In a new interview with Glamour magazine, actress Priyanka Chopra talked openly—and honestly—about her journey to body confidence. The Quantico and Baywatch star told the mag that she once was self-conscious of her “dusky” skin, revealing that she even starred in a commercial in India for skin-lightening cream at the start of her career. It’s a move she now regrets, as it furthered the stigma around dark skin in India. She explained to the mag:
“A lot of girls who have a darker skin hear things like, ‘Oh, poor
thing, she’s dark. Poor thing, it’ll be hard for her.’ In India they
advertise skin-lightening creams: ‘Your skin’s gonna get lighter in a
week.’ I used it [when I was very young]. Then, when I was an actor,
around my early twenties, I did a commercial for a skin-lightening
cream. I was playing that girl with insecurities. And when I saw it, I
was like, ‘Oh shit. What did I do?'”
Chopra, who covers the June issue of Glamour, said after the ad, she decided to start speaking out about her skin tone in a way she hadn’t before—with confidence. “I started talking about being proud of the way I looked,” she said. “I actually really like my skin tone.”
Today, Chopra feels more comfortable in her skin, which helps her push back against people’s stereotypes about who she is as an Indian woman. Her least favorite word is “exotic,” and she told Glamour why the phrase needs to be phased out when describing her and other minorities.
“We can call ourselves that. You can’t call us that,” Chopra said, point-blank. “When somebody else calls you exotic, exotic is a box—it’s the stereotype of snake charmers and face jewelry. You’re just that stereotype.”
In her comments, Chopra highlights an important and all-too-common microaggression that many people without traditional European features experience. While being called an “exotic beauty” can be thought of as a compliment, it instead can objectify and further marginalize.
The Baywatch star goes on to explain that while she used to be angered by the word, she now uses moments when she hears it to educate.
“I used to get offended by things that were said to me, or how I was seen. Now I educate. If I get pissed off, I’ll educate in a sassy way,” she said. (When and where can we all get a lesson in “sassy education,” Priyanka?)
Chopra also spoke about how being categorized as strictly a “Bollywood actress” affected her sense of self. Having appeared in more than 50 Bollywood films, she had to fight against Hollywood stereotypes of Indians to land lead roles in Quantico and Baywatch. She told Glamour:
“I did not want to be the stereotype of either Bollywood or what Indian
actors are [usually offered]. The exotic, beautiful girl, or the
academically inclined nerd. And I wanted to play a lead…. And I’m
playing an FBI agent on Quantico. I didn’t settle for less…. I
[also] used to get upset with the word ‘Bollywood’ and what it means
[in] the West. The stereotype of us being dancing, singing, puppet
showgirls. [Indians] are nearly one-fifth of the world’s population; we
have one of the most prolific film industries in the world. When
people used to ask me about it, or replicate what they think is
Bollywood dancing, thinking that they’re being funny, I used to get
offended. But now I show them the stuff we do.”
Read more about Chopra’s journey in Hollywood—and even a few of her hair secrets—on glamour.com, and pick up the newest issue on newsstands May 9.
Also: How Practicing Yoga Helped Jessamyn Stanley Love Her Body