Fair and Ugly

It was a very special day for her and equally important for her family. It was the day her dear cousin was to be presented to a prospective groom for the very first time. She had been rambling about it for weeks. She knew what she would wear and exactly how her hair would be. More excited than the prospective bride, she saw herself sitting next to her cousin scrutinising the boy who might just become her brother-in-law. But her naïve dreams were soon shattered as her own family betrayed her and ordered their 16 year old daughter to stay in her room, not come out till the time the groom and his family were gone. The reason was relatively simple – she was fair; wheatish but fairer than her dusky cousin which ironically made her a more suitable choice even though she was stout and underage.

Open any page featuring matrimonial advertisements in a newspaper and the preference granted to fair skin will become quite evident. In a racist country like ours where caste, religion and creed have been a basis for discrimination for a long time, colour is yet another bias. Even though this social evil has not caused riots yet, it is a source of immense worry in many households where girls of marriageable age are not of the favoured skin colour and also the plot for many television series. Take Bidaai, a leading primetime series on Star Plus for instance, where the dusky sister’s marriage is broken off by the groom when he lays eyes on the fairer sibling. Whether the plot is inspired from truth or is simply a representation of many societal fears is unclear. But what has come out of the relatively different concept is the conviction that being dark or dusky is being ugly. Although, it would be wrong to blame soap operas entirely for this faux pas for there are many other factors working in society and cementing the fair choice. One of the culprits, that should be arrested are fairness creams – the miracle ointments that can transform black stallions to snow whites.

Fairness creams not only promise a fairer skin (not to mention at lightning fast speed) but they also promise a fairer future. Advertisements for many of these creams underline the distress that a dark skinned women goes through, more importantly how her woes just vanish once she becomes fair. The advertising gimmicks started with the hard luck of a dusky Indian woman in terms of getting married and the taunts she was subjected to . A few years later, came an unexpected turn. The dusky girl now, could not land a job, but when she became fair she could nonetheless. In both ad campaigns she goes from being an ugly frog to a beautiful princess with just a kiss of the miracle ointment. With the women front completely covered by a variety of creams, it is the men who are the new targets. Attacked by dozens of fairness creams made especially to suit the rough skin of men (all this within the past two years), the idea of a tall, dark and handsome man seems to be taking the last train out as being fair is in. ‘Chup chup ke ladkiyon ki cream kyun lagate ho?’ – this is the way to a man’s wallet first publicised by Shah Rukh Khan in a rather intriguing ad.

Over sixty percent of Indians use fairness products regularly either under the spell of the enlightening advertisements and because they are convinced that being fair is the only way to look good. Hence, we might blame these cosmetics for propagating the fair skin species, but what we forget is that they sell because of the great Indian longing to look fair. With a great marketing approach these products are attacking our Achilles’ heel – they are simply catering to our needs and satisfying our demands. They are guilty, nonetheless, for their methods are not saintly and they have sinned by rooting the idea of fair being the only way to be beautiful even deeper, but so are the brides and grooms preferring a fair partner over a dark one. The in-laws who desire strikingly white spouses for their children are blameworthy as well for if they hadn’t placed unfair demands for fair skinned alliances, the market for fairness products would have not been as big as it is now. So, the catalysts functioning in society and making fair skin mandatory exist only because the society wants them to.

In a country where the climate conditions result into dark complexion, the presence of fairness products is not a bizarre occurrence. But the way these products try to hit the Indian mentality which has been favouring the lightness of skin for a long time is something that has many repercussions. It’s not only the self esteem of women and men that we are talking about here, it’s also the obsession of being so fair that it’s unfair that is tying the society in stereotypes and promoting discrimination over an issue which is inherent to India and many other countries with warm climates. What is ugly or unattractive about being dark? Why are we obsessed with being fair when the apparent exoticism of our skin tone is the new trend in cold climate, Caucasian countries. Why are we so ashamed of our skin, when the rest of the world is spending heavy money in tan salons to look like us. The ethnicity of Indian skin is very well forgotten and so is the phrase that beauty is skin deep.

So here we are witnessing an ongoing battle over what dictates beauty. Is it the foreign fairness- an alleged virtue a few descendents of the Aryans possess but many desire. Or is the bold duskiness of the Dravidians and their off-springs spread across India, that is the new metro-sexual cult. But, till the time the results are declared and the winner comes to the forefront, we will have to live with the tales of real men and women hiding behind oodles of fairness creams in hopes of being well accepted in the society.

Meghna Kriplani

[Image courtesy: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_wuhPdQrR4ho/SoGbqBsS2tI/AAAAAAAACdc/U1GiRGmewpI/s400/fairlovely.jpg]