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Why I Cringe Every time I See A Fairness Product Ad

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By Deepika Singhania:

I grew up reading books that taught me that children should be out playing in the sun; and this is generally deemed as normal. But that is of course not the case in India. Here, the children (especially the girls, as usual) are told to stay away from all that glorious sunshine. And no, the harsh heat is not really the reason, it’s the colour of the skin that they’re worried about.

fairness products

Back in my school days, I faintly remember my mother yelling at me to not play out too much during the much awaited summer vacations. She would say, “Don’t play in the sunlight. You’re not listening now, baad me jab kaali ho jayegi tab rothe phirna.” (You’ll cry later when your skin becomes darker) I didn’t pay any attention to it back then, but as I grew up, I realised ‘fair is beautiful’ is the idea that has been deeply etched in our society.

I cringe every time the fairness creams ads play out on TV. They all give out the same message in different ways — you need to be fair to be beautiful and you need to be beautiful to do well in your life. What has looking fair got anything to do with anyone’s career is beyond my logical understanding. Also, apart from the same community being a requirement, ‘a fair bride’ always seems to be the topmost required quality in most matrimonial ads.

They say that there’s no racism in India. Yes, it’s true that caste was and still is a major cause for discrimination here. But this is mainly because the Indian society on a whole has internalised the stereotype of ‘fair is beautiful’. I have dark skinned friends whose mothers look at me and say, “Look at how fair she is. Why can’t you be like that?” I know of another friend whose sister gets treated differently (not in the good way, mind you), only because she is slightly darker skinned than my friend.

Is it their fault for thinking in the way that they do? I mean, haven’t they been treated in the same way all their lives? But that’s no excuse for looking down on others based on their skin colour. Dark skinned women themselves feel out of place because they’ve also been conditioned to the same idea of beauty. That needs to stop and NOW. You need to realise that there is no right colour of the skin. These standards of beauty were made for women by the society to do nothing more than to control them. And they seem to be succeeding! So, if you’re dark skinned and you’re reading this, then you should know one thing — you’re beautiful the way you are. Colour doesn’t matter, all that matters is the kind of human being that you are. So, instead of shying away from the world, stand up proud and prove the world wrong!

I don’t know where it all began; for all I know, it could be something that the British left behind. Whatever it is, somewhere along the way, ‘fair, pale and dainty women’ became the standard of beauty. Dark has been ‘othered’ for much too long now. It has been deliberately sidelined and looked down upon for generations now. So when you think racism, think about how you treated that dark skinned girl who sat beside you in the sixth grade. Think about why the media in our country doesn’t use dark skinned women in advertisements. And then think about how wrong all of this is; and when you realise it, try not contributing to the racism in our country.

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  1. Parul23Garg

    The believer of ‘fair is beautiful’ idea need to brush up with the meaning of beautiful now. Beautiful is having beauty; possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.; delighting the senses or mind: a beautiful dress; a beautiful speech and it does not talk about complexion. Wrong tautology of fairness.

  2. Prashant Kaushik

    Several articles have been published on this theme on this YKA but still I congratulate the writer for writing because this diction for ‘fair skin’ just don’t seem to wither among st the masses !! Yes we need more such articles.

    But I would disagree with equating the fixation for fair skin with RACISM .
    Racism is when discrimination and prejudice is practiced , based on a biological trait, in almost every sphere of life in a very severe form.
    So though Indians may prefer a fair skin for matrimonial or dating or modelling etc, but not necessarily when they choose a person for an activity not related to beauty.
    eg. For a particular man, skin color might matter while choosing a girl for marriage, but not when choosing a woman for teaching his kids or selecting a doctor for treatment.
    Moreover, we never have any preference or dislike over whether someone dining near us is fair skined or darked skin. The thought of skin tone just don;t appear at all at such placed. In simpler words dark skinned people are not hated or disliked or looked down upon.

