I read in a magazine once that having pretty underarms (or armpits, pick one!) is an essential element for overall beauty and desirability.

My underarms, being hyperpigmented, did not fall into the “pretty underarms” description, so when I was 15-years-old, I attempted to lighten my underarms with a bleaching cream. Over several weeks, I diligently applied the cream twice a day every day as directed by the box. And to my delight, it worked – for a little while.

Once I stopped using it, to my extreme disappointment, my underarms went back to their normal, hyperpigmented self.

I’ve also used lemon juice, turmeric powder, and lightening creams to get rid of my hyperpigmentation. I’ve even tried to cover them up with makeup.

In short, I was obsessed with trying to meet the ultimate beauty ideals the models in that magazine and other forms of media epitomized. When I saw their perfectly toned underarms, my first thoughts weren’t photoshop or airbrush techniques, but I want my underarms to look that perfect.

I’ve even tried to cover the color up with makeup.

It took me a long time to acknowledge and understand that these beauty standards were Eurocentric, and that they, along with other forces, were priming my mind to hate my own skin.

Being a darker-skinned South Asian woman, I am no stranger to being uncomfortable with my skin tone. Colorism is an unfortunate and unchecked corruption that colonialism has intensified and deeply ingrained into South Asian society. It has caused undue damage and destruction to the minds and lives of girls like me.

Colorism, paired with Eurocentric beauty standards that I will never reach, has created the panic and insecurity I feel when it comes to my dark underarms. This ideology is a strain on my mental health that has kept me from truly accepting myself and accepting that hyperpigmentation is natural.

The truth of the matter is that hyperpigmentation in underarms is natural, especially in people of color. There are only a few cases in which it can indicate underlying issues. But most of the time, all hyperpigmentation is, is an overproduction of melanin.

The truth of the matter is that hyperpigmentation in underarms is natural, especially in people of color.

People of color have more melanin in their skin and as a result, are more prone to an overproduction of it. Darker underarms can also be caused by environmental factors like shaving, deodorants, and sun-exposure.

Underarm discoloration certainly has nothing to do with beauty, nor does having “pretty” underarms have anything to do with desirability.

This is a normal part of our bodies; it is a natural thing our bodies do.

Most of society is still far behind from this more progressive line of thinking, however. Google “underarm discoloration” or “underarm hyperpigmentation.”

Go on, I’ll wait. What did you find?

The entire first page of results is littered with articles about the treatment and prevention of underarm discoloration and links to skin lightening creams. Phrases like “pigmentation problems” and “pigmentation disorders” are most dominant.

Almost every article lists remedies to get rid of dark underarms. Most articles begin with a declaration of hyperpigmentation being normal but then immediately transition into how it can be abnormal and even dangerous, which plays on the psychology of those of us with underarm hyperpigmentation.

What does it say about our society when it tells us that an excess of melanin is an instant cause for concern and discomfort? Hyperpigmentation in underarms, in most cases, does not need treating nor does it indicate anything about beauty, whatsoever.

My underarm discoloration has been a source of anxiety for me for years. To this day, I am still a little bit insecure about it. If I’m wearing a sleeveless top or dress, I try not to expose my underarms because I haven’t been able to fully accept them as part of me.

This is a normal part of our bodies; it is a natural thing our bodies do.

This insecurity and constant surveillance of myself is exhausting; it’s taken a huge toll on my mental health and confidence level. I still sometimes feel a fear that tells me I will be judged and deemed unworthy somehow for having underarm discoloration.

It sounds ridiculous, but years of dealing with Eurocentric beauty ideals in both South Asia and the United States has given me insecurity that whispers words of unkindness and doubts into my ear no matter how far I’ve moved away from trying to embody these ideals.

Still, I am progressing.

My underarm hyperpigmentation is normal and natural, and one day, I will accept that completely.

So is yours, and so will you.

  • Dola Haque

    Dola Haque is a Master of Arts student in English at Northeastern University. Her research includes rhetorics of immigration and race, global feminisms, and narratives and storytelling. Language is her obsession. She is an aspiring novelist and public scholar who hopes to crush the hetero-normative patriarchy while unapologetically finding ways to be joyful and singing her way through life.