Column: How fair do we need to be?

I’ve never been concerned about my complexion, though hardly anyone — not
even my dear mother —Fair_lovely
would consider me light-skinned. In fact, the only
time someone has ever called me “fair,” he was referring to my journalism
skills.

I’ve never spent a penny on skin-lightening creams, never
tried to stay out of the sun, never bathed in a mixture of egg yolks and goat
milk.

I’ve been rather content with my complexion, as content as I am
with having dark hair, dark eyes and dark thoughts.

Things
would probably be different, of course, if I were a woman, especially a
single woman. Eager to use the word “fair” in my matrimonial ad, I would
have spent more money on fairness creams than on saris. You can cover up a
lot with a sari, but not quite enough.

It’s no major revelation that the
skin-lightening obsession in Indian society is more prevalent among women
than men. If a woman is fair-skinned, she is automatically beautiful, no
matter how many coats you could hang from her nose. If a woman is
dark-skinned, she’d have almost no chance of winning the Miss.
India contest, even if her personality were as top-notch as her plastic
surgeon.

Men, on the other hand, have never had to obsess over their
complexion, largely because they’re judged more by their earning power than
their looks. A single man who advertises himself as “short, dark
and working for Microsoft” would get far more attention from women than a single man
who’s “tall, fair and unemployed.”

The situation may be changing though —
and not necessarily for the better. A survey commissioned by the
Media Researchers Users Council (MRUC) found that 32% of fairness cream users
in India are men! Yes, while women are using products such as Fair Glow, Fairever,
and Fair & Lovely, men are using products such as Fair Guy,  Fairmale, and Fair &
Hairy.

Instead of getting women less obsessed with complexion,
our society has managed to get men more obsessed. Men love competition and many of them are fervently competing to see who really is the fairer sex.

Most users of fairness creams probably consider themselves
dark-skinned. But “dark” and “fair” are relative terms. The woman calling
herself “very fair” in a matrimonial ad may be darker than the
woman calling herself “medium-complexioned,” but fairer than the woman
calling herself “as fair as Snow White.”

If I were conducting a fairness
survey, I would ask the following multiple-choice questions:

1. How do
you rate your skin complexion? (a) I’m so fair, it’s almost unfair; (b) In my
dreams, I’m fair; (c) I’m Fair & Lovely; (d) It’s fair to say I’m
fairly dark; (e) In my nightmares, I’m dark; (f) This is an unfair
question.

2. What methods do you use to lighten your skin? (a)
I regularly use fairness creams; (b) I rub coconut milk on my body every
morning; (c) I roll around in a paste of besan and milk cream every night; (d)
I pray three times a day to Aishwarya, the goddess of fair skin; (e) I eat
five pounds of white chocolate every day; (f) I never leave home when the sun
is out; (g) I’ve changed my name to Gourangi, which means
fair complexioned.

3. What is your primary reason for lightening
your skin? (a) To attract a husband/wife; (b) To please my future
mother-in-law; (c) To become a Bollywood actor/actress; (d) To become more
visible at night.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    “To become more visible at night.” Good one.

  2. Anonymous says:

    my boyfriend’s mom hates me because I am dark. it hurts.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am currently presenting a speech on the topic of the role of skin complexion in Indian society (especially amongst women) and let me just say, with all the research amongst long volumes discussing the politics of beauty and ethnic beauty, I’ve come to realize that the reason for creams like Fair and Lovely is that women in India are being held to a standard at which they cannot physically compete- surrounded by images of Aishwarya, who is whiter than most white people and goes through colored contacts like I go through a box of Godiva chocolates- they are simply trying to be something they cannot be. Beauty can be defined as possessing striking features that differentiate one from the population in an aesthetically pleasing way. In India, this has translated into the light skinned, brown haired, hazel eyed girl- translate: caucasian. Sadly, as long as the Indian views of fairness do not disappear, women (and men) will continue to abuse their skin to try to attain ‘fairness’.

