‘Dark is Beautiful’ movement takes on India’s obsession with whiter skin

So the craze for lighter skin extends beyond our borders to foreign lands. I really thought only dark skinned Africans were guilty of this but apparently not. Hmmm.

I am ebony in complexion and developed a thick skin to being called names like “blacky” by fellow Nigerians (this was mostly in primary school though). I do recall an instance however, when in the process of treating my acne scarred face, I wound up with a distinctly lighter face than my body and boy did the number of men asking me out suddenly triple, only to dip again as soon as my face healed and went back to being distinctly dark.

I understand the fascination on the part of our men with fair skin. Its exotic in these parts while dark skinned women are (were) a dime a dozen. However, when this same society which overtly sends out messages suggesting that dark skin is NOT desirable (tell me the last time you saw an ebony complected woman in a music video or one who played the lead in any video of any kind) turns around to condemn women who do what they can (bleach their skins) to be considered more attractive, I get quite confused.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate bleaching, primarily because of its health implications but the general message being sent out by society is, “black aint beautiful” and there are tons of women out there listening.


Indian actress  Nandita Das is the face of the ‘Dark is Beautiful Campaign,’ which helps spread  the message that women shouldn’t have to lighten their skin to feel good about  themselves. Das says the pressure to be pale has nearly driven some women to  suicide.


Actress and director Nandita Das is fighting to change the idea that Indian women are only beautiful if they have fair skin.


Actress and director Nandita Das is fighting to change the idea that Indian  women are only beautiful if they have fair skin.

MUMBAI – Looking to find a husband, make friends, and get ahead at work?  Then you need to have lighter skin.

That’s the all-pervasive message in India, and it’s something that one  actress is fighting to overturn.

The new poster girl of the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign, Nandita Das, has  called out India’s obsession with fair skin — a prejudice she says has driven  some young women to the brink of suicide.

“Magazines, TV, cinema — everywhere being fair is synonymous with being  beautiful,” Das told AFP.

Described as having “dusky” skin as opposed to a fair complexion, the  43-year-old is well used to Indian preoccupations with color, and not just in  the film industry, where she has refused requests to lighten her skin for  roles.

“How can you be so confident despite being so dark?” is a question regularly  asked of Das, who has preferred to star in unconventional, issue-based films but  says she would struggle to get ahead in mainstream Bollywood movies.

‘Beauty beyond color’

In May, Das became the face of the Dark is Beautiful campaign, launched in  2009 by activist group Women of Worth to celebrate “beauty beyond color”.

Her backing has helped to generate increasing debate in the media, but the  response has underlined just how ingrained the preference is for fairer skin,  which has long been associated with higher social classes and castes.

“I started getting tonnes of emails from young women pouring their heart out  about how they were discriminated against. Some wanted to commit suicide because  they couldn’t be fair,” she said.

Das found her own photograph had been lightened by a newspaper even for a  feature on the campaign. When looking for a nanny, she was told one candidate  was “good, but quite dark”.

Amid such pressures to be pale, India‘s whitening cream market swelled from  $397 million in 2008 to $638 million over four years, according to market  researchers at Euromonitor International. Skin-lightening products accounted for 84 percent of the country’s facial  moisturizer market last year, their report shows.

The bias facing darker-skinned women was raised again in September when an  Indian-origin woman, Nina Davuluri, won the “Miss America” contest in the United  States. Had she been in India, far from entering a beauty contest, it is more  likely that Ms. Davuluri would have grown up hearing mostly disparaging remarks about the color of her skin,” said an editorial in The Hindu newspaper.

“She would have been — going by the storyline of most ‘fairness’ cream  advertisements — a person with low self-esteem and few friends.”

Vaginal whitening cream

Last year, a commercial for an “intimate wash” to whiten vaginas emerged,  showing a young Indian woman who uses the product to successfully regain her  boyfriend’s attention.The advert was widely panned, but a glance through matrimonial websites and  newspaper columns suggests that fair skin, at least on a woman’s face, remains  key to attaining an Indian husband.

Aspiring grooms often state in their adverts their preference for a fair  bride, while nearly all women’s profiles describe their complexion as fair or  so-called “wheatish”.

Ekta Ghosh, a fashion designer in Mumbai who specializes in wedding wear,  said the message that only fair is beautiful had been passed down to Indian  girls for generations.

“Parents, relatives, they all keep saying you should do something to lighten  your skin tone,” she said.

India’s mass market whitening pioneer was “Fair & Lovely”, launched in  1975 by Hindustan Unilever and now selling in a range of other countries where  pale skin is desirable, across Africa and the Middle East as well as Asia.Indian consumer group Emami later came up with “Fair and Teen” for girls and  “Fair and Handsome” for men.

Promoted by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, the latest advert shows him  tossing a tube of the cream from the red carpet to a young male fan.Dark is Beautiful has launched a petition against the “irresponsible” video  and its message that “fair skin is a prerequisite for success”.

So far more than 15,000 people have signed up in protest, but Khan has not  responded.

“You’re telling people they’re just not good enough,” said Das, who  describes whitening cream adverts in general as “so regressive and  derogatory”.

Fairness cream producers suggest they help to boost users’ confidence,  although both Emami and Hindustan Unilever declined to comment for this  article.

Not everyone, however, is convinced such creams are even effective.

Receptionist Prachi Chawan, 28, said she had been using Fair & Lovely  products for three years “out of habit”, but was yet to see noticeable  results.

“There have been no side effects but no change either,” she said.

Das believes whitening cream developers did not create Indians’ color bias  and insecurities, but have “cashed in” on it, creating a “vicious circle”.

While men’s fairness products are gaining ground, the actress says women and  girls still face far more pressure over their skin tone, which she puts down to  a general lack of respect and inequality.

“Until we let women have the same space as men and treat them as human  beings, all this will carry on.”

Culled from nydailynews.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s