'White Beauty' Has An Ugly Message

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We've discussed skin-lightening in India before, but, according to The Independent, new skin-whitening commercials are igniting a "race row" in that country. The commercials feature three of Bollywood's biggest stars in a soap opera-style love triangle. The dark chick is dissed for a lighter-skinned woman, so she turns to a product called White Beauty. The cream promises a "pinkish white glow," and the not-so-subtle subtext is that you need fair skin to snag a man. (Let's not forget the woman who killed herself when her husband called her "black.") And who manufactures this cream called White Beauty? Why, Unilever, the same folks who urge you to "love your body" in Dove ads. How is it they they can make "Love Your Body" Dove ads and "hate your skin" bleaching creams?


Eh, we've previously discussed Unilever's hypocrisy. Meanwhile, it is important to reiterate that this ad is incensing for the same reason that the lack of black models in magazines and on catwalks ought to fill you with rage. As long as human beings believe that "fair" means "beautiful" — that dark is ugly and unfashionable — magazines and beauty companies are going to appeal to us with images of white skin. The more we see white skin in magazines and on catwalks, the more we'll believe that it is the ideal. I've posted about this before, but please: Watch this video by Kiri Davis, (fast forward to 3:40 if you have to) 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.

Skin-Whitening Adverts Ignite Race Row In India [Independent]

Related: A Girl Like Me [Google Video]

Earlier: In India, Fair Is Handsome & Dark Is Doomed

Indian Women Whiten Their Skin, Fight The Patriarchy

Skin Deep

Here's the White Beauty commercial being aired in India:



It's all about perceptions of luxury. The fair-skin standard, especially in places like India, is based on the skin color of Royals, who never had to work outside and who lived lives of cloistered luxury and therefore were very, very fair. The more lower-class you were, the more time spent outside working fields or in outdoor factories, and the darker your skin became. Whether or not all royals were actually fair was beside the point — the less tan you were, the wealthier you were, and that was the image that people wanted to portray.

This is near-universal in world cultures, including already-white Europeans (serfs, as you might expect, were far tanner than their masters, and immediately, therefore, identifiable as lower class). Somewhere in the 20th century (many scholars point to the second half of the 20th century, some to even as recently as the 1980s), rich and leisurely people began to take vacations to exotic, tropical, expensive locations around the Caribbean, Oceania, and Europea (like the French Riveria) and lay out for weeks at a time, cultivating rich tans. It was only then that European and American cultures began to see tan skin as a sign of leisure and affluence.

From what I've heard and learned about, the desire to change one's skin color for status reasons is most prevalent in India. I have no idea how to combat such an awful ideal, other than to say that I have always found the rich and deep color of Indian skin to be incredibly alluring and gorgeously exotic.