Fair is not always Lovely….Lovely is just being Natural.

Today’s topic is one of my least favorite things in India.  Skin Whitening.

This topic just chaps my arse as my Dad would say.

Growing up in America as a girl, the ‘in’ thing was to be tan.  You could buy sun tanning lotions or just use baby oil mixed with iodine, no matter what your darkening poison; there was something for everyone in order to obtain that rich ‘healthy’ glow.

And then the creams for the burns that always came with them.

But then the tans were lovely and wonderful and just so ‘in’ and ‘cool’.

Until our Mother’s generation started having serious issues with skin cancer and any other number of problems that arose from tanning their hides.

Now we all know better and go for the spray on tan or creams.  We stay out of the sun.  In some cases, light skin is coming back into ‘fashion’ (ugh….another thing I hate….fashion).

But I never once thought “Hey…I’m not going to get that job if I go in all pasty white.” Or “Hey, I’m never going to get a guys attention if I don’t get a tan.”

But here in India, it’s just the opposite and goes far more to the extremes.  Here Fair IS Lovely.  Here, being fair will get you the job, the girl/guy, the good family, the movie part, the best service, the most notice on the matrimonial sites.

For example:

Well-settled prof match for daughter 26/5’1″ PG, Diploma Textile design & Computers, beautiful, slim, fair girl. Status family. Early & decent marriage. 

Or here’s the reason why you aren’t getting that job:

I mean seriously?  Why would any company want to reinforce this kind of stereotyping?

Look at these pictures of famous Bollywood actresses….some are my personal favorites.

Rani Mukherjee

Kajol Devgan

Deepika Padukone

Rani, Kajol and Deepika are all lovely, beautiful and talented and yet they can’t seem to be so in the eyes of the Indian public unless they’ve been lightened with chemicals, slavered with whitening makeup and put under high intensity lights so that they ‘glow’.

Don’t get me wrong, their lovely even with all that and if the role calls for it I’m all for character enhancement, but in this case it’s become the norm for men and women.

Yes, even the men do this.  There are Fair and Handsome creams.  Shahrukh Khan, John Abraham and Shahid Kapoor all do their bit for the Fair and Handsome cream adverts we see so often on ZeeTV.

And why?  Aren’t they handsome as they are?  I mean, everybody has got blotchy skin or dark patches under the eyes…but that can be smoothed out with makeup that matches our skin tone.

What is the big deal with dark skin in India anyway?  How far back does this go?  Is it, as some have said a reaction to British might or does it go back farther than that?  Many have said that it’s because of India’s history of invasion and those invading forces always tended to be lighter skinned.  Others will say that it goes back even further than that and has its roots in the caste system.  What this means is that the higher castes did not have to work outside and therefore were lighter skinned.  High caste = Fair Skinned = Desirable.

NPR did a small piece on this in 2009 that gave some insights and opinions but no exact reasons why.

Just when did people start becoming obsessed with the color of skin equating the prowess of the person?

And with those questions that I leave unanswered….I give you this last little example of obsession gone wrong.

President Obama eau naturelle

President Obama ala Fair and Lovely…blurgh.

I prefer the original any day of the week and twice on Sunday’s.


24 thoughts on “Fair is not always Lovely….Lovely is just being Natural.

  1. You simply can’t force your choices on others.If people like fair color then it doesn’t mean they are biased but it comes naturally to them.So don’t worry Indians wanting to be fair are not going to make another ‘Holocaust’ to happen.Its just their perception of beauty.Let it be.

    • FINALLY…I got a snarky one directed towards me! I was beginning to think you were going to just completely ignore me! 😛
      Advice under consideration…..hmmm…nope still don’t like it.
      I’m still going to force that opinion down your throat by posting on my darn blog dog gone it!! Neener Neener! So there! 😉 hehe
      Seriously….is it YOUR idea of beauty? Would you bleach? I’ve heard it hurts, that your skin hurts after wards.

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  3. Thank you for your blog post.

    I am Canadian (poster child for the pasty whities) LOL. I found it shocking when, in India to visit my in-laws, that every other commercial was for lightening cream. I just don’t get why it is so sought after, when here at home people are striving to get tanned.

