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India’s Fairness Obsession: A Dark Message To The Young?

What message is India's obsession with fairness sending out to young Indians? We must stop making young people feel inadequate, says this post.

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What message is India’s obsession with fairness sending out to young Indians? We must stop making young people feel inadequate, says this post.

We see it all around us, every day. We absorb it like sponges and spread it around like flu. Most people don’t even realize that they are addicted to the fairness obsession, while some who do, prefer to brush it aside into a neglected corner of their minds. The rest are the lucky few, confident of themselves as they are, insouciant to what the world thinks about them having some extra melanin.

So where does this phobia, or rather hatred, towards the colour brown stem from? The Arab invasion, and more importantly, the Colonial rule painted a fair picture into our minds that altered the traditional perceptions of beauty. It reinforced a new belief that a dark complexion represented the inferior or the uncivilized people, while being fair elevated one’s position in society. The colonizers have long gone, but we, like mindless slaves, try out every cream, talc and lotion in the market in a desperate attempt to appear a shade lighter.

And of course, we have a special knack of making life difficult for women. So the fairness expectations are more from women, as is obvious from common remarks like:

“Beti, don’t play in the sun, you will get tanned.”

“Your daughter is so fair, who wouldn’t find her beautiful?”

And the classic: “Although she’s dark, she’s good at heart.”

Or from Matrimonial advertisements: “Wanted fair, tall slim girl for…..”

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“……wanted for girl of wheatish complexion….”

Then there are the advertisements of products that magically whiten a girl to enable her to get a job, to get married, to gain friends, and to even become a popular singer (melanin clogs the throat, you see!). Every personal care product cashes in on this insecurity of people and flaunts an “advanced fairness formula” that easily traps young minds.

Every personal care product cashes in on this insecurity of people and flaunts an “advanced fairness formula” that easily traps young minds.

Even children are victims of this phenomenon. The “skin colour” in a crayon set is invariably a light shade, and pregnant women are force-fed milk with saffron to be “blessed” with a child as white as milk. Teens and youngsters resort to skin lightening apps before posting their pictures on social media sites. For men too, fair = handsome.  Why men, even vaginas and testicles aren’t spared, with “intimate” cocktails of chemicals that now line supermarket shelves.

Powerful, harmful message: You’re not enough

So what exactly is the problem with this obsession? In a country where a majority of the population is brown (and its various shades) it is atrocious to say that only fair is beautiful. Imagine the power of the colonial influence, the media, and peer pressure, if almost everyone aspires to become fairer in an attempt to fit into someone else’s definition of beauty. Inferiority complex and loss of confidence, health hazards (both physical and mental), isolation by family and friends, inability to find a suitable partner and a staggering number of suicides (I personally know of one) can be traced back to just one main cause – not being fair enough.

What message are we giving our youngsters? That the lightness of one’s skin tone has a direct bearing on success in career, relationships and life? Every action of ours, however subtle, leaves an impact on young minds. It is high time that we, as adults, realize the shallowness of perceiving beauty by skin colour, height, weight etc. of an individual.

This is easier said than done, but if we don’t want to see a shaky gen next busy whitewashing itself to defy genetics, we have to take the first step. Can’t we ignore those ads that tell us that we are not good enough? That keep pulling us towards that tempting but non-existent world of permanent radiance and physical beauty? Do we want to be guilty of perpetrating colourism while we shun racism, sexism, and communalism?

Let us be more inclusive and enjoy the kaleidoscopic platter of skin colour amidst us without being judgemental. Albino, Pale, White, Fair, Wheatish, Brown, Dark, Black…does it really matter?

Pic credit: anolden (Used under a CC license)

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About the Author

Vidya Subramanian

A book and food lover, I am passionate about teaching and learning. I enjoy interacting with children, travelling and gardening. I think women need to think beyond stereotypical roles and expectations and just follow their read more...

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