Colorism in India: Light vs. Dark
In India, there is a central obsession with light skin in the beauty industry. This obsession can be seen through the well-known product, Fair and Lovely. It is a cream that is intended for the use of lightening skin. Fair and Lovely is a product that is problematic since it encourages the colorist belief that light skin is more beautiful than dark skin. Unfortunately, it is just one of many that are often advertised to Indian citizens. Furthermore, the lightening skin cream has been very successful. According to a video produced by BuzzFeed India, the market for lightening creams was worth around 423 million dollars in 2010. This obsession with having lighter skin is not just an issue dealing with social expectations, but also has medical disadvantages. Some creams can contain harmful components, including mercury. Moreover, the preference of light skin in Indian society has had much history and has persisted for hundreds of years.
Radhika Parameswaran, a professor in the Media School at Indiana University who currently focuses on colorism, beauty, and sexism in India, talks about several factors that have led to colorist beliefs in India. According to her, the caste system in India may play a role. In general, there is a perception that wealthier people tend to have lighter skin. This is because wealthy people had money for others to do manual labor, and the ones that did manual labor would work in hot temperatures and their skin would consequently darken. However, there is not an established correlation between the color of skin and the rank in caste, Parameswaran says. But, the perception still exists and that is one reason why fair skin is preferred. She also goes on to mention the significance of colonialism in implementing colorism in Indian society. A lot of infrastructural development in India is accredited to British colonists. Therefore, lighter-skinned can be perceived as a sign of success, even if there’s no such belief as “The white colonists are better than Indian people.” The media also has significance. Many Bollywood actors and actresses are portrayed as fair skinned. In fact, many famous celebrities in Bollywood endorse ads for lightening cream. Furthermore, it is women that are more affected by this issue. When the caste system was more prevalent, women were supposed to have children to further the lineage in the caste system. The assumption that has risen is that if a light-skinned woman has a child, that child will also be light-skinned. Colorism does also affect men. According to The Hindustan Times, 71% of Indian women would rather marry a man with lighter skin. Overall, there are many factors that have resulted in colorism in Indian society.
There are solutions underway, though. There is a social movement known as Unfair and Lovely. There is a hashtag for it on Instagram in which Indian people who have darker skin can post pictures of themselves with that hashtag. This movement encourages Indian people with darker skin to embrace their skin. Then, a young Pakistani woman by the name of Fatima Lodhi, created an anti-colorism movement in 2013. She now goes to schools and teaches students about colorism and makes them aware of the issue. Even though colorism has deep roots in Indian society, change is on its way.
“Radhika Parameswaran on ‘Colorism’ in India.” Claremont McKenna College, www.cmc.edu/keck-center/asia-experts-forum/radhika-parameswaran-on-colorism-in-india.
BuzzFeed India. “Why Is India So Obsessed With Fair Skin?” YouTube, YouTube, 28 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BQc2guo-Lg.
Rodrigues, Collin. “India’s Unfair Obsession with Fair Skin, Its Impact on Relationships.” Https://Www.hindustantimes.com/, Hindustan Times, 20 Mar. 2015, www.hindustantimes.com/sex-and-relationships/india-s-unfair-obsession-with-fair-skin-its-impact-on-relationships/story-cbkOW7ZShgbR10i5yfvIXI.html.
Abraham, Mary-Rose. “Dark Is Beautiful: the Battle to End the World’s Obsession with Lighter Skin.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/sep/04/dark-is-beautiful-battle-to-end-worlds-obsession-with-lighter-skin.
Picture Credits: “Fair and Lovely: Skin Care.” EBay, www.ebay.com/bhp/fair-and-lovely.