    I guess, as the ol’ adage goes “You always want what you don’t have.” 🙂

    The world is a strange, strange place.
    Embrace what makes you, you and forget the rest.
    Just another way the media is attempting to control what we see beauty as.

    • Absolutely! Link away! 😉 Now I’m going over to read your post! PS: I tried to comment on your blogs a few times but it told me that there was a problem with posting comments. (??) I’ll try again today!

      • Really….tht’s odd….I dunno why that would be…maybe because I have approve the comments before publishing them, I’m getting tired of that anyway, so maybe i’ll change the setting….and yes do read it, and lemme know what you think, and also if you still have problems posting, pls lemme know….:)

  4. Amen! I keep saying the same thing, this obcession with white has gone too far, and these fair and lovely TV spots should be banned for bringing the self esteem of women down. As you said, the west is obcessed with tans, but at least no one makes you feel like you are worthless unless your skin has a toasty glow. Self tan cream don’t promise you that you will land a job as a cricket commenter by using their product.
    And I’m sure some of these bleeching treatments they have here are as harmful as the concoctions used by my mom’s generation to get brown such as “milking grease”.

    Ad a friend told by her boyfriend he will not agree to be seen in a pub with her unless she was fairer. I told her to dump the asshole, but she told me she had hope with Garnier light, and then added I was lucky to have a fair skin. I blew up and told her that luck has nothing to do with it, and that instead of aiming for fair skin, she should aim for healthy, and that for the sake of her mental health and self esteem she should just get rid of any morons who tell her she has to look a certain way to be worth something! She wasn’t convinced one bit….sad!

  5. The Obama picture is hilarious.

    I have to say though, the issue of fairness in India is really complicated. I don’t actually think people find pasty white skin (for example, an Irish red head with freckles) to be attractive. What they find attractive is Indian men and women with lighter features. I kinda tend to stay out of topics related to this because people tend to respond with ‘well you were born with light skin so it’s easy for you to say.’

    • Hi Kay!

      Thanks for the comment…..the Obama picture was simultaneously hilarious and scarrrrrry!

      I agree, the issue with fairness in India is very complicated. I also agree that it’s not pasty that their after (my pasty reference was towards my self as if I got any fairer I would be pasty) and essentially living here in India as a white woman is not at all easy. People think we get special treatment, but really I don’t.

      Well, let me rephrase that, I do get special treatment in the shops and restaurants that I go to all the time and they laugh and joke with me and my husband. But any where else, or any new place and I am treated quite differently. Sometimes it’s fine, I’m accepted. Other times I’m seen as an outsider. Sometimes as a rich foreigner. A few times as if I am a weird cult member. And always I’m being asked to pay more for things then they are worth. No, here I know my white skin is not an advantage the way some people may think it is.

      And people making comments like that is exactly what I’m looking for! 😉 If they can do it without being nasty at least….but seriously….there are so many misconceptions out there about so many things….especially from people who should know or people who can’t know. My whole theme is Communication and opening it up so that we can all understand each other’s points of view. I truly don’t understand the fairness issue and wanted to hear some good opinions. I’m glad you shared yours!!

  6. Oh holy hell, put his color back! He was already ugly lol. I don’t get it either. I was never able to tan and never really worried about it too much. I rarely wore make up and I’m pasty pale. IMO, the only reason ppl want to tan or whiten is because they are not happy with themselves. These insecurities seem to be bred here in India. From the time they are smaller they hear how they shouldn’t eat too much, don’t do this you’ll get fat. Don’t go out in the sun, you’ll get dark. So then someone elses insecurities get pounded into their minds. I follow a blog, http://kayinindia.blogspot.com/ Kay in India. She is Indian but she doesn’t try to whiten her skin. She’s proud of who she is. I applaud her. Every color is beautiful and and there is someone out there who will tell you so. Finding him/her might be difficult but they are there.

    • You know you loved that picture!!!!! You know you did! hehehehe

      Seriously? Thing gave me the creeps when I saw it. I actually shuddered. I think he’s somewhat handsome naturally….but hey man….to each their own! I used to have a crush when I was younger on Alan Rickman and all my friends complained “…but he’s always the BAD guy! And his nose is like HUUUGE!” I didn’t care, Alan had that accent and I liked his nose. 😉

      I think, as someone point out earlier and which I really tried to convey but failed in some respects, is that we all (everywhere) have issues with the way someone looks or the color of their skin. It’s just that here in India, it was the first time I had been faced with someone thinking that if they lightened their skin life would be so much better and easier. I know a lot of people will point out that the African American’s faced the same issues but I didn’t see that (not that I don’t know it exists), all my African American friends did really well, were well liked in our small town community. Never once did I ever hear them tell me that they wished they were anything other than what they were. And they were my close friends….we would have talked about it if it were so.

