They’ve been around forever, we’ve all come across hundreds of them, and they are slowly destroying our confidence. Advertisements and campaigns for fairness treatments have always and will always be harmful. In a country like India, wherein the majority of people have a darker complexion, it would seem ludicrous to spend so much time and energy on encouraging people to lighten their skin, yet countless brands invest large chunks of their funds on fairness campaigns.
The idealization of european beauty standards and light skin are one of the many ill-effects of neo-imperialism that India suffers from today. When British and Dutch invaded our country, they brought their languages, food, culture and benchmarks of attractiveness. Due to their considerable military and modernized weapons, they were seen as omnipotent by many, as a result of which they were able to pass down their benchmark. They laid a great emphasis on thin and small noses, hairlessness in women, rosy cheeks and fair skin, which were features the majority of Indian women did not posses. The Europeans mocked women’s “indian complexions” and blatantly displayed disrespect for our culture. The idea that white is a “pure” colour also originated from europe where people had light skin, and the notion of white supremacy and power has trickled down to our beauty standards today.
By the same token, advertisements for fairness cream almost always equate lighter skin to success and happiness. Brands such as Fair and Lovely hide behind feminist ideologies such as empowering career oriented women to propagate their colourism and racism. Men and women with lightened skin are portrayed as prosperous, attractive and popular. In commercials, the actors or actresses go through a development wherein the audience sees their skin eventually getting lighter in which editors use photoshop to dullen the image of the darker skinned person and make them more radiant as they become lighter. This is highly misleading and may ruin one’s self esteem. The curious thing is that international brands such a Garnier and Maybelline, who have sold self-tanning products, sell fairness products.
Moreover, the representation of dark skinned indians in media is next to nothing. Almost all mainstream bollywood actresses and actors are fair skinned, and if their complexion is dusky, they are made to look lighter by editors or makeup artists.
This immense glorification of light skin is tremendously unrealistic and unhealthy. Many actors and actresses get rejected during auditions due to their complexions, in spite of being exceedingly skilled in their cast. They are often replaced with light skinned people who may not be as talented as them. For example, Amy Jackson, a white British actress has become hugely popular in Bollywood and has been cast in many Hindi and Tamil films, despite being linguistically challenged in those languages, proving that the desire for white skin is prioritized over authenticity or skill level.
Moreover, fairness creams and lotions are rarely effective. Research has shown that only about 7% of the ingredients in the aforementioned products promote fairness. One’s skin colour is simply an adaptation to protect oneself from UV radiation. Human skin contains melanocytes, containing the pigment melanin which gives the colour to skin. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin; eumelanin is more black-brown and found in people of colour, and pheomelanin is more yellow and found in white people. People of colour and Indians generally have darker skin due to the presence of eumelanin, a larger number of melanocytes, and a higher concentration of melanin. This is because melanin helps to defend one from UV rays, and India and other countries hosting people of colour lie near the equator wherein the rays of sun are harsh and present for a longer duration. Hydroquinone, a popular ingredient in fairness creams, reduces melanin synthesis, but has many nocuous side effects such as redness, an increase in the risk of ochronosis, and has been known to cause blood cancer in animals. Sadly, this is a price that numerous people are willing to pay to boost their confidence.
The most significant adverse effect of the romanticization of fair skin is the influence it has on people’s’ mental health. The disreputation of dark skin causes issues such as low self esteem, eating disorders, anxiety, etc.; it causes people to be worried about their marital prospects, careers, and social popularity. Attributable to the large variety of propaganda surrounding light skin, even those who are against colourism and feel confident in their own skin begin to doubt themselves. They often feel lost as they are the only ones opposing what the majority believes. Colourism and the worshipping of fair skin harms the majority of Indians and women who have dark skin and promotes an illogical sentiment of white supremacy whilst pretending to be progressive.
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