I grew up with my grandmother always telling me not to go out in the sun saying “ Kaali ho jayegi”. One heard almost every young boy say that when they grow up, they would like to marry a “gori ladki”. The criteria was fair then, and it is so even today. Nothing has changed. The need for fairness has existed ever since. From the matrimonial ads screaming …. Wanted fair/v.v.fair girl, to the advertising world where clients insist on fair models, to movie production houses preferring actors who are not dark, to even companies who would rather hire light-skinned employees, the message is loud and clear.
Colour prejudice in the sub-continent predates the British rule. Dating back to the time when we were a British colony, our obsession with a light skin stems from the fact that we were ruled by the white race which was considered superior and authoritative, is why Indians have this obsession with fair complexions and is considered the epitome of beauty, sign of affluence and glamour.
In India the majority of the population is dark-skinned. Here is an instance of my cousin sister who faced continuous rejections for being dark-skinned by many boys for her hand in marriage and she went through a lot of pressure and frustration. It’s a superficial world where the beauty is upheld by unrealistic expectations. This particularly affects woman and can cause damage to their mental frame. Fair – is the magical alluring word and in the pursuit of fairness, women are willing to risk serious damage to their skin and health. It is only because women are subjected to these social pressures is what pushes them to use products to lighten their natural skins. As a result, there has been a growing demand for fairness creams and extreme treatments that purport to lighten skin tones, a phenomenon cosmetic juggernauts have been quick to capitalise upon.
Attraction is driven by preferences based on moral assumptions. Within our cultures we have a set of ideals of how women should look and behave. Lightness and darkness have particular meanings attached to them and we subconsciously relate these moral preferences to women. The scale of differences between male and female skin colour selected for their attractiveness is too big to be explained by pure biology, and are a product of “deeply rooted and enduring cultural values”
Let me tell you, it’s not just the women, but even men here in India facing these issues of dark skin prejudice. In such a situation what did someone like my male house-keeper who has dark skin do ? He went and picked up a fairness cream over the counter. I saw him using it religiously and actually looking very pleased. Till one day I decided to ask him why was he using it and if it’s really making a difference ? He said his friends keep teasing him “kaalia” and thats why he felt the need. My male housekeeper prefers to continue using his fairness cream saying, he does not wish to consult a skin doctor if it is safe or not, at least it gives him hope and he believes that it will make him a shade fairer than he is.
These days one gets to hear a lot about glutathione which is available in oral, topical form or intravenous injections which is said to be a skin lightening agent. The hype around it is it’s de-pigmentary properties. However there is a dichotomy between evidence to support its efficacy and safety. A lighter skin tone has been considered a superior trait in most races especially in women of Asian and African descents who have Fitzpatrick skin types IV- VI. In relatively conservative society such as India, many people are obsessed with the desire for fair complexion for themselves as well as their spouses. Such traditions motivate the people to desire fair complexions and sometimes seek it even against their will. This drug glutathione has recently made inroads in other countries including India. Not surprisingly, the trend of recommending and administering intravenous Glutathione has increased within months of it becoming available.
It’s disheartening to know that a man rejects a woman, even if the man is v.v. dark. But here is what I have to tell you, you are beautiful no matter what shade you are. The media does play a significant role in the beauty standards for people of all races. Movies, ads, agencies, music industries, production houses – all demonstrate that the fairer you are the more desirable you are to the general public. And even as the multiple media outlets are trying to defy the norm and represent dark-skinned men and women in more favourable light than they were previously portrayed, the rest lies with us. I won’t go into extensive details on how some skin lightening products can damage your skin because honestly, all those facts are available to you on the internet. We need to address the root of the problem which is our societal prejudices. We all have to learn to acknowledge and marvel the underlying beauty of the person and not the shade of the skin. Make sure you don’t start seeing yourselves through the eyes of those who don’t value you. Know your worth even if they don’t. Regardless of what skin shade we are – black or white, remember that beauty isn’t only skin deep, real beauty comes from the soul.