By Rinzu Rajan:
A visit to the Kirana store can sometimes be a big leap towards insanity. The big cut-outs of fair women smiling at me is not a very happy sight. And the shopkeeper at the big kirana store in the central market is the only one who stocks up the lotions and potions. While many times he runs short of a basic moisturizer, you will surely find fairness cream tubes of various sizes and types at his store. You name it and he has it, from Fair and Lovely to Garnier and even those for men.
As a child, I had visibly fair skin which started getting roasted in Delhi’s heat and pollution. To add insult to the injury was my fascination for basketball. I remember practicing with my best friend at a time of the day when the sun spewed fire. Both of us never bothered, and by the time we hurriedly paced towards the classroom for the next period, we were sun-burnt. The nastiest May heat couldn’t scare us and there we were, two Indian girls fascinated by tanning. While many of our other girl friends hid in the classrooms, petrified of sun burns and skin darkening, we made sure that we dribbled the ball with the sun bearing witness to us. The very first time I tasted a racist remark was when I was in class 11th. A very good male friend of mine, atleast I thought him to be, referred to me as ‘kalicharan‘. I laughed over it twice, trying my best to not make a mountain out of a molehill. Thereby, the jibe used to echo through the corridors of the senior section floor in the school building. I decided to dismiss it as a joke until it started to irritate me. One day I confronted him and gave him a huge piece of my mind. Since then, the guy came back to his senses and never used derogatory words of any kind, against anyone. That was perhaps the first time that I stood up for myself as a girl and a human, who was more than her skin color. The ‘kali’ word although got stuck in my head. I started using ‘Fair and Lovely’ which thankfully broke me out terribly, and I decided to give up on it.
The second such instance that shook my belief in our society, happened in college. My seniors on the day of the ragging riled a racist remark against me. The one famously used by fair skinned punjabis for South Indians – ‘madrasi’. Although both my spoken English and Hindi had no tinge of a south Indian accent, it was my skin color that gave them the idea about my roots. What followed was a complaint that made my racist seniors piss in their pants and skirts. Another instance that gave way to the return of fairness creams in my life was a family friend’s concerned advice for me. I had already given a whirl to the best brand of fairness cream once, all thanks to the racist prejudices, the racist Indian society had shown towards a brown skinned south Indian girl. This racist blabbermouth gave me a nightmare when he warned me to stay vigilant and rub the tan out of my face, since most Indian grooms prefer a fair skinned girl. Yes indeed, as I began to grey the Indian society started to lose its face. Those matrimonial advertisments gave me an inkling of how deeply prejudiced and racist we are. I am yet to understand the relationship between a woman’s skin color and her prospects of finding a life partner. That makes me wonder, is a woman a show piece that needs to christen itself to the cause of being a social artefact that the parents can flaunt before marriage, and the husband and in-laws after marriage? I haven’t used fairness creams since then and discourage women from using it.
Many fairness creams have been reported to be using high levels of mercury, chromium and nickel which are carcinogenic. Fairness creams lead to the thinning of skin and since it reduces the production of melanin, may also lead to skin cancer. It is depressing to realize that women like you and me are using or did use these creams at some point in our lives to feed the aggressive prejudices of a sexist and racist society.
Celebrities like Shahrukh Khan are promoting ‘Fair and Handsome’ for men and Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif bat for Garnier Light and Olay Fairness cream respectively. The latest to join the bandwagon of celebrities speaking for fairness products is Yami Gautum for Fair and Lovely. Also, John Abraham endorses men’s fairness cream for Garnier. Such famous celebrities with a huge fan following promoting the fairness myth is adding fuel to the fire. Meanwhile, celebrities like Kangana Ranaut refusing to endorse a fairness brand and Nandita Das launching the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign is creating awareness and educating the biased Indians against myths that advocate fairness. Vaseline has the fairness body lotion for you and brands like Dove have a whitening underarm deodorant which takes the fairness frenzy to a dangerously ridiculous low.
The winner, of course, was the Clean and Dry intimate wash launched in 2012 which took the fairness fascination to the erogenous zone, insulting every nook and cranny of a woman’s body. Which they think must have a fair face, fair body, fair underarms and a fair vagina only because fair emits more light and can be seen clearly. India has achieved a new low in ‘consumer capitalism’ that targets the fear factor etched in our minds by a racist, sexist, prejudiced and hypocrite society.
Oh yes! I forgot to tell you. I recently saw an advertisement of a fairness oil for babies. Enough said? Just tells you of the demons we try to fight, everyday.