  4. I am a teenage girl and darkskinned but a topper.I remember how i was discriminated against as a child by dumber people even adults.When my mother took me to visit the doctor who delivered me the doc shamelessly asked my mother”How did she become so dark?She was so fair when born!”Very wise Doc,don’t you know that people eventually darken in the sun?Boys in school called me coffee-coloured.Did my mother support me?Much as i love her i admit she tried to make me use F&L.My relatives are no better.I can relate with you.My best friend who is fair openly criticises people for being dark in front of me.When i asked her if i was fair she reluctantly said”You have a glow”My other friend say Juilee says that dark people are ugly.Another one(a close one!) called me a monkey.These people are soooo dumb.And i’m not bad looking.I have a round face,straight nose,big black eyes like Deepika Padukone and beautiful lips.My stats are 36.5-27-37.But the fairest girls are beautiful in class!They have ugly noses but they r butiful.Some day i’ll get rich famous and show them .This colourism has to stop.

    • I think this happens only in schools/colleges as they don’t know reality. Western people spend so much to get tanned and we spend money for fainess. Even I was feeling like this earlier but I’m completely changed. In fact, fair gals will have lot of dark spots, patches etc which looks bad. Dark people will never have these issues. Now there are so many products for underarm lightening and even products to lighten private parts. Looks strange. Don’t worry about all these. There are many celebrities in india who are dark skinned.

  5. Everyone wants to look good! Men and women would like to have beautiful skin. Why is that bad? It seems to me that people are being overly sensitive to not having “fair” skin. Yes, it is wrong if fair skin is attributed to wealth or class. But, if people are staying out of the sun more often now, than when I was a teen, to protect their skin from sun damage, we shouldn’t be chided for that. I damaged my skin for the beautiful bronze-look when I was young. We would lay out on foil covered blankets, doused in baby oil w/iodine to achieved the darkest skin possible. How dumb was that? What I have to show are wrinkles, moles and dark spots. Nothing pretty there. If the beautiful olive or darker skin was natural to me, that would have been awesome. People have to accept who they are. My teens who are fair, are still tanning! I try to educate them about the sun’s damaging rays like I educate them on the dangers of smoking or drinking and driving. I am fighting the damage I did to my skin and I’m not ashamed to admit it. We all need to be less sensitive and more accepting of each other!

  6. I do agree with your comment. I havent think about my complexion before marriage. (now i am mother of 1 year old). But after marriage, (ours is arranged marriage), my husband is critising me with my complexion. He is fighting with his parents, why u selected a girl with a dark complexion. I really dont know what to do? If he would have told me about this before marriage (we got six months gap after engagement), I would have stopped our marriage. now I have the feeling, that I spoiled his life (he is also talking like that.

  7. i know dat it hurts horribly when you are slighted for a girl with a better complexion. it is also true that when someone who is fair stands beside and you have a mirror opposite to you, you yourself know why people ignore you and go for the girl with the better complexion because face it- she shines, and ur dark skin actually highlights her! i have dark skin too, and i know wat it is like to be ignored and truely hated for having a dark complexion. but don’t you think that if there was a chance to actually become fair using things like F&L and whiteness creams, then celebs like rani, deepika and everyone wud be wildly using them, become fair, and then come in movies? these things do not work, accept it. and if you know that you will always be racially discriminated for your complexion then it’s better to live alone, cut from others than to go force yourself on them just for compan, knowing in your heart that they really think low of you.

  8. Aishwarya is not white first of all, unless the photoshop her. I’ve seen pics with her at Cannes and she is quite dark. And definitely not whiter then any caucasian. I can tell u that for sure, I am cucasian. And she is not wearing contacts, her eyes are naturally light! i dn’t get why people are so htefull if women are beautiful.

  9. if i had to choose from the options that you gave i would say because i was so fair that it’s almost unfair but I don’t wish to attract anybody or to be visible.what bothers is that the first question that almost every Indian stranger asks me which country am i from. It pisses me off because I am born and brought up in India. to add injury to insult I am constantly told that I should go to England and settle there for I don’t look Indian from any angle what so ever.
    the point that I am trying to make here is that I am not only treated as a foreigner in my own country but also taunted with remarks as ‘ don’t you ever get tired of putting talcum powder on your face every day’. So if being dark is being subject to criticism so is being fair.

