What is in a colour?

Beauty lies in the person, not in fairness of skin

Here we’re at the feminists’ favourite punching bag—fairness cream commercials. In the land of Indian ads, you still need to be fair and look straight out of a glossy magazine to stand up to anyone and swallow some cardboard flavoured misogyny dipped in Dalda-flavoured sexism. TV commercial begins innocently enough.  A girl derided for her skin colour at a job interview returns with fairer skin and loads of confidence. Your academic qualifications, your credentials, your skills and talents are all trash. What matters the most is whether your face glows brighter than a 100 Watt CFL bulb. If you have this quality you can ace job interviews, win top sports tournaments and get people to drop you where you want, and a lot more. Boys deserve dazzling whiteness too. The special dude-only cream saves darker men, who secretly used women’s fairness creams, the agony of emasculation..  

People are crazy.  Apart from symmetry, averageness, similarity and feminity and a bag-tag set of facial characteristics which they find attractive, skin smoothness is something explicitly promised by the manufacturers of cosmetic foundations as an indicator of not just colour-tone, youth but health success and happiness too. Earlier, there’re only two creams peddling a lighter skin. The growing complexity of skin colour has enticed global cosmetics giants/Indian companies to exploit Indian market for skin-whitening creams. Fairness creams are a multi-billion industry in India. Cosmetics makers clamber onto the bandwagon for fairness cream which in ads magically makes women/men more desirable, successful and modern. The loud and clear message for people with darker skin hue is that attracting opposite gender, joining glamorous professions, leaving an impact on the social scene, securing the success of any sort, equation with nobility, beauty, and high birth and matrimonial in newspapers etc. are possible only when you take the advice of peddling the creams, and start using fairness products.

Shops stack a dizzying array of fairness creams and lotions. Moisturizers, day-creams, night-creams, all seem to have some magic ingredients to bleach the skins. The harmful effects of using such products, over a long period of time, not known, therefore that isn’t something people are worried about either. They just want to be fair, lovely and handsome. Perhaps there’s a case for a product that clearly has a demand in a country that places such a premium on fair skin. Fairness creams target at the surface level beauties that normally have sunscreens to protect skin from harsh ultraviolet rays. A promise made is that with the chemical peels, skin can become ‘fairer’ and ‘toned’ to the extent of non-sun-exposed skin though becoming ‘fair’ isn’t just possible. Creams work by targeting melanin, the skin pigment that absorbs darkening UV light. "Face-bleach" and frightening sounding "acid-peels" are also widely sold.

People that feel ridiculed for swarthiness envy, white people. Over centuries populations in the subcontinent moved in and out to get kind of blending. The social order put in place by the Aryans, for the darker-skinned people, was to enshrine their position in society as higher than those whose lands they’d conquered. Evidence of pan-Indian preference for fair skin and a denigration bordering on scorn for the dark-skinned being all around us, the caste-colour mix is so inextricably linked that the dark skin is perceived as something unattractive and racially inferior, synonymous with lacking in education and opportunity to work on white collar jobs. There’s a link between the untouchable castes that have been traditional sweepers of latrines, carrying buckets of night soil on their heads. The relatively neglected aspect of the psychological sources of untouchability is the visual aspect of dirt, its darkness as compared to the light hue of cleanliness.

In the universal ‘dirt fantasy’ dark is dirtier and more sinister, than fair. Generally speaking, a Brahmin will be fairer. The untouchable will tend to have the darker complexion among all the castes. The equation of dirt with dark colour is well known to any upper-caste Indian child, especially a girl, who has been told by her mother to rub her skin every day with a mixture of dough and cream and who’s convinced that the thin dark silver sloughing off her face or arms are concrete proof of her skin becoming lighter. As holding ‘fair’ skin signifies higher esteem, ‘fair’ complexion earns praises and compliments from family and friends. Mothers admonish daughters to avoid the sun for darkening and therefore ruining skin tone. Black is beautiful’ isn’t a slogan that’ll catch on India anytime in the future.

Whereas in the west anti-wrinkle creams and other products against ageing are a goldmine for pharmaceutical companies in India especially in middle-class products that promise a whitening of skin chalk up record profits. ‘Fair-skin’, then is eminently touchable, desirable and that of the foreigner negates the presumption of dirty and untouchability because of his being consumer of dirty, forbidden foods, especially beef/pork. The psychological association of fair skin with everything clean, regal, and desirable, together with the memories of being ruled by fair-skinned invaders and the presumption of wealth associated with the fair-skinned visitors, makes most Indians fawn over the gora that is made to feel like a special-somebody in India.

A racist campaign and that too run by Indians against fellow Indians and indeed in a country where dark skin is more common than light skin. While Indians keep accusing whites of being racist against black and other coloured people, when it comes to their own home ground they don’t give damn about endorsing ugly, demeaning and blatant racist obsession through their silence and by spending a fortune on the skin lightening. Racists are everywhere, but many of them don’t go around flaunting white skin. In fact, most of the whites spend time ridiculously cooking them in the sun and think brown skin is much more pleasing to the eye.   For Aishwarya Rai, people should feel comfortable in their own skins. She refuses to endorse skin-lightening brands. Rightly so! People must love their skin … dark, dusky, bronze, and golden …whatever it’s.