      Once again, I’m not saying that this doesn’t and didn’t happen in the US….I am from the south and I do know it happens and much more frequently than people would like to admit. I’m just saying, I never personally experienced it with my friends and family and don’t feel knowledgeable enough to use it as an example except from what I learned in history……..

      But the fairness issue here, I have experienced and that makes me question and wonder. 😉

  7. This is a very complicated issue, IMO. Yes, one can simplify it down to the level of racism and say that all Indians are racist bigots since they value fairer skin, if they want to, and get away with it. But if one digs a little deeper, every society has their own ideas of what’s considered beautiful, and higher value being placed on it.
    Beauty is definitely hyped all over the world. What is beauty after all ? Why do women (and even men some times) aspire to be beautiful ? Why wanna change anything about yourself if you look fine and should be accepted as fine the way you are ?
    The reality is that people the world over are obsessed with beauty, being in India you just seem to come across the fairness obsession a lot more than other obsessions . Does it mean I’m condoning it ? No. Does it mean I agree with it ? Hell No. I think women the world over are conditioned by the media and society to hate their bodies the way they are and crave for something that’s an impossible to achieve target in most cases , but I honestly can’t single out just the Indian society in this matter, since I’ve seen pretty much the same exact thing every where in the world, it’s just the obsession that differs, but the pattern is the same.

    Every culture has their own features/physical attributes they place emphasis on. Why they do value what they do, is a result of years of mental conditioning being passed down from one generation to the next.
    Having Lived in America for 8 years, I feel it is not different in this matter either, infact if anything, USA could be the most superficial culture in the world. Crazy high importance is placed on beauty, striving perfection, if India has the fairness cream obsession, weight loss products/creams/procedures it is for the USA.
    Why is one better than the other, why can’t people accept their weight ??? it’s not like the only target customer for these products is morbidly obese people, it’s also normal people, who may have a few extra pounds, who have been conditioned by media/society to strive for that perfect body. Why do so many people get breast augmentation done ? Why is there such a craze for plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures, changing every little detail about your body, right from the color of one’s teeth, to the shape of one’s ears. Wouldn’t it be better if we all just accept our own bodies for what they are ? But the answer isn’t a simple yes or no answer in this case, IMO.

    The reality is that other than the arranged marriage scenario, it is unlikely any girl (or boy) would face any actual discrimination or bias against people who aren’t fair (which is majority of the Indian population) . In the marriage scenario, we can’t really say much because to each their own, every person has the right to have their own partner preference, just like education, social status, etc are important criteria for some, for others skin color could be it, one isn;t necessarily better than the other, IMO. In a job scenario one is more likely to get rejected based on lack of grooming, than anything else in urban India, which is extremely unfair towards the rural youth of India, they may have the brains, but not having the polish or the finish, prevents them from getting the job, but sadly there’s no cream available for that, one has to learn it in time.

    I think I’ve rambled on for far too long in this comment, but this is such a complex issue in my view, that one straight forward answer just doesn’t do justice, IMO.
    If time permits, and if you feel interested, you can watch this video where there was an interesting discussion on the same topic :

    • I totally agree with you, India so far is still hooked to the complexion ideal of beauty, but the western trend of toned skinny body is catching up.

      In Europe ladies run after the ideal beauty standard all their lives without achieving it too. I have friends who tried every body toning, fat burning potions under the sun, bought several sauna belt, suit, and belly electrocuting contraption to get the rock hard tummy from the adds, and magazines are full of fact reinforcing that you just need to work that much harder to be beautiful.
      I’m the kind who’s been raised to just love mysefl as I am, so I tend to look at these magazines in a different way, but seriously if one lady were to follow all the “MUST DO” or “ESSENTIAL” Beauty regimen in these mags…you wouldn’t get much time to do anything else with your life, including, sleep, eat and have fun.
      Where oh were in history did woemn start to think they had to hate their natural self?

