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'Mean Girls' star Avantika talks colorism, says she feels 'uglier in India' than in the U.S.

The 19-year-old actor talks about Bollywood’s color problem and how “Bridgerton” stars Charithra Chandran and Simone Ashley give her hope.
Avantika Vandanapu at the Global Premiere of "Mean Girls" in New York on Jan. 8, 2024.
Avantika Vandanapu at the premiere of "Mean Girls" in New York on Jan. 8.John Nacion / Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

“Mean Girls” star Avantika is speaking out about colorism in India and the negative perceptions of darker-skinned women from South India.

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, the 19-year-old actor, who just goes by her first name, said she feels Indian beauty standards malign women with her complexion, and those darker.

“I have definitely always felt uglier in India than I have here,” she said. “The colorism situation is primarily one of the biggest reasons why.”

Growing up, she said, both American and Indian media that she watched failed to portray people who looked like her and were of her particular background. North Indian and light-skinned women tended to dominate across platforms.

“I’m South Indian, and there’s this perception that North Indian women are more beautiful than South Indian women,” she said. “And the South Indian women who do reach insane levels of success in India are very light-skinned — some have become lighter skinned.”

But in recent years, she said, she sees Western media embracing South Asian women with darker complexions.

“So seeing myself represented in ‘Bridgerton’ Season 2’s Charithra Chandran and Simone Ashley — beautiful, dusky-skinned women … in Hollywood has made me so, so happy,” she said.

Avantika is also finding acceptance herself — with her career taking off and spanning genres. She played Karen Shetty in “Mean Girls” this year, cementing a new brown-skinned face for the iconic character, originally named Karen Smith in the 2004 version of the film.

In an interview with The Cut earlier this year, she said she and screenplay writer Tina Fey collaborated on how to add her identity to Karen, and she suggested a change to the last name.

“It was an amazing opportunity to use not just a South Asian, but a specifically South Indian last name,” she said. “Opportunities for brown women in this industry are few and far from many, so we don’t really have the privilege of specificity. When you get the chance, you jump on it for your own people.”

She also just made her debut as a scream queen in the horror movie “Tarot,” which released this month.

“I have definitely found that the odds are a bit less stacked against me here than they are [in India] because I can’t change my skin color,” she said. “But I can convince people that I’m talented and that I deserve an opportunity or that I have a voice that needs to be heard.”

South Indian fans online praised Avantika for speaking out about something they’ve experienced all their lives too, they said.

“South Indian women are some of the most beautiful women in the world...the colorism and featurism pervading South Asian culture is some of the worst in the world,” one fan said in a post on X. “I’m glad Avantika is speaking out about this.”

“Oh avantika you’ve got my vote this november,” another person on X joked.