An Indian Obsession with “Fair Skin”


    The recent outrage over the killing of George Floyd has set off a chain of public outrage over the institution of discrimination based on skin colour and race. The ripple effect has spread as far as Europe as well in Asia (Tokyo protests).

    Amidst the justified chaos and self-contemplation, as an Indian citizen, I would like to highlight our very own institution of discrimination based on skin colour.

    Yes, I am talking about the attribution of attractiveness with skin colour, the unholy obsession of us Indians with fair skin and the stigma faced by people with darker skin colour.

    Of course, women, the historically oppressed and objectified people have suffered the worst consequences of the institution.

    Fair skin is more desirable, has often been spotlighted through various beauty pageants where pale white-skinned women have statistically been preferred. And the lucrative market has done much harm by promoting the notion the being dark-skinned is synonymous with having some kind of scar or disability that can be overcome by somehow ‘fixing’ it.

    Having lived in India, one realises that our society implants and enforces the notion of beauty with fair skin, though quite subtle ways. Those countless fairness cream advertisements on TV and the newspapers might give one the impression that being dark-skinned might get them socially ostracised.

    Pregnant women are often fed with saffron laced milk so that the baby somehow ‘develops’ fair skin. The family breaths a great sigh of relief if the baby turns out to be fair-skinned. Else, if the family is not ‘fortunate enough’ then there’s a bunch of home remedies and a traumatic childhood waiting for the baby.

    I happened to visit a well know matrimonial website out of curiosity recently. As you might expect, I couldn’t shake off the disgusting and nauseating criteria people have set up. Many of the ads went on like “Looking for a fair-skinned bride/bridegroom …” This is a testament to the shameless perverts that we have in our country.

    Our past with colonialism, the psychological manipulation that they had used against us for 200 years, continues to have an impact and shape our mind-sets. The old Victorian traditions continue to shape our values and behaviour.

    We can conveniently blame the Mughals or colonialists who not only ruled us physically but also psychologically, influencing our mind-set by implanting the belief that fair skin is superior. However, justpointing towards fairness creams for the cause of cancer isn’t going to prevent its spread or help cure it. Active unlearningis a necessity.

    The popular fairness skin cream brand ‘Fair and Lovely’ has decided to drop the term ‘Fair’ from its brand name. Although a long overdue, it is a step in the right direction for us Indians.

    Nandita Das, Bipasha Basu, Nawajuddin Siddique and Dhanush are some of the successful celebrities in showbiz who have overcome the stigma of being dark skin. It’s quite brave to be a dark skin fashion icon considering the backlashes and criticism they encounter. It is an inspiration for all other brown girls.

    As an Indian woman, I had also been at times fallen patsy to this unfair liking for ‘fair skin’ by hiding from the sun in the fear of getting tanned. Though I thought it bolstered my confidence, the fact is skin colour doesn’t define you but the self-veneration comes from inside regardless of your outer appearance.

    Let’s hope our next generation does not to fall prey to this ‘beauty standards’ rather go off these paradigms preferably all physical paradigms of this condescending society. And if you want to see a change in the mind-set of our society, it has to start from us. We need to change our outlook towards our ingrained prejudice and then only we can bring a change in the stereotypical mind-set.

    (The views expressed are the writer’s own)

    Madhumita Kar, Sambalpur, Odisha.

    You can reach her at: [email protected]

    ( Images from the net )