AUSTIN SZABO WRITES – Want to be happy with your life? Then according to Indian media, make sure to have fair skin.
A legacy from India’s caste system, fair skin is still considered essential for success in business and love, and the media still spread this message. Controversial products, such as whitening creams, are advertised in a way that implies darker skinned Indian women have less value compared to their lighter counterparts. According to the publication Dawn, there was even one commercial for an “intimate whitening wash” for private parts meant to regain the attention of one’s husband. The absurdity of the industry is only matched by its success: the whitening market has exploded from $397 million in 2008 to $638 million today, according to Euromonitor.
This obsession with whiteness has origins in the caste system and in colonialism. The highest castes would make it a point of pride not to be in the sun, making pale skin a symbol of status. The arrival of British colonialists created another association between pale skin and power. While progress has been made on many fronts, fair skin is still associated with beauty.
This discrimination occurs not only occur in commercials but also in movies, magazines, and newspapers. The new face of the Dark is Beautiful campaign (operating since 2009), Nandita Das, says that she would struggle if she tried to star in any Bollywood films, despite a successful career in issues-based movies. She’s been rejected from certain roles for refusing to whiten her skin. Disregarding the purpose of the campaign, one newspaper featuring Dark is Beautiful whitened Nandita’s photo. The campaign seeks to include darker skinned women in advertising and fights against the skin whitening industry and culture.
Fair skin obsessed media leads to a white obsessed culture. This culture is harmful to all women in India without fair skin, not only in terms of their own confidence, but also in more concrete matters. For example, The Times of India reported that job offers target fair-skinned women and that marriage offers can hinge on one’s complexion.
This legacy of outdated power structures needs to end. Assays Kavitha Emmanuel, founder of Women of Worth (WOW), says in The Hindu: “Why should you be anything other than yourself?”