Opinion: India and its unfair obsession with skin colour

As Europeans spend a whooping amount of money and time to achieve a fake tan, Indians are doing the same to get white skin. India’s whitening cream market is swelling year after year.

Fair & Lovely Cream Advertisement. Image: Supplied by samacharnama.com

Women of dark complexion face humiliation in every stage of their lives. Both in terms of marriage and employment, those with fairer skin get an extra edge over those who are not-so-fair. The matrimonial section of an Indian newspaper is filled with classified advertisements that include phrases such as “MBA graduate wanted with fair complexion”.

Matrimonial Advertisement on The Telegraph, India. Image: Ankita Sengupta

Over generations, dark skin has been associated with poverty and fair skin is considered elite. Social scientists and historians suggest that the Aryan invasion has its contribution, their supremacy over dark skinned Dravidians played its role to make fair skin an inevitable norm in the psyche of Indian society.

Thus, we see visibly happy parents when a child is born with much lighter skin colour. A fair skinned child gets a pivotal role in school plays. African students in India often speak about facing discrimination in everyday life due to their skin colour, even though India is pre-dominantly a brown skin country.

Bollywood has been another major culprit for encouraging people to believe the myth about beauty standards. Superstar, Shahrukh Khan, promotes male fairness through advertisements for whitening cream that help “attain ultimate masculinity”. In one way, this does show progressiveness in society is being demonstrated, there is equal discrimination for both sexes when it comes to whiter skin.

Shah Rukh Khan pictured in a billboard advert on Sheikh Zayed Rd for the skin whitening cream Fair and Handsome. (source: Chris Whiteoak, The National)


In 2014, Indians spent a reported $550 million on fairness products. More than 90 per cent of women in India cited skin lightening as a high need area, according to a report in the book Cases on Consumer-Centric Marketing Management.

Apart from causing insidious self-esteem issues in so many, using whitening cream is also extremely unsafe as it often contains toxic metal mercury and other dangerous chemicals, according to ScienceDaily.

But, consciousness is growing in the mind set of Indians; people have started to feel comfortable in their own skin. Actress Nandita Das runs the Dark and Beautiful campaign to create and promote the idea that being dark is nothing to be ashamed of in a country that values fair skin. Unfair and Lovely and Brown n Proud are other campaigns helping to remove the stigma around dark skin by celebrating dark skinned women.


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