Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The obsession with "fair and lovely"

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 The famous air hostess ad for the same Unilever product was withdrawn from air after widespread protests about its content.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 voilĂ , 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?

5 comments:

Nita writes said...

Amri,

I agree 200%... even in the 21st Century, I don't understand what the obsession for "fair and lovely" is all about! Look at any matrimonial column in the "brides wanted" section... the guy can be as black as, as short as, as fat as ... but the woman ALWAYS has to be "tall, slim, fair..." . Where is the justice in that ? I should know better; despite being brought up in a fairly broad-minded family(atleast my parents are!), I've always been led to believe that a married woman is someone that her husband should take along with with pride and joy... in other words, she's meant to be a trophy wife; pleasant to look at! No matter what,Indian society by and large still judges a woman by how she looks on the outside rather than on the in. Quelle Justice!!!

Amrutha said...

Agredd 100%. And shouldn't it be quelle injustice?? Anyway, I have never been at the receiving end of such crap...but mum still thanks her stars (and mine) that I was not born dark... it's disgusting...

Fark said...

A thought-provoking post. It might be a little more deep-rooted when equating skin complexion with beauty and success. To break the stereotype, one needs to break the psyche of an individual. Let's even take beauty and success out of the context for a bit:

Fair - has always signified the qualities of "right", "correct", "good". We use phrases like "to be fair..." , "Fair enough" to signify something right or just....

Dark - signifies the "slightly evil part", "wrong" etc.... "The dark side of his character".

On the outset, it looks unrelated, but once people started to paint a visual picture of these phrases and terms , the seeds were sown. The villains were always dark. Nights were scary. Leading ladies had to be "fair damsels". And thus , the relation between the literal meaning of the words and characterization of a person based on his or her looks came into play!

I'm not suggesting that we re-invent or change the language. But it's going to take some time to break the connection between words, phrases, meanings, and the way we've been depicting them visually.

Too twisted and confusing an explanation?


http://farkandfunk.wordpress.com/

Nita writes said...

Hi Amri,

Quelle Justice in this context refers to "what justice" out of sarcasm... hehehehe do correct me if I'm wrong... afterall, I'm only a diploma holder in French while you've gone all the way.

Amrutha said...

Nita: Oh...well (sheepish looks)...didn't pick up on the sarcasm there...

Fark: That's an interesting point of view. I never thought of language as perpetrating the stereotype that white is good and black is fair. As you say, it will probably take ages to break that stereotype...