Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is Fair the Only Kind of Lovely?

"I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character".
                                                           Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fair and lovely? Really?

Let me take you on a trip down memory lane to a time when I was still a teenager. 

It is a nice sunny day in a small city in India. I sit down to watch some television. I think of watching a Hindi movie or some peppy music videos for some entertainment. After a while I realize the only thing I have been able to catch on the multitude of channels are a string of daft advertisements. I get mildly annoyed but carry on channel surfing as always. Then I see it....the advertisement for a 'Fair and Lovely' fairness cream. A dusky, forlorn young girl appears on screen. There is an air of melancholy about her (am I imagining it or are there subtle tints of sepia adding to the dullness?). We see her hopes of procuring her dream job go down the drain when her application to a prestigious flight attendant training institute is curtly rejected. It seems as if she has nothing going for her. Her parents watch over her anxiously, their faces etched with worry. It is quite apparent that they are thinking of something on the lines of "Alas! What is to become of our dark (and therefore ugly) daughter?". And then, out of the shadows emerges a friend (the incarnation of an angel, minus the halo) and passes her a tube of fairness cream. The dusky girl looks unsure at first but then her expression changes as she is struck with the realization that her destiny is tied to this small tube of white goop. So she religiously applies it everyday....morning, noon and night. The viewers are helpfully shown a color transformation chart with a shade guide as a reference. And then, lo and behold!, in a period of few weeks, the ugly duckling has transformed into a beautiful swan! (by the way, at this stage, the sepia tints have been replaced by a glowing luminescence). Her skin is ghostly white and we see a obvious (albeit unnatural) radiance emanating from her. No prizes for guessing that she also nails the interview to become a flight attendant. The interviewer looks like he has been struck by the "thunder bolt" (I'm quoting The Godfather here), so mesmerized by her "loveliness" that it seems that all she has to do is sit in front of him and flash her pearly whites (which by the way almost matches her skin tone) to qualify for the job. Her parents are predictably elated and shed copious tears of of joy. Although, the advertisement ends on a joyous note, I feel anything but that. On the contrary, I realize that I am quite incensed. Coming back to the present, I am pretty sure such ads are still being telecast, and it is high time we have a powerful national movement against colorism! 

The color of a person's skin is inconsequential to me and I find it hard to understand why it matters so much to so many people. It is the prejudice towards dark skinned individuals that gets under my skin more than anything. In a society like ours, which is obsessed by pale skin thanks to the dogged impact of the long gone British colonial era along with association of fair skin with higher caste (~class), such advertisements only reinforces superficiality. Ironically enough, our culture teaches us to be anything but superficial. The British left long ago and the significance of the caste system has diminished over time but unfortunately the color fixation still persists.

It is sad that you have celebrities irresponsibly endorsing skin whitening products. Most of these so-called icons or role models (no matter how educated they are) can easily chuck away any moral/ethical responsibility to make a quick buck. And it's not as if they would ever use such misleading products themselves! Furthermore, this frivolity is not just restricted to television...there are subtle hints of it everywhere you look!

You open the matrimonial section of any newspaper and you will see advertisements from families seeking a suitable alliance for their son. Such advertisements usually start off with 'girl should be fair, tall, good-looking and drivel like that. You drive along any major highway and you can see billboards of models with ivory hued complexions endorsing products from jewellery to cars to insurance policies. It begs the question, 'what is wrong our natural coloring?' Caramel doesn't just look good as a dessert looks good as a skin tone too! Isn't that something people from the Indian sub-continent are admired for in the Western world? Isn't that why white-skinned people lie roasting in the sun for hours or flock to tanning booths? I guess it all boils down to human psychology. We always go after what we don't have! 

Although it would be wrong to generalize, in my opinion, a lot of people in India (particularly the older generation) consider a fair skinned person physically attractive regardless of whether that person has a symmetrical face, good features, an alluring smile or other desirable attributes. Growing up, I have admittedly benefited from having a (relatively) lighter skin tone and this is something I genuinely feel guilty about. Throughout school, pre-university and even professional college, I noted the benefits of my "fair privilege" that reflected in the way I was treated in general, chosen to participate in events and even awarded marks in exams! On more than one occasion, I have had classmates tell me this to my face which made it a bitter pill to swallow. It is simply ludicrous for an individual's intelligence, abilities, talents, beauty or strength of character to be judged on the basis of lightness of skin color! It is undeniable that in our society, fair complexioned people can get away with things their darker peers cannot and that gives them an un"fair" advantage. And this toxic fascination with fairness isn't just restricted to women by the way. There are fairness creams available in the market for men as well (case in point: Fair and Handsome fairness cream for men!). Now, that according to me is just  bizarre. Whatever happened to tall, dark and handsome??!

On the upside, the younger generation is trying hard to curb this stereotype. Today's India is a rising economic powerhouse with an ever-growing middle class who (I hope!) are proud of their Indian identity. There is a widespread feeling of a change in attitude towards accepting our "true colors". The notion of fairness being more desirable that has been embedded deep within the Indian psyche is slowly beginning to fizzle out. Nowadays more and more young people seek out their own partners and presumably color compatibility would be one of the last things on their minds. Life is too complicated to dwell on petty issues like that anyway! You see gutsy attempts at tackling this subject on social message boards, magazines, newspapers and daily soaps telecast on Indian television. Self-esteem is becoming the new mantra of the present generation. More and more dusky models and celebrities are grabbing headlines for being appreciated for their complexion. It also helps that off late the global fashion industry is embracing south Asia's darker-skinned models. You now get to see a more accurate representation of the real "Indian" woman in the national and international media. It is a growing opinion that the dusky skin tone in fact makes a woman look more natural, sensuous and has the unique ability to give a face a certain depth of character. We are accepting and even embracing our looks which is a huge step in the right direction. With education comes a better understanding of how intelligence, integrity and good character are in no way related to how a person appears on the surface.

Here's to learning to love the skin we are in!



  1. hey megi its a fantastic write up kane! i was thinking, why dont u try sending ur articles to a newspaper or readers digest or something??? i mean seriously, theyre much better than than the crappy articles we read in the sunday supplements which are usually abt some stupid bollywood buzz. think abt it :)

  2. times of india:

  3. Great blog! Helped me write an assignment about Indian fairness product advertising......


What do you think of this post? You can leave a message to let me know. Thanks!

Please note that I reserve the right to delete any comments that I deem inappropriate, offensive, spam or self-advertising. I appreciate your understanding in this matter.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...