  10. dude, u r wrong abt that, i am from pakistan, and here, most of the women r fair skinned, and people don’t really hate each other because of their skin color, thats ridiculous, in all cultures, whether u live in england or u live in india, women r preferred to be lighter skinned, of a paler complexion than the men and light haired, but men r preferred to be darrk haired, dark eyed and of a tanned complexion, i personally fairer skinned girls more attractive, bc they also have nicer features to accompany them, whereas all dark skinned girls r equated with being short, round and broad nosed, this is not just in india, or pakistan, it is all over the world, and btw, aishwariya is not fair she is quite dark

  11. Bhavishya says:

    I agree that Aishwarya’s not all that fair (compared to say, Priety Zinta or Karishma Kapoor, for example) and her eyes are naturally that color, as my husband knew her growing up. There are actually quite a few people with that coloring in Maharashtra and Karnataka (my cousins for example have light eyes and brown hair too). BUT…that doesn’t mean it’s common all over India, nor does it represent everyone. It’s OK to use people like her in movies, as long as we also have more women that are other darker-complexioned, dark-eyed women such as Nandita Das and Bipasha Basu, too. We need to show all colors of skin/hair/eyes as beautiful, not just “Fair and Lovely”.

  12. Some of these actors totally are getting lighter and lighter.When u compare photos of them before and now-just wondering what they are doing to get and stay lighter? Is it safe? I am scared of all these med creams so am content in staying my own skin tone but if it were safe, i may consider it to even out my tone-zi am radically diff colors all over body-its annoying.

  13. Ok so I live in America and I have prety dark skin, my older brother on the over hand has light skin. I’m always told that I have dark skin compared to him. And there are so many white girls here man! Well anyway, my mom used to be dark (I’ve seen her wedding pictures) an now she’s almost white?! So I was in her bathroom and I found this fair and lovely, haha I guess that’s what she uses. Anyway I would like to be lighter and I was wondering if this would work or not

  14. what is milk cream. how to make it or where to get it.

  15. Subhrojit says:

    I’m from calcutta.I’m an fool blooded Indian guy.Still i’ve got pale skin,very sharp nose,caucasian-like facial features & add to that i’m a 6 feet tall bloke.I don’t look indian too.Still people don’t taunt me or treat me as a foreigner.So I think Meghna has some attitude problem.

  16. Anamika says:

    I think Meghna has a brain problem more than attitude! Shows the upbringing and education. She has probably hardly been out of Pakistan hence the narrow view of people and cultures. So I guess even if she sees beautiful African women, they will be ugly for her since they are dark! and I have seen some of the most beautiful black women in Africa! Its mostly in the Arab and Indian society that fairness is equated with beauty. She says that dark women are equated with being short, round and broad nosed! Thats probably the crap her mother fed her with and so it’s a mindset she has. I haven’t heard of anyone else equating dark skinned girls are not equated with being short, round and broad nosed! It is people like her that propagate this fairness discrimination. When she has kids, her kids will grow up with the same mind set. I feel sorry for such children as it makes it so difficult for them to integrate in any other society than their own.

  17. Karthick R says:

    I would say that the Indian’s fixation on fair skin originated from the British rule. During their 350 years of tyranny they managed to instill the belief that makes people co-relate fairness with affluence and superiority. These guys are masquerading as free Indians and yet are slaves to the subliminal thoughts the Europeans had implanted.

  18. i agree with karthick. recently , my sister gave birth to a baby girl who was dark, though both her parents are fair-ssinned. u cannot imgine the fuss made by all the relatives who came to visit her. looked like, they were offreing condolence….. the baby was healthy and perfect. and yet people had to say, “ohhhh,how did this happen?” fortunately, her parents did’nt care abt color.it was sad to see a days old baby being pulled into this crazy obsession of our society….

