Bridgerton season two has been out for almost a month, yet my social media feeds continue to be dominated by the grandeur of scenes in the Regency-inspired series. While many posts are fawning over the Bridgerton brothers (I don’t blame them; I am too), there’s also been a larger conversation online surrounding the South Asian representation the show held for many. The show featured key details on-screen, like a pre-wedding Haldi ceremony and a violin version of the classic Bollywood song “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum,” but also made sure to keep things the same way off-screen, working with consulting agency For the Culture to help plan events for the series.
The biggest part of the show that resonated with many, however, were characters Kate and Edwina Sharma, played by Tamil actresses Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran. I’ve seen no shortage of posts talking about why the duo’s appearance on the Netflix series is a refreshing turn in terms of how South Asian beauty is shown on-screen. For years, South Asian women have always been shown in one specific light—that our beauty was not meant to be admired immediately and that if any form of love or affection was shown our way, it was a “shocking” plot point.
While making colorist comments or typecasting South Asian women may seem like a funny or entertaining bit for writers on a TV show, it can be a reality for many. It’s one thing to see these experiences on-screen, but when you go through them yourself, it starts to solidify those thoughts in your head. While colorism is prevalent in the media, it’s something deeply rooted in our culture as well. Lightening skin creams are commonly sold in Indian supermarkets, there’s a rarity of darker-skinned actresses in Bollywood, and many older aunts will make a comment if you apply bronzer. The issues even seeped into my own off-screen love story, as I married someone with much lighter skin than me and was told that I was lucky to do so. While I consider myself lucky to have met my husband for a lot of things, the fact that he has lighter skin is not one of those reasons.
Some may think it’s frivolous to be overjoyed at characters in a TV series—but for South Asian women, it goes far beyond surface level. As someone who grew up seeing women who look like me be deemed as unlovable, I spent a large part of my youth giving into my insecurities. I was obsessed with rom-coms—determined to romanticize everything but myself. While I loved watching Kate Hudson fall in love with Matthew McConaughey for the millionth time, seeing the same type of woman be the ideal “catch” taught me as a young woman that I didn’t deserve to be loved in that way. Seeing characters like Kate and Edwina Sharma simply exist in peace without any negative connotation toward their skin tone or culture was refreshing. It was not only heartwarming to see Anthony fall in love with Kate (and not have the plot point make that surprising), but I was also left in awe to see South Asian sisters who carried themselves with such confidence and shook up the ton. It all brought immense joy to many, including me. It may sound corny, but it healed the inner romance-loving insecure teenager in me. While Bridgerton didn’t teach me to love myself (I eventually learned that on my own), it was a reminder that everything I thought about myself growing up was untrue.
While I’ve seen many posts on how the portrayal of Edwina and Kate felt for South Asian women, I’ve also seen a variety of users online talking about the makeup used on the show. Even in 2022, it still takes a lot of searching to find products that work well with darker skin tones, and it’s rare to see makeup artists whose application on darker-skinned women doesn’t hide prominent features but instead accentuates them in the most beautiful way.
When I talked to Bridgerton‘s resident makeup artist, Erika Ökvist, she told me that she believes that anyone working in makeup should know how to handle all skin types because that’s just part of the job. She previously worked on a TV series in Bangladesh and mentioned a rule she held was that she would not allow any form of skin-lightening to be used in her process. When I was younger, colorism made me feel like I couldn’t use bronzer, darker blushes, or play too much with warmer makeup that was identical to my skin tone. When I asked Ökvist about my favorite look from episode eight, where Kate dances with Anthony in a beaded orange gown to a classical version of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” she told me she used all those techniques that I once thought were wrong for me in creating her stunning look. She matched eye shadow that held the same depth and warmth as her skin tone, using deep bronze tones from Pat McGrath’s Bronze Seduction Mothership V Eyeshadow Palette. I no longer hold the colorist beauty standards to myself as I once did, and speaking with Ökvist about the looks she curated for both the characters of Edwina and Kate, she taught me even further to push my boundaries with how I apply makeup and what I’ve been shown about beauty for a large part of my life.