Putting the ‘U’ In Beautiful And Letting Go Of Our Fairness Obsession

Posted by Paranjaya Mehra in Body Image, Society, Staff Picks
February 15, 2017

“Wanted: Tall, handsome and a well-placed groom for a fair and well-educated girl.”

Turn to the matrimonial ads page of any Indian newspaper and the line I began with summarises what you are expected to come across on that page.

Yes, the obsession for fair skin is that deep rooted in our society that we mention fair skin as an attribute in a matrimonial ads before our educational qualification. We long for partners with fair skin tones. We don’t want a life partner, but a trophy to show to the world.

I believe that our obsession with fair skin began when the British invaded India and slowly they made us believe what they themselves believed in.

They established their superiority and hence, the fact in our mind that fair skin is superior and dark skin is not.

Today, we are crying about the fact that brands selling fairness creams are being racist. We blame them for narrowing our understanding of beauty which is restricted to just “White Beauty”.

Campaigns like NDTV’s campaign #FairnessCreamsRacist, Banjara Herbal’s campaign #ProudOfMyColour, Women Worth’s campaign #DarkIsBeautiful against the brands are all over social media.

Yes, I agree that fairness creams are propagating a very racist idea of beauty. At the same time we can’t deny the fact that the problem lies in us.

We as a society have been obsessed with fair skin since time immemorial. Ask your mother’s mother and she will probably tell you tales about how for a major part of her childhood she was told to not go out in the sun and use desi beauty treatments regularly and so on.

This hasn’t died down even today in some cases.

Remember the song ‘dhoop main nikla na karo roop ki rani, gora rang kala na pad jaye’ (Don’t go out in the sun, your fair skin will darken)… Yes, that’s a song propagating the fact that you aren’t worthy enough to be wooed by a man if you don’t have fair skin.

I hope you haven’t forgotten the lines ‘aja piya tohe pyar du, gori baiyya tope var du‘ (Come closer, my lover, let me drape my fair arms around you)… Isn’t the saiya (lover) interested in dark skinned baiyya (arms)?

Let’s turn to more recent times. White white face dekhe dilwa beating fast sasura dance maare re (Your white face is making my heart race) This song was there in the movie Tashan released in 2011.

Yes, only a white face can make a heart beat fast as per our beloved Bollywood.

Hum kaale hain to kya hua dil waale hain (Does it matter that I’m dark-skinned, if I have a big heart)…

If you are dark skinned and have a good heart then please shout about it because that is something we don’t categorise that as normal.

Remember the scene in the movie Vivah where the lady is annoyed and tells her husband that she has been trying to get good rishtas for their Choti but she has not been successful because of choti’s dark skin tone.

Cut to the small screen and we will easily find dark skinned girls of marriageable age worried for their marriage prospects because of their colour.

The lines above is a mirror to the fact that bias towards fair skin has been celebrated in our society for a while now.

When we didn’t object to racism that was served to us in the name of entertainment, we can’t solely today blame fairness creams for propagating it in our society. Yes, this can’t be denied that these brands used our mentality in their favour and created a Rs 2,000 crore market out of it.

In 2010, India’s whitening-cream market was worth $432million, according to a report by market researchers ACNielsen, and was growing at 18% per year.

In 2012, Indians reportedly consumed 233 tonnes of skin-whitening products, spending more money on them than on Coca-Cola.

I am not saying that these creams have not aggravated the problem, they surely have but the boycotting and objection should have begun long back.

We woke up when we realised the unfair obsession with fair skin is going out of our hands. Had we kept our minds open long back, situation would not have been what it currently is.

I conducted an online survey about the notion of beauty created by fairness creams. I received 61 responses from people both employed and unemployed as well as from children studying in schools and colleges.

From hereon in this post, I would state responses from the survey to support my views from time to time.

Now, let’s flip the coin.

Today these brands don’t just associate fair skin with getting a good partner in life, but also with a successful career, societal acceptance and so on.

They play with our desire to succeed, our desperate need to fit it. One reason for this can be that the youth of today, which is a major part of these brand’s consumer base is a victim of low confidence, self doubts etc.

We aren’t confident enough of our capabilities. There are so many factors around us which make us believe that we won’t make it big in life. These brands just use our skin colour as one more factor on that list. Which means that yes, we surely need to stand against them but more than that we need to turn into a mindful consumer base.

We need to develop the sense in one and all that we don’t have to fall prey to every single advertisement we see on any media platform.

We need to understand that rather than acting as a cool and open minded individual who admit that he/she desires fair skin, we need to be open minded enough to be comfortable with our natural skin tone.

I had asked the same as a question in the survey that on a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the advertisements of these brands on the basis of the mental impact their content has on their viewers. I being low impact and 5 being hard-hitting.–

This shows that they are able to leave a huge impact through their content. We should not be this hard hit, but rather hardly hit.

Don’t accept everything that is being fed to you. If we are able to feel comfortable with our skin tone then I believe that this industry will collapse.

I came across a clip on YouTube where a debate was being carried out on Barkha Dutt’s show We The People about India’s skin deep prejudice.

In that clip, Prahlad Kakkar, a leading ad film director says that there is a very deep rooted bias. He further explains it that if there are two equally attractive girls standing together, one with fair and one with dark skin tone then the one with fair skin is the one you would take to your mother and the one with the dark skin is who you would take to a hotel room because she would provoke a sense of eroticism in you.

The video also gave birth to this thought in my mind that we prefer to bring foreign models to walk on our ramps for fashion shows.

I believe we should favour Indian models because these shows can act as an influential medium to convey within our society and to the world too that let’s be proud of who we are and be comfortable in our own skin.

Legal Take  

Another strong way to bring an end to this industry is the legal way. According to the regulations by Advertising Standards Council Of India(ASCI), ads should not show dark skinned people as unhappy, depressed, disadvantaged in any way.

They should not associate skin colour with any particular socio-economic class, ethnicity or community. The catch here is that I think there needs to be an immediate action against the brands which don’t abide by the regulations so that an example can be set that offence won’t be dealt with lightly.

Bollywood to the rescue

It was recently brought to light that Kangana Ranaut denied an ad deal worth crores because she does not believe in endorsing these brands.

Others should also follow her example and use their power to influence millions. I had asked the same as a question in the survey – do you think public figures and particularly those in Bollywood should stand against these brands?

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I had also asked what the respondents think is the reason behind these brands being able to do good business in our country.

fair

The pictorial representation above brings me to the last and the most important thing – we need to change our definition of beauty.

We need to change how we view beauty for I believe there is as much beauty in a black rose as in a white one.

Let beauty not become a concept. Let it vary from person to person because beauty has a “u” in it. You are beautiful only till the time you value the “u” in beautiful. Be you! Be beautiful!

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