Fair skin is such a big thing, especially for a girl child in India, that almost everything in her life gets coloured by this colonial obsession!
I am not talking about the quest for being fair and just. I am using the term ‘fair’ here, in a way, we Indians use it, which is to describe a lighter skin tone.
India is a unique country. Race wise, we are neither white nor black. We are not even completely brown. We have a heterogeneity and diversity in skin colour that ranges from very fair (a particular term used only in India to describe your skin colour), to wheatish (another term used in India), to black. This diversity of skin tone has produced deep prejudices in society, and women particularly are at the receiving end of this discrimination.
Read any advertisement in the matrimonial section of a newspaper, to understand the bias society has towards those with fair skin. A girl with fair skin is often the preferred choice in arranged marriages. Fairness cream advertisements too drive in this idea that, apparently it is fair skin that is needed to be successful in life.
The root cause for this ‘quest for fairness‘ lies in someone’s inability to accept themselves. They lack the confidence to engage with the world without that armour of talcum powder or fairness cream. It also reflects low self-esteem.
This quest for fairness isn’t something that has developed overnight or, is a new phenomenon in our society. It is prevalent in a girl’s life, from her childhood through her growing up years.
As a new-born baby girl, she is examined closely by the elderly women folk, who would look at her face to declare a fortune or misfortune for the parents, depending upon what her skin tone is like. Grandmothers and mothers often advise her against playing in the sun, as she may get dark by doing so. Comparisons are made between children on the basis of their skin tone and the fairer one is considered the beautiful one. This is especially true in small towns and rural North India.
An age-old saying goes that “one fairness could hide ten faults in a face”. This saying reflects the deep-rooted desire society has for fairness of complexion. This seems more applicable when it comes to the female gender. A man is considered handsome, even if he is dark. However when it comes to women, the same rule is seldom applicable. Idioms such as ‘A book should not be judged by its cover’ seldom apply to girls and they indeed are judged by their appearance. Beauty has become synonymous with having fair skin colour.
The quest to be fair doesn’t end just here. There is an inherent dissatisfaction even among those are actually fair. Heard of the young bride, who was so fair that she shined like a bulb, when there was no light in the room? Such is the obsession of Indian society with fairness, that it misplaces a young girls own self-image. The thought of not being fair reduces her self-esteem and self-confidence forever, and she hides her actual skin colour behind fairness products. She should in fact be focusing on enhancing her skills, knowledge and making a real difference to her life.
The colour of one’s skin cannot really be changed. And I respect celebrities who believe in this and refuse to endorse fairness products. Women who endorse them are born with fair skin, and have surely not become fair using any of the products they endorse. Such advertisements may often prove to be misleading as they bring in the idea that it is a privilege to be born fair in this country. And to me this is not really fair.
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Published here earlier.
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