Lovely! Does it HAVE to be fair?

Will you all please join me in raising our fists in the air and shouting ‘Gender equality!!! Finally!!’ A fairness cream company has come up with a fairness cream for men and it promises results in just four weeks of usage. Say goodbye to the ‘tall, dark and handsome’ good looks! That is so yesterday! Today’s mantra is ‘fair and handsome!’ I should have been happy reading this. It deals with the double standard that Indian society has – women have to be fair to be considered a beauty, yet men? Well, they are men, right? The sex itself makes them a step above! Nothing else matters or should matter. Now, they have to be fair to be considered beauti…oops, handsome. That’s politically correct.

I have never quite understood the fairness fetish in India and the other Asian countries. I have seen and have been subjected to good-natured ridicule about skin color. It hurt in the teenage years when one really likes to be admired for their physical attributes. But as I became older and wiser, I became optimistic that as India opened up to the world more, it would realize that the average skin tone of Indians is actually an enviable attribute amongst many in the fair-skinned population. People would also realize that skin color is something in your genes. You can take care of it, keep it blemish free as much as you can, but it would be difficult to change your skin tone. I understood that the concept of ‘fair skinned beauty’ is deep-rooted and will take time to completely disappear. The cinema, the media, the music all play to the concept ‘fair skin equates beautiful’. Hindi songs warn women not to go out in the sun, not because one will get skin cancer but the skin will darken – ‘Dhoop mein nikla na karo roop ki raani, gora rang kaala na ho jaye!’ I was told, many times, not to drink tea. Tea will affect the liver, mal functioning of liver will darken my skin further, my prospects of marrying, already low, will dwindle. You get the logic? It may be appropriate to mention a personal experience here. I went for an interview for a sales job in a renowned air conditioning company, right out of college. The job I was interviewing for entitled selling air conditioners in the sweltering heat of Kolkata. The manager, after looking at me and my resume, asked if I was up for this kind of job since my skin would darken under the sun and I would have trouble attracting a mate with my darkened skin. I didn’t even realize how inappropriate the comment was at the time, I was brain washed since childhood that dark is bad, hence the comment seemed normal. I am still embarrassed that I didn’t protest such mindset then. There are exceptions, but they only prove the rule, unfortunately. However, the eternal optimist that I am, I hoped this perception would fade away as my ‘shining India’ shone brighter.

Then I read this recently: “While these ads (apart from boosting the sales of the products), have invited flak for promoting insecurity and discrimination among women, the latest to join the long list of fairness products is something that can be described as ludicrous at best. The product, that has sparked an online debate, is a fairness cream for women’s private parts!

The ad, that went on-air some time back, has been described by the online world as the “ultimate insult to women”. It shows a Katrina Kaif look-alike who has a glum expression on her face, as her husband is more interested in the newspaper than in her. But once she cleans herself up (with that product), she suddenly becomes the object of his affections. The Twitterati is buzzing with comments slamming these products. “This is the ultimate insult. Skin whitening for your vagina,” Rupa Subramanya tweeted. While @ThePunjew, wrote, “What a bummer, there’s no shade card yet to monitor fairness progress!”

The above excerpt is from an article in The Times of India ‘Outrage over fairness cream for private parts’. ‘A new TV ad for a personal hygiene cream, that promises ‘fairer’ private parts for women, has been slammed by netizens.’

Fairness cream is a disgrace, I think. It is demeaning and insulting, to say the least, to women and now men. Some of the famous film personalities have refused to endorse tobacco and alcohol advertisements, yet many movie icons continue to appear and endorse fairness creams. I agree fairness cream doesn’t inflict the same amount of damage in one’s body as tobacco and alcohol but how about the mind? How about society? How about dowry that the grooms ask for a dark-skinned bride? I have watched with amazement as a father joked about how he has set aside a huge sum of money for dowry for his dark-skinned daughter. He joked, ‘When the groom’s family mentions her darkness, I will hand them the first bundle of rupees, when they mention her nose, I will hand them the second bundle!’ All this in front of the girl, who sat there with a slight smile on her face. Isn’t this SOMEWHAT akin to selling the girl, her skin tone, her features?

I spoke to an amazingly beautiful model whose only regret in life was her dark skin. She wishes to be fairer in the next life. ‘What are you talking about? You are beautiful!’ I told her, amazed. ‘Nah, I am too dark!’ Her response. When a baby is born in a family, the question about his/her skin color is asked at the same time as whether s/he is healthy. If the baby happens to be dark-skinned, the comments generally are ‘The color is dark BUT the features will be good.’ I am waiting for the BUT to change to AND! When my babies were born, the hope amongst many of my friends and family were the children get my white husband’s skin tone! I still remember a question asked after Ryan’s birth, by a friend’s mother, ‘The baby is like Sean, I hope? Fair skinned?’

The pancake make up ladies lather on their faces to whiten them is very disheartening. Glowing skin of any hue is beautiful, unnatural white skin is not! I was subjected to such makeup during my Indian wedding, much to the dismay of my white husband. ‘What have they done to you?’ He exclaimed. ‘Color equality for the day, darling. Deal with it!’ I said.

I recently spotted a popular fairness cream in an Indian grocery store in the US. I was disappointed to see the fairness fetish has transcended geographical boundaries. The store owner told me the sale of the product is very high. To me, that was surprising. I started appreciating my skin color more after I came to this country where people pointed to my arms and said, ‘That is what WE want.’ Hence the tanning salons, hence the sun bathing. I thought Indians would feel proud of their naturally tanned skin color but many seem to want the fair skin of the Caucasians. Entry fairness creams. Hackneyed but true, the grass truly is greener on the other side.

Bottomline: India, please wake up and smell the coffee. The mindset regarding fairness, instead of improving, is taking a terrible, demeaning, sadly humorous turn. It is invading the privacy of women. Spend more money on gynecological check ups to prevent ovarian cancer, educate women on women’s health and check for breast cancer. Please do not worry about the COLOR of women’s privates. There are so many more things in the world to worry about. Do trust me on this one!


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