  19. I am asian, I am considered ‘very fair’. & all I have heard in my life is how ‘soooo pretty’ and ‘soooo beautiful’ I am. Which, tbh, I don’t think I am. I’m just average. & hate the constant raving about it. I have seen many ‘darker’ girls who are just so much more stunning, I swear, I don’t understand the mentality. My sister for example, she’s bludy gorgeous!! & she is darker than me. I’d love her skin, features, eyes, personality. Have tried fake tan, only to see my rely’s reactions like I have sworn at them!! Just hate the constant attention, the reputation of my ‘such fair skin, such beauty’ preceding me & for the those people to meet and think ‘erm, what’s the big deal? she’s not that nice!’ and pressure of having to look good AALLL the time. God forbid I catch a bit of a tan (on purpose), they will sit there and tell everyone my real colour is sooo fair.
    I live in the UK, born & raised. & here is the opposite. White girls want BROWN skin, spend loads on it. Because it looks ‘exotic’ Everyone wants the exotic look. And because in asian countries darker skin is perhaps more common, white skin may be considered more ‘exotic’ and ‘different’. Over here, brown eyes, brown skin, raven hair are the ideal look- people go to extreme lengths to achieve this- because it looks ‘exotic’ and ‘different’. where as in India, I’m guessing lighter skin & light eyes are rarer so considered more ‘exotic & different’. Different countries consider different attributes more beautiful.
    & I just don’t get this mother-in-law wanting a fair daughter-in-law though. why??? she’s not marrying her is she?? what’s all that about??

  20. @Revant
    So people in England want brown eyes?

  21. Merradh says:

    Oh my god,Youre sick and you make me sick! I’m rolling on the floor loughing out loud!

  22. Sivanathan says:

    I am among this so called dark men looking for fairer woman ,surely not working in Microsoft.Yet I have lived in this phenomenon and just wonder why it is happening?.Look probably it is because of the people who ruled us,-Mughals,European(French and English).Probably we took some points from them.It never happened to be black ruling white(in history).And probably because of the media which we live in,I think in future Heroines will be imported from Europe and US to act in Indian movies.A final bit of advice to you,don’t waste your time to change the world.Be happy where ever you are,whatever color you may be.Remember life is a gift.

  23. Good reading all the above. All mothers out there with brown/dark babies, i have only one suggestion. Love them , your babies have only you as the protector in this unfair world. Has any child disowned their mother because the mother is dark? then why do mothers do with their own child? God has given us a child so that we become protectors of them…raise them up, educate them and love them. Good glowing skin brown/black can be achieved with proper care & nutrition, but once depression sets in the mind of these angels based on their skin colour,and also when they come to know that their own mother too doesnt like the way they are, NO amount of cream can bring happiness 😦

  24. meghna n mustafa r real dum…i mean dum dum dum……i m sure their fav actress would be katrina kaif, kareena kapoor…who are themselves dum…we come to know this frm their acting skills n role in movies….but still they r on top ..because of fools like m,m……dum people…..get ur brains operated…n one more thing flat chest fair people who hav implanted somethin…..get lost

  25. Gods like shiv, krishna n kali mata….al r dark n dusky …..what about them

  26. Im a teenager from mumbai, and i always used to be really really conscious about my skin color, which is quite dark for indian standards at the very least! Plus since i live in a sunny place, i tan a lot. I used to use fairness creams, but they never worked and they always made me feel like i was striving to be something I could never really be.
    So i stopped using them, and now i just use sunscreen(cause i don’t want my skin to burn). It feels good to know that i don’t need to look like someone else to be beautiful! I think that every single woman just needs to embrace their body, soul and mind, cause thats what they were born with!

  27. I have a very fair skin…and let me tell you I don’t have it easy either..people tell me nasty things too like I’m pretty cos I am fair and cos my features are nice which…and yes like Meghna I am considered a foreigner which again is irritating….I am hated by people for having a fair skin too. People need to accept that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. I personally find people with darker skin very attractive and against the misconception there bright colors look stunning on them.

  28. gabroo jawan says:

    I had a crush on a darker colored south indian girl, she has a rocking body, looong gorgeous hair, cute features plus she seems so intelligent, well mannered and fun, my heart still drops a beat when I see her at work:), and I find her very attractive.
    However she is Hindu and from a conservative family so its a no go:(
    BTW: my moms side is mostly fair skinned, many of my 1st cousins are very light skinned, just like Europeans (N indians), my dads side is caramel colored (Central India).I love my in bw complexion, and many women do so here in US as well:)

    • Agreed, people tend to find people attaractive that are opposite of them. Growing up in Pakistan I was put down for being dark compare to other girls. Until I moved to a collge town in mid western united sates and suddenly everyone wanted to date me. Quite shocking because until that point I had a low self esteem… Now I am married to blond hair turk.. who finds my complexion very attractive…
      Ladies what I have found there is someone for everyone.. Also personaality, intelligence and other factors come into play.. Beauty is many things and not just skin color

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