A pretty lady appears on the screen with a frown on her lovely face. She has a tennis match in an hour and she is worried. It appears to be a major event in her sporting career and naturally, pre-game jitters are to be expected. However, instead of having doubts about her serving techniques, the condition of play or even the large crowd gathered, we are told by a mellifluous voice that she is worried about her dark, tanned skin. She looks at herself in the mirror and is nearly in tears as she touches her face; wondering aloud what the crowd and the world in large would think of her. Miraculously a popular celebrity appears at her side and hands her a skin cream, followed by a zoom in on the label. She encourages the young player to try it on like she had done herself.
The contrast is clear- the athletic swarthy beauty standing beside the radiant and fairer model. The difference is glaringly obvious to us, the audience, but it is not explicitly stated. In the next five seconds the girl transforms herself from the proverbial ugly duckling into the ‘beautiful swan’. When she emerges from the dressing room, glowing in her white gear and white skin, photographers jostle with each other for her photo. She then goes on to win the match. The ad ends with the celebrity handing her the trophy and turning to the audience, to extoll the virtues of the product to her beloved fans and the rest of the world.
In thirty seconds we are shown that the only way to boost your self-confidence and achieve success is to whiten your skin. We are shown, rather explicitly, that the root cause of her distress is her dark skin. We are shown that hard work and hours of practice will not lead you all the way to the top; a dollop of whitening cream will. The bottom line of this ad is that a fair skin is your ticket to success.
This is not a solitary incident. There are several cosmetics companies propagating this daft idea. Clearly there is a bias towards a fairer skin. I’m talking in the context of Indian population, who typically have skin tones ranging from wheat to dark brown. When we have such a wide range of complexions, it is difficult to understand why the fairer tone is given preference. Is it because the colour white symbolizes purity? Perhaps it represents a fairer race of people? If so in what way does the skin tone impact the physical being and render them ‘fairer’?
This quest for fair skinned men and women is prominent when one looks at the ‘Matrimonial’ section of the classifieds supplement of many dailies. You will find demands for ‘a fair and good looking girl’ or ‘a fair and handsome boy’ among the various bride and bridegroom requests. It is interesting to note that although many have no restrictions on cast or sub-caste, or for that matter food preferences (veg or non-veg), or intelligence level, the colour and the appearance of the man/women is paramount. It is understandable that every man wants a beautiful woman as his wife, beauty being relative and in the eyes of the beholder. But what about the skin? Colour perception is the same for all, unless you are colour-blind. Perhaps there might be some arguments on the shades of colours, but we all know the difference between white, brown, black, yellow, pink etc. So why then should we assign importance and significance, with regards to beauty, to any one colour at all?
I’ve seen instances where people turn their heads to catch a glimpse of the fair skinned co-ed walk by, but hardly glance at the equally beautiful, yet dusky college girl in the bus. I condone such behaviour either way, but this makes a fine example of the double standards that many Indians follow when it comes to skin colour. It is interesting to know that such kind of racial bias is prevalent largely in cities and towns where the people come frequently in contact with Western movies and Western culture in general. You don’t find such bias in villages, where the people have a relatively more liberal outlook, when it comes to skin colour and the beauty associated with it. There more worth is given to the landed property that the bride or groom possess, which is another story. Although racial intolerance is not practised in India in its harshest form, it is still passively advocated by the various companies hoping to exploit this irrational sentiment of the masses. Or maybe it is the other way around. Maybe, it is those companies that are to be blamed for inducing such ideas into the minds of the gullible public.
I have yet to see a request for a ‘dark and attractive girl’ or ‘dusky and handsome boy’ in those matrimonial sections.

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2 thoughts on “A Fair Obsession

    1. Thank you for the comment and I appreciate you taking the time to respond. It is disheartening to know that such sentiments are expressed not only in India and I thank you for giving that little insight.

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