Bring on the Brown Man as the Sex Symbol

2013 Nominee

2013 Nominee

Bring on the Brown Man as the Sex Symbol: A Mom’s Response to the GAP Ad with Waris Ahluwalia

By Reva Seth @revaseth & online at:

Skin color and kids is a funny thing.

I have three boys who are 7, 4 and 15 months and while both my husband and I are fully South Asian, we look quite different.

To be blunt, he looks more “Indian” since he has much darker skin than I do – something that my kids occasionally ask about, in the very straightforward why do girls pee sitting down, why is your skin different than Daddy type of way.

 I always respond with the line that people are like dogs – we are all the same species but we have different fur colors and no color is actually better than the other: it just is.  And since the two eldest are animal obsessed, this all makes sense to them.


Then sometime last summer my 7-year-old son (who always identifies himself as brown like Daddy) started telling me how he wanted “yellow” hair because it was better.

Maybe it sounds overdramatic but I actually wanted to cry – I just couldn’t bear the idea that despite all the changes, a little brown boy or girl would automatically think that it was better to be the blonde, blue-eyed guy (or girl).

And of course that’s completely naïve on my part since what else would they think? That’s really still the main message we hear.

Which is why I love love the current GAP ad featuring Sikh model Waris Ahluwalia, even though it caused some controversy in the community.

Yes of course having greater diversity on boards, in political life and positions of leadership is essential but so is how our kids think about themselves and so I say bring on the brown man as the sex symbol.


Then the poster was defaced.

The ad reads “Make Love” but someone had crossed out the word Love and written “Bombs” and added the line “Please stop driving Taxis!”  The subsequent fall out and GAP’s amazing response have been making the rounds online, which is fantastic and will hopefully prompt similar responses from brands in the future.

I live in downtown Toronto, and am surrounded by people who let me generally forget that there are still swaths of the population that would instinctively see my boys and yours are outsiders, criminals and terrorists.

Reva Seth

Reva Seth


Which seems mind-boggling to me and has been a bit of a jolt out of the world that I like to believe in for my kids.

And serves as reminder that, so much more needs to be done.

Which by the way, makes me actually love the ad even more.

Reva Seth is an entrepreneur and author. Her second non-fiction book, “The MomShift: Women Share Their Stories of Career Success After Children(Random House: February 11, 2014).

Find her on Twitter: @RevaSeth or at



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  1. Shakti

    We are (3rd generation Indian) living in a very diverse South Africa. I have a light skinned mum and a very dark skinned dad, my siblings took after my mum, while I took after my dad. I’m 31 now, I love my skin colour.

    One of my sisters has a 4 year old daughter, she has a beautiful caramel skin tone, and my other sisters son has a lovely olive skin tone. It surprised me when the one afternoon, my niece complained that her skin colour is “not nice” like her cousins. When prompted for what she meant, she stated that his skin was light and it was better. I am heart broken that at 4 years old she believes that lighter skin is better. I can only suppose that media she is exposed to makes her believe this…

  2. Sarah Khan

    We are going through this as well. But it’s more from within our own community. My husband, daughter and I are fully South Asian, but my little 5 year old girl and I are slightly lighter skinned than my husband. She has heard from the earliest of days from “aunties” that she is lucky to have such a fair skin tone, and that as a result she will be much more desirable when she gets older. The other day someone actually said to me in front of her that she is “lucky to be so light because she will be able to dye her hair a lighter colour when she’s older and almost pass for a gori”. WHAT KIND OF COMMENT IS THAT? I’ve noticed in her play lately as well that she prefers her “white faced dollies” because she likes them more, and lets me be the “brown faced ones”. It breaks my heart. I want her to grow up proud of who she is and see that colour in anyone doesn’t matter. I’m doing my best (because I grew up with racism, like so many of us) but I sometimes feel that no matter how much headway we make it’s not just the elements of “outside” society we have to worry about, it’s the very vocal “INTERNAL” society we have to watch out for. They still send our kids a very dangerous message.

  3. Theek @ The Laotian Commotion

    I grew up wanting blonde hair, blue eyes because that’s all I ever saw peer adoration towards. It wasn’t until I grew up into a “free-spirited” woman to finally embrace my roots even though exoticization kinda pushed that self-discovery but I’m grateful. Now that my bi-racial kids still “look” White much to my past hauntings remind me, I want to lead example that brown is beautiful.

    Thanks for this. Loved reading it and knowing other moms are taking on diverse ideals of beauty.

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