Why are we obsessed with fair skin?
Our obsession for fair skin has been around for centuries. In later interpretations of the varna system, during the time of Bhrigu, skin color became a distinguishing factor of caste. Brahmins were described as white-skinned, while Shudras were known to have dark skin. Though there is no evidence of skin color based discrimination by the Mughals, they were a homogeneous group of lighter-skinned rulers. So light skin became synonymous with the superiority of the rulers, which was strengthened by other conquerors like the Portuguese and the French.
But discrimination based on skin color became prominent during British rule. So called ‘Black Indians‘ were denied entry into restaurants and educational institutions. Though this formalized discrimination is a thing of past, still fair skin continues to be perceived as the marker of one’s social status for many.
Advertisements for beauty products claim to offer “lightening, brightening and glowing skin“, as something that would have an impact on one’s job prospects, status along with one’s appearance. Fairness creams are such a necessity that each year Indians spend more on fairness creams than they spend on tea. A survey found that 70 per cent of men believe that fair skin will give them an advantage over others in securing a job, success in an interview or finding a life partner. Indian movies too reinforce this notion. Fair-skinned actors often make their skin look darker with makeup while playing a lower class character. Offscreen dark skin or ‘kaala rang‘ is often regarded as dirty, ugly or poor adding layers to the insecurity related to dark skin color. All this fuels the desire to escape from the skin color people are born with. Women had reportedly boosts in confidence level when they lightened their skin color by two shades. This adds up to the individual and cultural obsession with ‘fair‘ skin.
The fact is that no amount of fairness creams or any other cosmetic can actually lighten the original color of one’s skin. So, instead of buying into this myth and continuing to perpetuate it, let’s go beyond dropping the ‘fair‘ in a fairness cream or just boldly claiming that black is beautiful. And attack the social conditioning which tells us that colorism is a ‘natural preference‘. Let’s reject this discriminatory mindset altogether.