Since When Did ‘Good Looking’ And ‘Fair’ Become Synonyms?

Advertisements showing beautiful people dancing to pleasant tunes often catch our attention. The fact that they instantly get etched in our memories, and make their way into our everyday conversation shows how much they impact our ideology, culture and social behaviour.

While watching one of my favourite programmes this weekend, one of these advertisements that flashed across the screen drew my attention. It was a commercial for a ‘fairness cream’ which emphasised on how a ‘fairer skin’ infuses confidence. Basically, it showed that you love yourself even more if you have fairer skin. The ad featured a female model who wanted to look fairer and beautiful as if the fairness of the skin equated to the loveliness of someone’s personality.

This commercial portrayed a discouraged and disheartened, dark-skinned woman who was scorned by her colleagues and other men. However, when she used the cream, it ‘brightened’ her skin and she managed to obtain lucrative career offers in a split second. Armed with a fairness cream, the woman lands the position that she wanted.

Fairness cream ads show that fairer women tend to have greater success at work. Calling someone “gora” or as fair as the moon is the ultimate compliment. What these beauty creams do, with or without the advertiser’s realisations, is bring forward horrific social traditions that compare fairness with a higher caste status and qualifications for marriage.

In millions of matrimonial advertisements, a bride’s fair skin is much more important and is ranked higher than a university degree or professional status. They usually look something like this – “Wanted: really beautiful, fair, engineer for handsome, smart doctor.” The adjective ‘fair’ still precedes any other educational qualification.

Fair skin in India is necessary for every sphere of life and is considered to be an asset, especially for a woman. Though men also are not left behind in the race of instant fairness, they can still ‘breathe a sigh of relief’ due to the very concept of being “Tall, Dark and Handsome” aka marriage material. But as far as a woman is concerned, her dark complexion hampers her identity, even after being successful. And fairness creams prove to be a ‘magic wand’ for their fight with their ‘inferiority complex’.

Usually, in the Indian television industry, the lead roles are played by women with a fairer complexion. This is in part, done to capture the male audience. Here, it is apt to refer to renowned feminist sociologist Laura Mulvey who in her work “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” discusses the “male gaze”. She highlights how the television industry portrays women as an aesthetic object to the male characters for gaining male spectatorship.

Women are required to be beautiful and ‘look good’ for attracting the opposite sex. However, ‘looking good’ is synonymous with a ‘fair skin’. Skin-brightening cosmetics are a multi-billion industry that is pushing for the idea that you can only be good looking if you are fair, and that brightening dark skin is both achievable and preferable. Skin whitening creams base beauty on a racial hierarchy which leads to genuine social damage.

The dominance of fair skin cannot be removed from the Indian society by banning such products. Instead, it can be tackled by eradicating the very ideology that associates ‘fair skin’ with potential, ability and confidence.


Have a period experience that really stood out for you? Share your story in 150 words or more and get featured on our homepage!

Participate now!

Similar Posts

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