No I was not comfortable being dark. Fairness creams spoke to me.

Aditi Narayani

The stigma around Dark skin is not a recent phenomena, it is deeply ingrained in our thought process, which has travelled through decades of colonial hung-over or the racial prejudices we live with. The advent of creams like “Fair and Lovely” or any other lightening/ brightening agents has only worsened the situation. The colour issue in India is not merely on a superficial level, it’s a deep rooted issue. For a change in the mindset, its needs a complete structural shift. I am the victim and perpetuator of colourism, I have used skin lightening creams to feel wanted and desired, I have hidden these creams to avoid judgments of my friends who would check my cosmetics and bombard me with unsolicited advice of how I should be comfortable in my skin tone.

No I was not comfortable with my skin tone, it took me a while to accept myself and my skin colour and I still feel insecure if I get tanned, I start looking for besan dahi. And these work at a subconscious level, I have been conditioned to think so or do so. A dark woman means a dark lineage. Children born out of a dark woman will be dark and therefore, in an arrange marriage set up, we are expected to compensate for our skin colour in dowry or in kind. These issues are deeply embedded in our system and in our minds, we find fair and white attractive, it has been instilled in our system. Since caste and class often intersect each other, fair skin is always perceived as rich, economically well off and classy and dark colour is even synonymous with unhygienic and dirty. Being dark colour transcends all other factors such as education, accomplishments, your skills, it seems you always need to put an extra effort to make your presence felt. The constant struggle and fight is there as you miss that extra edge purely because of your skin colour.

In the recent chain of events, when Johnson and Johnson decided to stop the sell of whitening, lightening and brightening products in the wake of rising racial violence. FMCG companies like Hindustan Uniliver took cognizance of this and decided to drop the usage of word Fair from their star product “ Fair & Lovely”, which is just a disguise of selling the same product by using terms like bright or pearl glow. But does it really change the mindset or bring about a change in the lives of a young woman like me? No it doesn’t. Merely dropping the word fair won’t address the issue. Will they change the composition of the cream? Will they not use the bleaching agent? All these perceptions now have legitimate numbers to show for. As per HUL, the annual sales from its flagship brand Fair and Lovely is 4100 crores ( $550 mn) and the fairness industry counts for around 10000 crores in total annual sales. The change in the terminology might not even make a dent in this grave systemic attitude, which needs a radical structural change. It is just one of the marketing gimmicks tried as part of performance activism appearing to sound more inclusive. It is the same bleaching agent sold with the sophistication of being socially aware. The market forces try to capitalize on the insecurities of young woman compelling them to adhere of the idea that Fair is lovely and forcing them to use harsh bleaching elements on their skin. It’s not only about Unilever but mostly all online portals, which sell beauty, and wellness products have section dedicated to skin lightening. But who will address to these bigger questions? A complete section dedicated to skin lightening under skin concerns; I don’t understand how being dark is a skin concern or an ailment which needs to be fixed. This discourse around colourism and racism is not going to change with change in terminology if the products are still being sold and if dark colour is viewed as a skin ailment. More than our mindsets and societal pressure, it can be seen as an institutionalized discrimination, which functions in a very systematic way and excludes women with darker skin tones, lowers their self-esteem and makes them feel vulnerable and gullible.

In our common parlance, fairness is seen as beautiful, pure, fragile more feminine where as brown or dark skin tone is perceived as that of a seductress’ and not something which is feminine, it’s a dark side of a woman . Women with dark skin tone are made to believe they are attractive in a different manner not conventionally beautiful? In India, there are multiple shades of dark and fair, as we call kaali, saawli,
gehua rang , gori and jhak jhak gori., witch white , milky white. I belong to Bihar and these are the colloquial terms, which I have always encountered in my life and I am still trying to figure out where do I stand in these parameters of being Beautiful and Lovely ?

Views are the author’s own.

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