Unfair obsession with fairness: Why India needs to stop relating ‘Fair’ to ‘Lovely’

Unfair obsession with fairness: Why India needs to stop relating ‘Fair’ to ‘Lovely’

Looking to find a husband, make friends, and get ahead at work? Then you need to have lighter skin. All your relatives are going to compare your skin tone with your fairer sister and decide the amount of your dowry! You are going to roam around with a tag of being ‘single’ in your college days if you have darker skin tone.

And to add cherry on the cake, the advertisements which motivate you to get fairer in just 20 days! Just by being two tones fairer, you can be a banker, an IITian and you can rule the world! In fact, India has the biggest market of fairness creams. So the question is: Where is Logic?

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Living in a stereotype biased Indian society, using your brains and finding the logic behind ‘why should a girl be fair’ is highly offensive! I repeat, highly offensive. When you question a girl’s skin tone, you are questioning her ability to be a perfect marriage material. Harsh! But it is one of the saddest realities. Marriage, which in India’s case is mostly arranged, is an ordeal, especially for women as looking fair, is the dominant theme. Matrimonial advertisements reflect this social trend where potential brides and bridegrooms with fair complexion are the most in demand. In fact, skin colour seems to have become as important a marker as age and occupation.

“Intimate whitening wash”

Last year, a commercial for an “intimate wash” to whiten women’s private areas emerged, showing a young Indian woman who uses the product to successfully regain her boyfriend’s attention. The advert was widely panned, but a glance through matrimonial websites and newspaper columns suggests that fair skin, at least on a woman’s face, remains key to securing a good looking husband. Aspiring grooms often state in their adverts their preference for a fair bride, while nearly all women’s profiles describe their complexion as fair or so-called “wheatish”.

That’s the all-pervasive message in India, and it’s something that needs to fight against to overturn.

Rosalyn D’Mello, a journalist based in India’s capital New Delhi, still recalls how her family and friends used to mock her because of her dark complexion when she was a young girl. “They used to call me kaali (black), ‘blacky’ and even ‘negro’ because of my dark skin,” she said. “My mother was cruel about my skin shade. She wanted me to use ‘Fair and Lovely’,” a skin lightening cream,” D’Mello said. “I don’t believe in the norm that equates beauty with skin colour.”

Millions of Indians, overwhelmingly women, face biases like D’Mello on a daily basis. To counter deeply held cultural perceptions on race and beauty, Women of Worth (WOW), a non-governmental organisation based in the southern city of Chennai, promoted a campaign called “Dark is Beautiful” with renewed vigour in August to highlight the issue. Though the campaign was initially launched in 2009, it gained prominence this year after Bollywood actress Nandita Das backed the campaign with a string of print advertisements that called on every Indian to “Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful”.

The campaigners behind “Dark is Beautiful” have also filed a petition with change.org asking Emami, a cosmetics company, to take down an advertisement promoting Fair and Handsome, a fairness cream for men! One of the most necessary initiatives our society always needed! We all should join hands to stop this stereotyping so that girls can feel more comfortable in being what they are. This gives them the confidence to portray themselves in front of the world where plastic beauty still lags way behind talent!

“Be yourself and be comfortable in your skin. Don’t let anybody rob you of your self-esteem”

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