“Cosmetic companies are trying to turn India into a nation of Albinos. No dark area on any part of the body. Except maybe our hearts. Got a cream for that?”
–Shekhar Kapur, filmmaker, on fairness creams
We Indians have this sick mentality and it needs to end. NOW. We are fixated over fair skin. Earlier it was just for women and men were too macho to bother about that stuff. Now, thanks to some clever and downright offensive marketing, that is changing too. Sunscreen lotions are one thing. They are meant to prevent sunburn, which also happens to be harmful, medically. But to use fairness creams to try and change your natural skin colour is something else altogether. We aren’t Caucasians and we shouldn’t be trying turning into them either. It just doesn’t seem right. Where is our self respect?
This issue has been bothering me for a long time, but what finally precipitated this post is an incident involving my friend, who happens to be dark. Her boyfriend was asked by his mom very bluntly whether the girl he liked was fair or dark. That was the first and only question she asked about his love interest. The moment she got his answer, he was asked to get away from her immediately and for good, failing which his mom would feel irrevocably hurt. She let him know in unconditional terms that there was no way she would ever be accepted into their family. A loss of respect towards their family in the native village was cited as the reason. Heck, their nuclear family doesn’t even live in the village and are settled abroad. It’s not even like the guy’s family was extraordinarily fair, but they weren’t too dark either. The guy, stuck between the devil and the deep, buckled under the threat and severed the relationship. His mom obviously meant more to him at that stage, and that’s understandable to an extent. It broke both their hearts and I witnessed the pain such narrow mindedness can cause, first hand. So much strife, over something this trivial. The poor girl was flabbergasted and hurt. I tried my best to tell her that the problem was with them and not her. She is very beautiful, tremendously loyal and has a heart of gold. She is much more than just a ‘dark girl’ and just that label being used to describe her was purely mean and unfair. I told her all this and more. I hope she believed me. I can only imagine how she felt and I hope she thinks no lesser of herself due to this, though that’s unlikely. It is illogical that she had to undergo such pain and humiliation due to other people’s callous attitude. It’s the society that is full of dirt, not her skin.
Similarly, I know of many more parents, grandparents and all sorts of family members/friends disapproving of girlfriends/boyfriends and brides/grooms just because they have dark skin. Matrimonial advertisements and websites glorify this trend. Parents of would be brides who are dark can only get themselves as far as ‘wheatish’ as the d-word would obliterate any likelihood of finding a match! They undergo huge amounts of stress due to the skin colour of their child.
The graph shown here, based on data from 1,672,127 profiles from BharatMatrimony.com (a popular matrimonial site in India) is a clear indicator of this trend. It says a lot about the magnitude of this rot. Are we expected to believe that just 1% of males and 2% of females are dark in India? That just 2% of Indians are dark? That just 1% of North Indians and 2% of South Indians are dark? The truth is that only these percentages of people are comfortable in their own skin and hence are brave enough to go against these spiteful norms. The others have essentially sacrificed their self esteem, played along with society and called themselves wheatish or wheatish brown. They are obviously not to take all the blame themselves as they have been put into this position by us, the society. Not all wheatish brown people are dark, but many dark people are forced to call themselves wheatish or wheatish brown thanks to our allergy to dark skin. Heck, wheatish brown, which is darker than wheatish is almost synonymous with dark, but NO. We are too afraid of that label. Don’t miss the percentage calling themselves ‘fair’. Just vying for it, too proud, flaunting it. Close to 50% in every classification. Seriously? Who are we kidding? Half of the population is fair? Maybe wheatish, but fair? Seems to me the wheatish promote themselves to fair for fear of being bracketed with the fake wheatish people who are essentially dark! Even that is feared! What a bloody circus! And this taboo is only encouraged further and further as time passes and nothing is being done to control it. Hardly anybody is even aware that this is a big time folly.
If you listen closely enough, you can hear such whispers and gossip at any wedding involving a dark bride/groom. “The child will also be dark. How disgraceful”. People defending them would say, “He/she is dark, but is very intelligent (or any other good quality)” in an apologetic tone. As though being dark is an offence. It makes absolutely no sense. How does that even matter as long as their heart is in the right place? Priorities are so messed up. Marry a total bitch as long as she’s fair. A gem of a person is dark, leave her alone to struggle finding a suitable partner, preferably dark as well. No matter how worthless she was made to feel on the way, or how depressing it is to be shunned for no reason at all.
