A new ad film is making the rounds on television these days. Same message, different approach: unless you are fair (in the very most white sense of the word) you will not catch the man of your dreams, which, as everyone knows, is the ultimate goal in life of every young woman. You will always lose out to the girl who is one shade lighter than you, even if you look like Priyanka Chopra, former Miss World, leading Bollywood actress, with the body of a desi Barbie doll.
Same old story. Fair is lovely. And no matter what you want to achieve in this world, be it marrying the man of your dreams, landing a lead role in a Bollywood movie, becoming an air hostess or a cricket announcer, being lovely tops the list of resume requirements. In India, lovely means being fair. In other parts of the world it could mean being tan. As unfair as it is, the harsh reality of the world today is that appearance matters... a lot. Most everybody accepts that. What is unacceptable is the demeaning manner in which the media perpetuates so-called standards of beauty, allowing companies to capitalize on the insecurities of women (old and young) everywhere. What is unacceptable is that leading actors like Saif Ali Khan, Priyanka Chopra, and Neha Dhupia (and yes, even SRK) have no qualms about starring in such disgusting ad films. Having achieved the level of fame that they have, they are, willing or unwilling, role models for the general public. As such they should choose their endorsements with some sense of responsibility to the public which made them famous in the first place. The all mighty rupee cannot be the be all end all of it all.
The media has a frighteningly powerful ability to change the way people think about all kinds of subjects, beauty is just one of them. The media can brainwash you into behaviors you would never have thought possible had you not been exposed to certain images and words. People of Indian origin who have lived abroad most of their lives are for the most part immune to the fairness factor. They have seen the full spectrum of skin colors. In fact, they often inspire envy among their light-skinned friends, who prove that milky white skin is not necessarily a thing of beauty, particularly so when it comes to arms and thighs. When those Indians return to India, they are surprised to be categorized as fair or wheatish, to find themselves scanning the ads for fairness creams in fashion magazines, to think about bleaching their skin which up until now was perfectly fine just the way it was. Some aren't even completely sure what bleaching means. And they most surprise themselves when they find themselves applying those fairness theories to their beautiful children, their beautiful daughters, as they conscientiously apply SPF 50 sunscreen all over their little bodies before allowing them to play in the pool while on holiday. Even if they discard those theories, the fact that they thought about them at all means that the media has succeeded in infecting them where once they were immune. That is indeed frightening.
Apparently the most common hypothesis attempting to explain why Indians are so obsessed with white skin is that subconsciously we want to emulate the very English who once dominated us. Written in black and white, it does sound absurd. Once in Boston, we went to an Indian restaurant with a Canadian friend. There, she saw a Bollywood movie poster for the first time in her life. She was downright shocked. These are supposed to be Indians!!! No way! She was stunned at how white the Indians in the poster looked compared to all the Indians she worked with in her office. (And working in software development as she did, she knew a lot of Indians.) Frankly, everyone has their own rules of beauty, each era in time, each culture (while Kareena Kapoor was doing power yoga to become a size zero in order to appeal to overseas audiences, Rakhi Sawant had to go on a diet to gain weight for her item numbers in the South.) However, one should not be made to feel unworthy if one is not beautiful. Your appearance, at the end of the day is God given…you have green eyes or you have brown ones, you are tall or you're short, you have white skin or you have dark skin, whatever you may have that makes you beautiful is just a roll of the dice. Less beautiful people are not any lesser as people. Their appearance simply does not conform to the beauty norms of current society. That is all.
The change has to come, as all big social change does, from within the individuals that make up a society. I know that there are enough women out there feeling the same shock and disgust that I feel when exposed to such advertising. We have to keep expressing our shock and disgust in order to bring about a change, to each other, to our children. In the American market, in a highly appearance-oriented culture, enough outrage was expressed to inspire Unilever (the same company that produces Fair and Lovely) to develop an ad campaign for their Dove product line using ordinary real women that you would meet in everyday life. It has gotten a great response. Simply lovely.
Next: Signs of Terror