    So, no doubt discrimination based on skin tone happens, and no doubt it is bad and needs to be trimmed down, but it should not be equated with racism which is a very strong and hateful word.

    1. Deepika Singhania

      @Prashanth, Yes, racism is quite strong a word. But it hasn’t been used in the literal sense of the word. Racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”. In the article, it’s been used to show the discrimination against dark skinned people by persons who think that fair skin is superior and of a better standard. The word ‘racism’ has been used to emphasise the gravity of the situation of this particular issue in India. And maybe you’ve never experienced it or seen it, but I know cases of people not sitting somewhere because the ‘kaale log’ are close by. So the discrimination is racism to an extent. Its just not as bad as what we’re aware of otherwise.

  3. Debbie

    What a crazy place the world is. On this side of the ocean I used to get teased as a kid for being too pale and being told I looked like a ghost, I was even called Casper (the cartoon Casper the friendly ghost) as nickname. As a teenager I was told I should use tanning creams or go to a tanning salon to get that “golden glow” and that I would be prettier with a tan and that I looked a bit sick because I was so pale. I was even asked on 3 separate occasions if I was albino!!! It’s funny to me now but it wasn’t funny at the time.
    Everyone was using tanning creams in high school despite the fact that it turned their skin an orange-like color lol at least these days they have improved in quality. If you want a good laugh, google the words “bad tan”.
    The beauty industry thrives on us wanting what we don’t have so let’s learn to love ourselves as we are ♥

    1. Deepika Singhania

      I know, and that’s what appals me even more. Two different standards of beauty in two sides of the same world. And I did; quite a few amusing results came up. Either way, this whole thing about one standard of beauty makes no sense. Everyone is different! All of these ideas about what beauty is just a way to control us and sell us their products. So whatever they say, don’t let it affect you 🙂

    2. Debbie

      It’s funny, I remember seeing fairness creams for the first time about 10 years ago at a Loreal sale here in my city (Montreal, Canada) and remember feeling puzzled, thinking to myself “what a strange product, why would anyone want this?” Then I went to Asia and realized that the standard of beauty is pale skin. I have to say though, was nice to feel appreciated for a change lol! And to think that people (both male & female) still lay in tanning beds basically cooking their skin to have that “golden glow”. And it has been linked to increase in skin cancer and wrinkles! Insane isn’t it? I’m so glad I never did it. http://a.abcnews.go.com/images/Health/gty_tanning_bed_ll_120730_wmain.jpg

  4. Shivani Makkar

    Great piece.. and I completely agree. The social conditioning that both girls and boys go through is often subtle and unconscious. We grow up with a particular idea of beauty that becomes a lens through which we see the world, and we do not realize that it is externally imposed, a manipulation of our thought processes. Fairness creams, besides perpetuating and encouraging this bias against darker skin, link fairness with success and self confidence. This is ridiculous on the face of it. Everything dark or ‘black’ carries a negative connotation and it is doled out through such advertisements. There is a need to rebel against this consumerist vulgarity, by men as well, who are the new target audience of the campaign.

    1. Deepika Singhania

      Absolutely agree! They’ve created such outraging standards of beauty, its just gets frustrating. I see so many people putting what not on their skin, just to get rid of dark skin. And now that they know women have been targeted well enough, they’re focusing on men. Eventually every brand is coming up with a face wash/cream or whatever to make you more fair and make the darkness disappear.

  5. Aam Aadmi

    Beauty is of the heart.

  6. ranaaaaaaaaaaaa

    HA ha ha , i don’t know about the advantage of being a fair woman in INDIA but i do know the disadvantage of being extra fair male in INDIA , someone ll say you brown, someone,videshi , someone ask you ,which country you belong to , in teen age or even in your late 20s your colleagues ll search a chance to kiss your chicks n even lips , …………if its advantage of being fair ,i won’t like to be fair in any birth and i get more attracted by dusky women ,so beauty has nothing to do with fairness………..

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