The global standard of handsome, mysterious, and worldly is based on the colour of your skin. You come into this world with an incredible advantage. It’s time to understand how special you are, and make the most of it. The phrase ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ first originated in Edwardian England. Britain’s spreading empire opened the channels for Englishmen to travel to distant parts of the globe in search of fortune, often returning with both money, and a swarthiness that gave them a distinctly exotic air — sultry, brooding, mysterious.

Until then European standards of beauty, nobility, and wealth had been measured by how ‘pale’ the skin was. And such was the competition for ‘palest’ that, ironically, the first whitening creams were actually invented by the ‘white’ races — toxic, often fatal concoctions made with white lead, vinegar and horse manure. By Victorian times, however, the “dark” man had so captured the Western imagination that he was turned into a figure of romance, prompting an entire new genre of literature that centred around his dusky, brooding, man of the world sexiness.

A fascination that continues till today. Did you know, during ovulation, women are most attracted to darker men because of this deeply ingrained perception that darker skin represents security and worldliness. This was first cited by Johnson and Masters, but since then, has been a part of thousands of studies, Ph.Ds, and articles, with a slight difference in the way it’s phrased (macho-looking men, darker skinned men, etc.) At this point, all the other factors, like intelligence, reliability, etc. are superseded by this one characteristic. But what of India, a nation of brown-skinned people who, for centuries, have idealised the ‘fair skin’? Aside from Lord Krishna, has ‘dark’ ever been equated with beauty for the average man? In fact, for the Ancient Indians, the attraction of “dark” was more than just skin deep. I believe that despite our pursuit of ‘fair and lovely’, deep down, we are hardwired to love our brownness. Not only is our ancient mythology full of references to the power and the beauty of dark skins, the very expression “he turned dark” was a metaphor for intense sexual arousal — possibly referring to the darkening of the complexion during heightened passion.

“Becoming dark” was regularly invoked during love festivals, where men and women would paint their skin with saffron and black aloe paste, as a prayer for a lifetime of sexual pleasure. This ritual darkening of the body was considered a highly refined skill, and is listed as one of the 64 love arts of the Kama Sutra. So today, instead of turning to Western fashion magazines, let me bring you some advice from our ancient texts on how make the most of your brownness.

BRAHMA’S ADVICE

Having manifesting the universe, Brahma created the abodes, the occupations, even the life rules for the many and diverse beings he had brought into this world, including detailed advice on shringar. And his advice was to accentuate dark skin tones with brightly coloured clothes. Ditch the uninspiring beiges and greys for T-shirts in bright reds, cobalt blues and dark jewelled greens are perfect. Or go with a crisp white shirt and blue jeans — you have no idea just how sexy white looks on darker skin.

VISHNU’S ADVICE

Emerging from the cosmic ocean, Lakshmi had been immediately struck by the lustre of Vishnu’s dark glowing skin, her eyes drawn to him despite the crowds of gods and demons surrounding him. He was as dark as night and yet, he glowed with the light of a thousand suns — what was his secret? There’s a lovely little story of one time when he lets her into his skincare secret — sweet potatoes. Tales narrated during the November ekadashi fast describe that when Vishnu wakes up from his four-month sleep, he is always served sweet potatoes to revitalise his glow. The sweet potato story, most likely, also finds a mention in one of the Devi Puranas. The lesson here? A healthy diet is always the best thing for a glowing skin. But in the short term, a good moisturiser will go a long way towards that “Vishnu glow”. Moisturise and exfoliate religiously every day, and finish by spending a few minutes admiring the result in the mirror. If you can love what you see, you’ll love how you feel.

SHIVA’S ADVICE

Self-belief and inner strength. Walk proud. Confidence is your best accessory. Nothing is as sexy as a man who is comfortable in his own skin. Gen Z lives under the eagle scrutiny of a very unforgiving social media culture that expects perfection at all times. The only problem is — what are the paradigms of male beauty? Is it the impossibly bu‡ed, six-pack bodies that stare at us from magazine covers? Or is it the introspective, self-deprecating, emotionally accessible man that one finds within those same covers? There is plenty to worry about. The colour of your skin shouldn’t be one of those things. It will be a challenge to junk hundreds of years of prevailing attitudes around ‘white is beautiful’, do a 180-degree turn, and start believing in the gorgeousness of your darker complexion. But it can be done. Spend a few minutes every day in front of the mirror, to see how good you look as a brown-skinned man. Fall in love with yourself. And for each time you are attacked by self-doubt, remember, you only have to convince yourself in order to feel good about yourself. The world already thinks you’re beautiful.