This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Breakthrough India. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

An Unfortunate Reminder That Dark Is Still Not Lovely In India

More from Breakthrough India

Over 90% of women in India cite skin lightening as a high need area.

Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, John Abraham, Dia Mirza, Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Hrithik Roshan, Shahid Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan, Preity Zinta, Sidharth Malhotra, Kareena Kapoor – these celebrities have two striking things in common:

  1. They have millions of fans looking up to them.
  2. They have all had the dubious honour of endorsing a skin lightening product.

Recently, Dove made headlines when it aired a deeply problematic (and racist) ad. It created enough of an uproar for Dove to come forward and issue an apology – but it’s not the first time Dove has come under fire. Many people were deeply upset. Some were furious.

Meanwhile, around the same time, there were speculations that the cosmetic giant Anastasia Beverly-Hills may have lightened the skin tone of one of its black models in promoting their latest product to such an extent that the same lip colour looked like a wildly different shade on the lighter-skinned models. In an increasingly globalised world, fair skin has become one of the beauty ideals we are made to aspire to.

In 1978, Fair and Lovely was launched by Unilever in India. The market for fairness creams, bleaches and washes is huge and continues to grow exponentially each year. Indians spend more on skin lightening products than on Coca-Cola.

“Let’s face the truth. Fair skin is a ticket to a happy matrimony,” Lata, 42, said while paying for the Fair and Lovely fairness cream, according to this marketing book.

You’re ‘lovely’ if you’re fair and if you’re not — “become fairer in just four weeks!”

Fair and Lovely Billboard

There are very unfortunate and real reminders that dark skin is still seen as a liability in India. Dark skin is undesirable. It is unattractive. And it’s not just for women.

In 2005, Emami launched Fair and Handsome, the very manly fairness cream – for men! Why would you use a woman’s fairness cream if you’re not putting on nail polish (Ew!) or wearing bangles (Double ew!)? In a brilliant stroke of advertising which combined racism and sexism to sell their new fairness cream, Emami entered the lucrative skin-lightening market. In 2014, Indians spent $550 million on fairness products.

In a country where racism is bred into us and fair skin fetishised, we are bombarded with aggressive advertising which equate fair skin with not just beauty, but success and happiness as well. This advertising is shameful and irresponsible advertising in a nation where the majority of our population is brown and dark skinned.

Apart from causing insidious self-esteem issues in so many, it is also extremely unsafe. Fairness creams often contain topical steroids and the toxic metal mercury, in addition to other dangerous chemicals. Women are especially vulnerable to such toxins during sensitive periods, such as pregnancy.

With this as a background, we can see why so many campaigns have focused on removing the stigma around dark skin. There were “Dark is Beautiful” – an Indian paper wrote about the campaign but lightened a photo of Nandita Das that went alongside it – and “Unfair and Lovely” – another campaign which wanted to celebrate dark-skinned women, amongst other initiatives like ‘Brown n Proud.

I want people to be comfortable in their own skin and realise that there is more to life than skin colour,” said Nandita Das.

In one of the most recent campaigns against this deep-rooted bias, people are using the hashtag ‘AlreadyLovely’, a spin on the well-established Fair and Lovely, to express their dissatisfaction and point out the unfairness of a standard which holds fair skin as the ideal. Women and men have both come forward with their stories and their support for a fairer beauty standard. Embrace your melanin. It doesn’t matter what shade your skin is. People are speaking out and it’s fierce as hell.  

Not too long ago, the actress Tannishtha Chatterjee was subjected to regressive humour based on skin colour on national television. It wasn’t the only time this happened – dark skin is the butt of countless jokes, on and off Indian TV. These jokes are far too common to keep a track of.

A roast is an insult-based comedy and it seems like we’re perfectly fine with using dark skin as an acceptable insult. One may argue that it isn’t anything serious but when a long history of putting down individuals because they are dark skinned already exists, it’s not funny – it’s tragic.


You must be to comment.

More from Breakthrough India

Similar Posts

By Salonii Khemani

By Mythili Kamath

By Saranya Bhattacharjya

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below