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“Women of colour often face the challenge of their individual personalities being overshadowed by their racial identity.“
‘’She was the perfect girl, tall and blonde.’’ When someone said that to me on a first date, I wanted the ground to swallow me up. First, because of insecurity, but also annoyance – why ask me out if I wasn’t your type?
I’m now in a happy relationship, but situations like this one were pretty common when I was playing the dating game. As an Indian woman in England, I was used to men making a clear point that they were attracted to me for my race. Opening lines on dating apps were far too often centred around my complexion, to the point where I removed myself from the dating pool at times, because I was sick of being objectified.
Dating as a woman of colour in a country where most people are white comes along with a whole wealth of struggles. I was admittedly ‘late’ into the dating scene, and growing up I always thought that my ‘lack of attraction’ from others was down to my race. I didn’t have the light skin, bright blue eyes or gleaming blonde hair that my friends in relationships had. Instead, I had dark body hair, darker skin, and was sometimes the only person of colour in a group.
Others share this experience. ‘’There was one guy who I was talking to, and he said he was physically attracted to me but ‘could never be romantically involved with an Asian girl’’’ says 23-year-old Durham University alumni Aisha Sembhi.
University is where hook-up and dating culture stereotypically occurs - and where people feel as if they can say whatever they want, no matter how offensive it may be. Though university was an amazing experience for me to grow my overall confidence, it was also where I started dating and where I was exposed to these scenarios.
‘’There were also other guys who I’d slept with who would make weird comments about how they never knew Indian girls were ‘into sleeping around’, and how it had been a bucket list goal to get with a brown girl. I felt like my race was almost always a factor in how I was perceived - either as someone who could never be properly desired because of ‘preferences’, or as a purely sexual object that people saw as a ‘goal’ to get with,’’ Aisha adds.
The concept of women of colour being seen as a ‘goal’ in dating is perhaps perpetuated by Western media being whitewashed. 21-year-old student Romayne Silva says that dating as a South Asian woman is more difficult because ‘’you have to accept that you aren’t the beauty standard.’’
‘’If you ask someone who their ideal woman is, you will hear Kendall Jenner, Margot Robbie and many other white influential women. Being in a predominantly white environment, when it comes to dating, you feel like you’re the last choice. People may disagree with this because of how far the beauty industry has come with diversity and representation, but the truth is that society still hasn’t come far enough,’’ she adds.
These feelings can rightly lead to trust issues in relationships, which is something I have had to overcome.
‘’It’s harder to trust people when you’re constantly fetishised, or when being with an Asian girl is something people just want to tick off their list,’’ Romayne says.
Lilith Fox, a 31-year-old Middle Eastern sexologist and relationship educator based in America, has come across the issue frequently both in her own life and via her clients’ experiences. She classifies these circumstances as occurring due to: fetishisation, implicit bias, microaggressions, cultural misunderstandings and erasure of identity.
Lilith also believes a lot of these offensive comments come from people’s subconscious. ‘’Even in seemingly progressive circles, subtle biases can creep into interactions. For instance, there may be preconceived notions about a person's behaviour, preferences or background based on their race.’’
‘’Women of colour often face the challenge of their individual personalities being overshadowed by their racial identity. They want to be seen as your partner, not your (insert race here) partner,’’ she says.
It’s surprising that these conversations still need to be had in 2023. But I’m now a 22-year-old woman about to embark on life after university, and if I could go back in time, I would tell my 18-year-old self to embrace her culture. I now proudly present myself as an Indian woman and I don’t shy away or resent myself because of my heritage. If other people aren’t attracted to me because of it, that is not my problem.