      • Oh AMEN sister!

        That was one of my biggest pet peeves in American Society (and perhaps I should write a counter blog about it???). To be beautiful you have to be a size 6 or less.

        Ugh. The last time I saw size 6 I was in the 8th grade and so active in school sports that I could chow down on pizza, fries and milkshakes all the live long day and not gain an ounce. Now? HA! I even walk past an add for that stuff and I gain an inch.

        I think that more could have been done in the school systems to teach and enforce healthy eating habits. I mean, do you remember lunch room menu’s? French Fries, Pizza’s, Hamburgers (were they even real meat????) and then the miserly portion of salad and milk that would cost you extra if you had bought into the school lunch plan. ::sigh::

        I remember I took a home economics course in HS that focused on balancing your check book, home repair, cooking basics and the like. I wish they would have added a balance food diet into that routine as well. Would have saved me years of research about what’s healthy and pounds of fat added when my metabolism changed from “eat all and everything you want and stay thin” to “eat that and you’re gonna paaaaay”. 😉

  8. Eye-opener post actually. Beauty lies in eyes of beholder.
    Only in India I guess where beauty starts off with fair complexion. And not exactly pleasant looking or desirable.
    If anyone is darkskinned everything right from their talent, capability, capacity etc., etc., is underplayed.
    And sometimes when guys cant appreciate someone’s beauty they start off by praising her for her talents which she maynt have and vice versa.
    But atleast in India you have caste,arranged marriage etc to marry off the “unfortunate-dark-skinned” ones.
    I guess in western countries the pressure is too high? if you are average looking there goes all your chance to find your soulmate.
    Instead if you are a tanned skin,blonde with tight breasts and stiletto heels even with empty brain you have many choices rite? Gerber and Trump what did they see in their women other than the above?

  9. As I mentioned in my first sentence, the ads are ridiculous. It would have been different if the “getting the guy or the job” point was conveyed in self-deprecating slapstick-humor. But I realize that it is not just the ads and a lot of people do believe in that nonsense. A cursory look at matrimonial ads would tell you a lot about the “wheatish”/”fair” complexion fixation.

    As an Indian who’s married to a White American woman, I can assure you that I have heard it all 🙂 My point was to talk about the counterpoint: that the entire world is obsessed with one kind of skin-color fixation or the other although, you are right, nobody here in the US could expect to get a leg up by “browning” themselves up. No brownie points there.

    And no, I have not used such creams in my lifetime nor do I plan on doing so 🙂 I realize it applies mostly to women but you never know with metrosexual guys these days 🙂

    Happy Fourth, by the way!

  10. The Fair & Lovely ads are ridiculous and there’s no defense of that although I would argue that those kinds of creams rightfully deserve their place on store shelves just as tanning sprays do.

    However, I have seen that this topic seems to be the exclusive pet peeve of White women.

    Oh the shame! …or lack thereof.

    Where is the outrage and affectations of shame when Caucasians get all “browned-up” with tan/spray/whatever? Have you seen pictures of John Boehner, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives? Even President Obama had joked once that he would qualify as as person of color.

    The grass is always greener on the other side. This is just human behavior and it will not change on either side of the fence.

    • Hi DsylexicHippo and thanks for the comment!

      You’re absolutely right! The west (especially America) does like it’s tans. But when did it ever equal getting the job or the guy? Never in my history of self tanning did I ever think about those things and I can’t remember ads claiming it for me. Mainly, I just thought I looked better tan.

      If the whitening ads were geared towards THAT then it really wouldn’t be an issue….but living here in India and hearing and reading and experiencing the stigmata that goes with skin color, I can say that it’s very true that it’s an issue with people here….and not just with us white gals. 😉

      Take for example my beautiful friend and maid Rai (name changed to protect the innocent). To me, she was simply stunning. She was fairer skinned with hazelish green eyes…but to her (and her hubby’s family) she was far too dark and was given whitening cream by him and his family to alter her appearance so she would be even fairer yet.

      Or a neighbor girl who was turned down by a family for not being quite as “wheatish” as they would like. I mean….huh??? She’s beautiful, and talented and sweet and caring and so WHAT if she is darker than wheat?

      Argh. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment and the viewpoint! Both were enjoyed!

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