Okay, this is a departure from the prompts which I have been sticking to so far,which are optional in any case, because I really wanted to do a post on this.
Where do the roots of India’s obsession with fair skin lie? Were the seeds of fairness-mania sown around the time the British arrived on the scene? Or was it when the Mughals first came here from the Middle east–they are bound to have been several shades lighter than the indigenous population?
Could it be that repeated colonization led a people to suffer from an inferiority complex, mixed with a sense of awe and admiration for all things foreign, including skin colour? Be that as it might, the fact remains that in a tropical country like ours, where most of the population is fifty shades of brown in colour, this obsession for white skin is unhealthy.
This post by R’s Mom has been at the back of my mind since morning. How much are children affected by the grown-ups’ prejudices regarding skin colour ? As a child, I was aware that I was considered better-looking than my darker-skinned cousins( by my grandmother and others in the extended family). I didn’t really mind being considered better-looking, so it did not bother me at the time. Today, I shudder to think of how being dark might have affected the self-esteem of said cousins at a very young age.
It was Fair & Lovely that first tapped into the pressure on dark-complexioned women to become lighter-coloured, and it struck gold. In the pre-liberalization days of limited choices, Fair and lovely had a dedicated user-base. I had numerous friends in school who applied the cream religiously. Fair and Lovely advertisements were and still are notoriously obnoxious–typically showing depressed, dark-skinned women, who had been ignored by employers and men, suddenly finding brand new boyfriends and great careers after their skin had been lightened by the cream.
Now, of course, there are n number of products giving Fair and Lovely a run for its money. Every company–from Nivea to Garnier to Olay to Ponds’–has jumped on to the fairness gravy-train. Advertising today is slicker and less in-your-face, but the message makes itself clear nonetheless. They take care not to call themselves fairness creams –instead, they claim to ‘lighten’, ‘brighten’ and ‘whiten’. So ubiquitous are they that today you will be hard-pressed to find a day-cream or a moisturizer that does not mention lightening /brightening anywhere on the packaging!
The list of celebrities endorsing these products is formidable. Priyanka Chopra, Kajol, Sonam Kapoor and Esha Deol are only a few of them. Yami Gautam of Vicky Donor fame was the Fair and Lovely face until recently, but looks like she has been offered a more lucrative deal by Garnier, because I recently spotted her in a Garnier Light ad .
The fact that they have started making fairness creams for men too is little consolation– that men are no longer spared the pressure to become fairer doesn’t make it any less unhealthy. And even a superstar like ShahRukh Khan is unable to resist an offer to endorse a ‘mardon wali’ fairness cream.
Even sunscreen lotions sell themselves in India by claiming to protect your skin from becoming darker when you venture out in the sun (which is true in a narrow sense), and not by creating awareness about how UVA and UVB rays can cause much harm to unprotected skin. They know the fear of darkness is more likely to get them new buyers than any scientific mumbo- jumbo.
The ‘Dark is beautiful’ campaign on facebook, headed by renowned actress Nandita Das has been making waves with its powerful ‘ Stay unfair, Stay beautiful’ slogan. It is a fact that these products will continue to sell as long as people buy them. Advertisers will continue to exploit prevailing prejudices and feelings. What you and I can do about it is studiously avoid using any product that mentions any brightening or lightening. And teach our children , again and again, that there is a reason why people in tropical climates are darker–the extra melanin in their skin protects them from the stronger sunlight in these parts. It should actually be accepted as a blessing.