Of late, I have come across at least half a dozen fairness cream ads that have offended my sensibilities in some way. Not to mention that “fair and lovely” men suddenly seems to be all the rage in India. What’s this with fair men anyway? I would rather marry an intelligent, loving and dark man than an arrogant, fair one. Uhm…actually, the man I love is…well, not fair. The fairness cream ads of the recent past have been more offensive than encouraging. One ad for the Unilever product “Fair and Lovely” portrays a young danseuse using fair and lovely every day and going on to win the dance finals. What the %#&$@??? Does that mean she was not a good dancer when she had darker skin? It implies that only fair people are talented and successful. Why are we, as a nation so obsessed with fairness? One cursory look at matrimonial sites like shaadi.com reveal the national preference for fair skin. The famous air hostess ad for the same Unilever product was withdrawn from air after widespread protests about its content. The ad features a father lamenting the fact that he has no son: just a dark-skinned daughter who cannot get a job because of her complexion. “Kaash mera ek beta hota,” (I wish I had a son) he says in a fit of depression. Such ads only reinforce the stereotype that fair equals beautiful. I know plenty of dark-skinned women who can easily be qualified as stunningly beautiful.
This stereotype apart, these ads generally suggest that women should be fair for one of two reasons. One, to be able to find a high-profile job as an air hostess or a TV anchor; and two, to find the perfect, handsome knight-in-shining-armour who will sweep her off her feet. Never mind that the said knight-in-shining-armour ignored her just a couple of weeks ago when she was a few shades darker and treated her as if she were transparent. Whatever happened to self-esteem? An ad portrays a woman as winning her man over with some magic potion that makes her skin lighter, and the woman’s only ambition in life is to be fairer than the girl-next-door. Such ads not only perpetrate the popular myth that fair is beautiful, but are also seriously damaging to the self-esteem of those women (and now men too) who happen to have dark skin.
While we are on the subject of fair skin, I must talk about a rather interesting talk show on the Star Vijay channel that featured a debate on Tamilians as compared to people of other states. The anchor, presumably hoping to create some controversy, asked the discussants who they considered more beautiful: people of Tamil Nadu or those from other states. And voilà, the answer was on predictable lines. A large majority of people contended that North Indians were the more beautiful species. When asked why they thought so, most of them said it was because the North Indians had fairer skin. How long are we going to stick to the colonial mindset of fair=beautiful? When are we, as a nation, going to realise that skin colour does not matter as much as character and talent? When are we going to stop obsessing with Fair&Lovely, Fairever, Fair and Ageless, Fair and Handsome etc. and start accepting people for what they are, warts and all? My guess is: not for another millenium. We protest when we are accused of racism (I am guilty of that act myself), but we remain fairness obsessed in our personal lives. Will this ever change?