File photo of Diana Hayden at the Grand Finale of Amby Valley India Bridal Fashion Week 2012 in Mumbai, Sept. 17. (AFP/Getty Images)

Diana Hayden has slammed Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb for criticizing her 1997 win at the Miss World pageant, saying it is “hurtful” as it exposes how Indians stigmatize the brown skin when in fact they should be proud of it.

Diana said she has been fighting the stereotypical mindset, which gives preference to ‘light color skin’ since her childhood.

Hayden, in a statement headlined: ‘That’s some strong disapproval of me winning the Miss World title!’ said it is ironical that she should be criticized for spreading “appreciation of our Indian brown exotic beauty.”

“It’s a pity and shame that when you win the biggest and most respected beauty pageant in the world, you get criticized and put down as opposed to being appreciated and respected for bringing more accolades back home and further appreciation of our Indian brown exotic beauty. It’s also hurtful,” she said in a statement to PTI.

Deb, who had kicked up a storm by his “Internet in the Mahabharata era” remark, landed himself in a fresh controversy when he questioned the rationale behind Hayden’s win 21 years ago.

The BJP leader, however, said Aishwarya Rai, who won the Miss World crown in 1994, “represents the Indian women” in the true sense.

He said he failed to understand the “process of judgement” of the crowning of the Miss World contest in 1997, in which Hayden won the award.

“We see women as Goddess Laxmi, Saraswati. Aishwarya Rai represents the Indian women. She became the Miss World and that’s all right. But I do not understand the beauty of Hayden,” Deb, who became the chief minister last month, said.

Hayden said she understands why Deb compared her to Aishwarya and not to former Miss World Priyanka Chopra and recently crowned Manushi Chhillar.

“It’s obvious that our skin color difference is on his mind as he’s comparing me to Ash and not Priyanka or Manushi who currently holds the Miss World title, and very deservedly so! Shame on him as our beautiful, exotic brown coloring is to be proud of. I sure am!” she said.

Hayden said it took her time to realize that her skin color was beautiful despite facing such biases for being brown-skinned.

“What is especially sad is the bigger issue here. Being brown skinned, I’ve had to fight (society’s attitude and while growing up my own lack of self-confidence because of my darker skin color) the ‘light skin is better’ issue we have in India.

“I felt so strongly about it that I turned down a fairness cream ad because it went against my belief. We are Indians and predominantly our skin color is brown and we should be really proud of it and learn to appreciate it like it’s appreciated around the world,” she said.