Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gori Tere Pyar Mei - A Nationwide Fetish for Fair Skin

When Yami Gautam looks back at her career graph, she’ll definitely regret her decision to endorse Fair & Lovely. What her conscience couldn’t, perhaps the recent torrent of Twitter jokes will hopefully achieve. In case you missed the fun, here are some samples!

I was heartened to see people ripping apart the concept of conceived fairness! After all, it is a promising beginning for a nation that associates fairness with beauty, success and esteem. I just wish that the sarcasm wasn’t just directed towards the brand ambassador, but towards our own inherent bias towards fairness.
While this bias affects all women, the ones from the lower economic strata have the most to lose. Mostly illiterate, enmeshed in a patriarchal society, struggling to make ends meet, these women are easy prey to corporate mind-games. To think that they unnecessarily spend a portion of their earnings every month on buying fairness creams that hardly make any difference to their complexion, but make them susceptible to serious skin ailments, is maddening.

No, it is not a laughing matter. This fact could be fodder for a Kapil Sharma show, but not here. In fact, I feel sorry for such women: already being burdened with economic and familial obligations, they carry an extra, unnecessary, burden of adhering to society’s expectations of being fair in order to be considered beautiful. No matter how much I tell my maid that fairness creams are a waste of time and money, I know my words are but a small splash against the ocean of brainwashing through audio visual channels. I am sure Fair & Lovely must have a PR response ready for such occasions. But despite any length of argument, it all boils down to exploitation of such women’s vulnerability.

Are the educated, well-to-do counterparts any better off? You would think so! After all they have the requisite exposure and education, to revel in their inherent physical characteristics and to have a holistic concept of beauty. Nah! Not necessarily. Let me describe two separate instances that throw light upon our fickle beliefs.

First, recently on social media, a concerned mother posted her frustration in coping with condescending relatives and friends who give suggestions to help turn her daughter fairer. I was happy to see the outpouring of support for her and indignation towards such ‘well wishers’. However, the very next day, I was surprised by the concerned outpourings against – guess what -  getting tanned!

The second instance is about a collegiate who quite rightly told me that when it comes to physical beauty, one should “play to one’s strength.” I nodded my head in agreement. But her next statement baffled me. She said that in her case, she was proud to be 'fair'. No, she didn’t mention the quality of skin or radiance, but fairness. But of course she is just one young girl. But at that moment I felt disappointed in Gen Y.

Somewhere deep inside we are afraid to confront our deep seated biases. Whether we realize it or not, we are surrounded by subtle messages that deride ‘dark’ and deify ‘fair’.  Here’s an exercise for you. Why don’t you make a list of such instances and messages and share it here?

For my part, I consciously point out beautiful dark women to my daughter. This is a small but consistent effort towards raising her as an unbiased individual, because the world of multimedia is doing more than enough to idolize fair beauties.

However, I take comfort in the fact that the tide is turning. Elsewhere in the world, and even in certain pockets in India, ‘dusky’ or ‘dark’ is coveted. Have you joined the movement yet? Share your experiences! And oh... let's part by celebrating these gorgeous, gorgeous, fantabulously gorgeous women!

Lupita Nyong'o (Image credit: www.breakfastwithaudrey.com.au)

Lakshmi Menon (Vogue Cover)

Lisa Haydon (Image credit: Rediff)