India has had a long history of being obsessed with fairness, especially fair women. It was bolstered with the Mughals, thrived under the British influence, and lingers strongly in contemporary air. Fairness is not just a bonus it’s a requirement. Especially in areas where ‘beauty’ is highly stressed, like Bollywood and TV, Fashion Industry, News Media, Air hostess, and, of course, marriage. One of these things is not like the other. But it still holds true.
It’s no secret that Bollywood has had an intense preference for fair-skinned actresses. Just look at our lead actresses. Except for Deepika Padukone, Rani Mukherji, and Kajol, most of them are fair-skinned like Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor, Karishma Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Sonam Kapoor, Kanagana Ranaut, Hema Malini, Sridevi, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Diana Penty, Kalki Koechlin, and Dia Mirza. DISCLAIMER: I am not saying that every Indian woman is dark. HOWEVER, when an industry represents only one sub-section of a population that happens to coincide with the only skin colour that is deemed beautiful it is not a coincidence, it is colorism.
It’s more visible now due to the preference being skewed even more towards non-Indian white women. Even on TV, shows generally employ white foreign women as background dancers. The women attempt to sing and dance everything from Bollywood to Kathak to Modern dance. Shows like Bigg Boss, Comedy Nights with Kapil, Koffee with Karan, and almost every awards show is part of this problem. Even reality shows are now opting to take in only white foreign women to be part of their shows. Like Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, Nachenge Indiawaale, Bigg Boss, etc… Movies do this too. Ra.One, The Expose, Desi Boyz, Besharam, and I’m sure there are many many more. I have nothing against these women but it’s problematic when in a country of a billion you cannot find women to dance and/or participate in your shows/movies. I wonder why. Maybe it’s about getting foreign talent. Yeah, not really. Because if that were true, the male background dancers would also be foreigners and the foreign women who are part of these shows/movies would not all be white.
There is also a plethora of women from abroad who play the lead heroine in many movies. I really like these actresses and have nothing against them. I have problems with the production houses and directors who actively seek just white-skinned foreign women. Eli Avram, Sunny Leone, Jacqueline Fernandez, Hazeel Keech, Nargis Fakhri, Bruna Abdullah, Claudia Ciesla, Amy Jackson, and Giselli Monteiro are some of the others. Seeing anyone, man or woman, who can’t even speak Hindi well get the pivotal roles where they are required to speak Hindi is annoying. But, when it’s disproportionally just women you start to realize unfortunately they are rarely there to speak. They are there mostly to swoon over the male protagonist.
Bollywood also helps keep alive the fairness cream industry by starring in any and every product commercial. Anushka Sharma, Asin, Esha Deol, Genelia D’Souza, Ileana D’Cruz, John Abraham, Juhi Chawla, Preity Zinta, Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Yami Gautam, Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Kajol, Shah Rukh Khan, Sonam Kapoor are just the names listed in one article. And these actors are fantastic at trivializing the problem. Katrina at an interview once said, “Be it a skin, hair or a jewellery product, I am very selective about the brands I endorse. I undertake extensive research on the company and try to ensure that the brand delivers on its promises made to the user of the product.” I think I can take the liberty to say that this implies that Kaif has no problem with endorsing Olay’s ‘Natural White Cream’ since she probably has done ‘extensive research on the product’ and then and only then approved it. Natural White Cream… NATURAL WHITE CREAM. WHAT THE F**K IS NATURAL ABOUT A F**KING CREAM THAT IS BLEACHING MY SKIN TO BECOME WHITE ??? Ahem. I apologize. Aishwarya Rai, who on the Tyra Banks Show denounced fairness creams as being racist, now is the face of L’Oreal’s ‘White Perfect’ - White Perfect - and Lux’s ‘White Glow’. Priyanka Chopra had stated that she had received many racist comments while attending school in America but now sees nothing wrong in appearing in Pond’s ‘White Beauty’ and Garnier’s ‘Light Ultra’. She also went on to defend herself and say “[she’s] just doing [her] work” and “Everybody does things for money”. Hm. I don’t remember ever telling dark-skinned women they need to bleach themselves to be pretty for money.
Coming back to fairness cream ads. Now, full disclosure: The Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) has recently issued a set of guidelines that all advertisers must follow when it comes to fairness cream ads. Read more about that here. Having said that let’s not get too excited. Yes. I am bursting your bubble. ASCI is a self-regulating council. which basically means this is like a 7 year old child making her/his own timetable and promising to ‘follow’ it.
I read this article about Bollywood’s obsession with fairness and one line stood out for me, ‘My skin is not an accessory’. My skin color is not yours to lighten. My skin color is not a disease. My skin color is holding me back only because of societal prejudices. MY SKIN COLOR IS BEAUTIFUL. It has taken me eighteen years to say this and now I say it with pride. I am Dark and Lovely
And you say it too. With pride. Dark and Lovely. Wear it on your sleeve and parade it around. And tell that ten year old girl she is Dark and Lovely. And don’t forget to say F**K YOU to the stars and brands that promote this bullshit as a ‘miracle worker’. And don’t forget to lend your support to Nandita Das’ wonderful awe-striking campaign, ‘Stay UNfair, Stay beautiful’.
- Nihira Ram