In India, Fair Is Handsome & Dark Is Doomed

Illustration for article titled In India, Fair Is Handsome  Dark Is Doomed

Loathing your dark skin isn't just for women. A new product in India, Fair and Handsome, is just one of the many skin-lightening creams that are, according to the Washington Post, "exploding in popularity." In fact, though these products are nothing new for the ladies, the mens' market has grown 150%. India has a long history of colonialism and caste-systems, and darker skin is often openly reviled. Nikki Duggal, a New Delhi-based graphic artist says, "It's something we have internalized, and it's propagated by everyone since we still have this colonial hang-up that white is better, white is wealth, white is someone rich enough to never toil in the sun. It's so prevalent in India that fair equates to more success in life. There is a very sad message that if you are dark, you are doomed." Oh, and by the by: The lightening creams which will save you from certain doom? They cost about $1. Which is half a day's wages for many Indians.

The vile attitude toward dark skin is reflected in the way the cosmetic companies market these products. The TV commercials for Fair And Handsome feature men who are sad outcasts and can't get women because they're too dark. Just a little cream and the ladies swoon over their new, light complexion!


Ages and ages ago, there was a time when darkness, as a concept, was not evil. Darkness was the night, the soil, the strongest trees, the womb. Mysterious but nourishing, alive, full of power. White was for death and sickness. Thousands of years later, civilization, slavery, societal hierarchies, xenophobia, fear of disease and ignorance have flipped the script, so to speak. All too often, around the world — including in this country — black is bad. (Please refresh your memory with this video by Kiri Davis, in which young children point to identical black and white dolls and proclaim the white doll "good" and the black doll "bad." It's a 2006 recreation of a 1950s test, with similar results.) I wish I didn't have to keep typing these same words over and over again, but here goes: This is the same reason we counted the number of black models on the fashion week runways and look for black models in fashion magazines. If the world around you reminds you every day that your skin tone is neither fashionable nor desirable, how can you be expected to think otherwise?

In India, Fairness Is A Growth Industry [Washington Post]
Related: Fair And Handsome commercial [AOL Video]
Fair And Handsome commercial [You Tube]
Fair And Lovely commercial (Moral: No matter how good an actress you are, you can't be a star unless your skin is pale!) [Daily Motion]
A Girl Like Me [Google Video]
Earlier: Can One Woman Make A Difference? Maybe, If She Works For A Global Beauty Company
Indian Women Whiten Their Skin, Fight The Patriarchy
Study:Men Are More Attracted To Women With Lighter Skin
Skin Deep
Modeling Matriarch Continues To Demand Diversity On The Runways
Is Prada To Blame For the Lack Of Black Models?

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@JWest282: Colonialism certainly pushed the matter and in some cases even established it. (Check out soap ads from 1860 to 1918— like the one of the little black boy literally "washing the black off." It was disgusting.) But a desire for paler skin pre-dates European contact in many places. Egyptians always painted their women lighter than the men in Ancient Egypt. Thai have long extoled the virtues of lily-white skin. I forget the name of the Amazonian tribe, for example, that thinks white people are flat-out hideous, but prefers their women paler. In fact, a woman is secluded in essentially a closet-like hut for a year after she begins menstruating, and when she comes out, they think she is the most beautiful because she's pale from lack of sun and chubby from lack of exercise.