot of time in the sun. I came back home and my mum looked at me and she was like, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘You are so dark’, and I’m like,’ Mum, just relax. It’s just skin, that’s just what happens when you’re out in the sun’.”
Priya says she’s “shocked” that the beauty industry still promotes colourism in many parts of the world, including the country where she was born.
“I’m really shocked that we’re in the 21st century, very progressive in a lot of ways but also very, very regressive when it comes to what we find beautiful,” she said.
In 2014 the Advertising Standards Council of India banned ads that depict people with darker skin as “unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned”.
Colourism was brought up again in May this year after all of the finalists in Miss India were accused of “[looking] the same”. A photo published by The Times Of India sparked backlash when the headshots of the pageant’s 30 finalists didn’t represent the diversity in skin shades across India.
After winning Miss Universe Australia, Priya says there’s greater awareness that all skin colours are beautiful.
“It is slowly happening, we are recognising that ‘Yeah, you don’t have to look that way to be beautiful and you can look different and still be considered’,” she said at the L’Oréal Paris Dream Elvive Lengths event.
“I think me winning the [Miss Universe] title as well has exemplified that in a lot of ways.”