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Arti Patel


India's Ugly Obsession with Lighter Skin Hits Close to Home, Too

Posted: 08/16/2013 3:27 pm

As a kid living in Toronto, I quickly figured out my so-called "dark" brown skin was darker than most Indian girls and as a result, I become fascinated with fair skin. It was kind of pathetic and weird, but I even remember seeing my skin colour change after taking off Band-Aids (after cuts) and imagining the rest of my skin a lighter shade.

My pre-teen views on beauty were simple: beauty meant fair skin. Growing up my grandmother would give me a bath in chickpea flour, an old Indian homemade recipe, to get a child's skin lighter. I would get in trouble for playing out in the sun for too long and when I would go to my dance classes, my instructors would have a hard time finding a foundation shade that matched my face.

These days at 24, I'd like to think these things are part of my past but a recent article in the Guardian, "India's unfair obsession with lighter skin," is like a slap in the face -- an ongoing obsession with fair, lovely, beautiful skin here and there.

Writer Monisha Rajesh goes into the complicated history of India's struggle with accepting all skin colours and a new campaign (backed by Bollywood star Nandita Das) called Dark is Beautiful to stop beliefs that a person's worth is measured by their skin's fairness. The campaign also hopes to raise more awareness and eventually stop sales of controversial skin lightening products like Fair & Lovely cream, which comes in a line of shower gels, face creams and even vaginal washes (because really, dark private parts are the end of the world).

Blog continues after slideshow:

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  • Fair And Lovely For Men

    Fair And Lovely is a popular skin lightening cream originally from India, but sold worldwide. The product's advertising campaigns have fuelled debates around fairness and beauty, according to the BBC.

  • Vybz Kartel Cake Soap Advertisement

    Vybz Kartel, who is launching his own cosmetics line with skin bleaching products, also has his own house-brand of cake soap sold in Jamaica.

  • Palmolive Natural Soaps

    A commercial for Palmolive Naturals, a skin whitening soap from the Philippines.

  • Garnier Men PowerLight For Men

    In this commercial, Bollywood actor John Abraham is endorsing Garnier Men Powerlight, a cream aimed to protect your face from the sun and lighten dark spots.

  • Nivea Whitening Cream For Men

    NIVEA men's skin whitening cream commercial from Thailand.

  • Emami Fair And Handsome Fairness Cream

    A commercial for Emani's Fair And Handsome fairness cream from India. Emami has been labelled 'racist' before for other commercials similar to this one.

  • Fair And Lovely For Women

    This commercial, seen through out Asia is for Fair And Lovely's fairness cream for women.

  • Freida Pinto Advertisement

    There were speculations in September that L'Oreal had <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/23/freida-pinto-loreal-ad_n_978351.html" target="_hplink">lightened this advertisement</a> of actress Fredia Pinto.

To make history super, super short, this phenomenon of fair vs. dark isn't only popular in India. Several Asian countries like Thailand and China as well as some Caribbean islands have dealt with these issues since colonialism.

But who would've thought, a campaign purely focused and based in India, could be just as relevant to South Asians living here? Sure, we're not bombarded with Fair & Lovely ads (even though you'll see them sitting on shelves of most South Asian grocery chains), but if you don't hear it subliminally from your peers or parents at home, you're constantly seeing magazine after magazine covered in the same face.

But no, this isn't a blog post about adding more diversity to the media we consume, but for myself at least, it's about constantly being reminded to not get "too dark" and at the same time, build up some self-esteem and not let it affect you. Hiding in the shade and not being able to stand up for myself, is stuff I've done in the past. Even though I've embraced my chocolate-brown skintone, it's unfortunate to know this ugly reality still exists in some households -- including my own.

I can sugarcoat the situation and say things in the next 10, 20 or 50 years will change, but I have little hope. These days, we may not want to associate beauty with the colour of one's skin but the implications of not getting too tanned or having to lighten our faces before we post photos on Facebook shows we have a long way to go.


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