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

Posted by bhavna jha in Culture-Vulture, Specials
April 17, 2018

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.