Published: 24th March 2021
How an unfiltered photoshoot featuring Aneesha Mohan challenged Kerala's beauty standards
Aneesha Mohan's unfiltered photoshoot has reminded people of everything that beauty can look like. We speak to the student model who has embraced her dark skin w
The online Malayali has found a new favourite in Aneesha Mohan. Beautiful, confident and absolutely unafraid, the 23-year-old BEd student from Kochi’s St Joseph’s College has been dominating social media with a stunning photoshoot. Shot by her friend and photographer Gabriel Francis (Ajay), the images stand apart because Aneesha is entirely herself. Dark-skinned and unfiltered, it sets a new standard in what beauty can look like.
“I have never really experienced any bullying because of my skin, I’ve always known that I’m beautiful,” says Aneesha confidently, “And since I’ve always been told that I have the looks for it, I’ve always wanted to make headway into the modelling industry. And when I would watch films, I would imagine myself in it. I had this confidence that I could, although there weren’t many others like me. This feeling never wavered.”
However, she met with a first wave of resistance from her family. As they were unable to accept a career in modelling, she explains that she didn’t receive any support for her passion. So for many years, she chose not to accept opportunities to model. So what changed for Aneesha this year? “I am almost 24. I can't really listen to everyone else at this point. It was very difficult to know that I have the talent and to not do what I have always dreamt of doing. I knew in my heart that putting it off for any longer would not be right or fair to myself.”
When the photos were posted on March 11, they were able to challenge many other preconceived notions along the same lines. Although she was sure that the pictures would be received well, she never expected to find her picture in major magazines or for people to share them endlessly. Aneesha knows one thing for sure: only real dialogues and conversations can change perceptions. And for the young audience that embraced their work, she believes that art and visual experiences are the best way to start a conversation.
"It's not just in Kerala, in most parts of the country, only fair skin has been considered equivalent to beautiful skin. Our society has always associated a sense of negativity to darker skin. While we do have many dark-skinned models in the country now, it hasn't been normalised enough among people. The idea is not to say 'black is also beautiful', it is about taking these labels away from beauty, to see colour exactly as it is," she explains.
Aneesha expresses concern about the beauty industry in India and how it perpetuates skin colour discrimination. Most products in the Indian market are targetting fair skin. From her own experience, products marketed to darker skin are unaffordable and rarely available. Having had to seek out unavailable products and to spend more than she intended for it, she urges the Indian cosmetic industry to reform and to make more options available to people of all skin colours and types.
She continues, "Our society is only beginning to change, it's slowly accepting differences. We need to be able to motivate ourselves and believe that we can be different. Even at home, I got used to being called the 'karutha kutti' (dark-skinned girl). While there were relatives who made me believe that it would be a tag that would follow me around forever, there were others who helped me see how beautiful I am. I think about those who were never allowed to feel beautiful. To them, I say: Motivate yourselves, see yourselves and don't wait for anyone to make you feel that way."