Each person is who they are; they can’t select their skin colour. Then isn’t it unfair beyond doubt to judge them based on skin tone? An ugly but fair girl is more acceptable to society than a dark and beautiful girl. A fair girl with a black heart is just what the doctor ordered. What the hell?? Shame on people like that who think beauty is skin deep and apply pressure from society’s side for people to use such products. The odds are high that either we ourselves, or those we know have succumbed to having such thoughts. We need to change our mentality and that of those around us. Hence, I write this post for you to read. To prick your conscience and hopefully push you to bring about some change in the way we perceive things.
Shame on companies like Emami, Garnier, etc for marketing fairness products in such a crass manner. Fairness is made to look like a necessity to succeed at anything. I remember the fair and lovely ad where the effect of the cream got her past an interview and into a job. This creates the wrong impression and promotes wrong values. The ads featuring Shahrukh Khan simply go over the top by likening success with fair skin. He seems to ascribe his own success to using such a product, without which he would be nothing. For the uninitiated in Hindi and Bollywood, ‘zyada’ means more and Shahrukh is a celebrity, who is endorsing that we need fairness creams to get to his levels of awesomeness.
Such a portrayal offends each and every dark skinned person. It is an insult that is being legally perpetuated all over the media. These companies target the darkishly skinned people as a market, play with their minds through such advertising campaigns and make them succumb to the pressure and buy their products. They are made to feel convinced that dark is ugly. Even if a person is not dark per se, but is not totally white either, he/she is under media inflicted pressure to have white skin. Such is the effect of hard marketing. Poor them. Even if not media pressure, their mentality has been moulded that way by society over a long time, so that they aspire to be fair. Dark skinned people are looked down upon most of the time beauty wise and that is a fact. Advertisements, or not. It’s just hardwired into most of us. A banal mentality, ingrained in our cultural mindset.
However, any dark skinned person who can think independently will see through this mindless charade/obsession and feel offended as well as dejected towards the state of affairs in our society. My advice to them: stop giving a damn about these things. Be proud of your beauty and flaunt it with full confidence. I say, boycott these products. Run these selfish, manipulative companies to the ground. Don’t use such products, stay dark, and stay beautiful. Be happy with what God has given you. This happiness will cast a brighter glow on your face than any fairness cream ever can.
Luckily, some people are finally raising their voice against this societal injustice, which is as senseless as racism. There is a dark is beautiful campaign on, in full swing against the unjust effects of skin colour bias since 2009. They can be found at http://www.darkisbeautiful.in/ . You can sign their petition asking Emami to remove their offensive ad at http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/fair-and-handsome-and-shah-rukh-khan-take-down-discriminatory-ad-lead-the-change-disbcampaign# . Please do read their amazing blog at http://darkisbeautiful.blogspot.in/ and be sure to feel a change in your outlook. Do your part, spread the word.
Our attitude as a society desperately needs to change and we should learn to appreciate beauty beyond the realm of skin colour. We need to rid ourselves of this shallow mentality, boycott such brands and tell our dark skinned friends just how beautiful they are. Dark skinned people also shouldn’t get cowed down and must exude such self confidence that contemptuous people think twice before looking down at them. I hope these lovely people never succumb to our medieval society’s pressures. My dear brothers and sisters, there is nothing wrong with you, but there is everything wrong with them. Their minds are barricaded.You must have heard the oft quoted phrase, ‘beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.’ Well, remember that beauty doesn’t lie in the eye of the beholder if he/she is blind! Let us also realise that not all hope is lost. Our society can still be awakened to appreciate the beauty in each person, irrespective of their skin colour. Enough of this bullshit. Let’s bring in the change, NOW!
- The Curious Case of Racism: India’s unfair obsession with lighter skin (politicallyethical.wordpress.com)
- Letter to the Ad Agencies (bluestockingsmh.wordpress.com)
- “Fair” is not “Lovely” (thehindu.com)
- Can Advertising Change India’s Obsession with Fair Skin? (theatlantic.com)
- India’s dark obsession with fair skin (Forevervogue.com)