This article looks at a controversy that arose over a photomontage of the finalists for this year’s Miss India contest where observers noted that all the contestants looked pretty much the same: light skinned with straight black hair, leading some to jokingly wonder if they were all photos of the same woman.
What is wrong with this picture? pic.twitter.com/61B23aYFr6
— Sameer (@Naa_Cheese) May 28, 2019
It has led once again to a discussion over the obsession with fair skin that has resulted in a huge market for skin-whitening products, also seen in Sri Lanka.
With their tame, glossy, shoulder-length hair and a skin tone that is virtually identical, some quipped that they all looked the same. Others wondered out loud – albeit as a joke – if in fact they were all the same person.
As the picture gained traction on Twitter, critics made the point that while there was nothing wrong with the image of the women themselves, the lack of diversity in skin colour has once again highlighted India’s obsession with being fair and lovely.
‘Fair and Lovely’ is the brand name of the most widely used skin product. Its popularity has led to products marketed at men such as ‘Fair and Handsome’.
This is a touchy issue. On the one hand, equating fair skin with attractiveness is clearly prejudicial, handicapping those who happen to be born darker to fewer chances for achieving their professional, social, and personal ambitions.
Commercials for such creams and gels promised not just fair skin but also peddled them as means to get a glamorous job, find love, or get married.
[C]ampaigners point out that this obsession with fair skin is grossly unfair – the “superiority” of light skin is subtly, but constantly, reinforced and that perpetuates societal prejudice and hurts people with darker complexions who grow up with low self-confidence. It also impacts their personal and professional success, they say.
There has been a small backlash against this tendency.
But as I write this piece, a heart-warming piece of news is just being reported: South Indian actress Sai Pallavi has confirmed that she rejected a 20m rupee deal to appear in a fairness cream advertisement earlier this year.
“What am I going to do with the money I get from such an ad? I don’t have… big needs.
“I can say that the standards we have are wrong. This is the Indian colour. We can’t go to foreigners and ask them why they’re white.
“That’s their skin colour and this is ours,” she was quoted as saying.
Pallavi’s comments are being hailed as a breath of fresh air by commentators, especially as they are seen in context to the Miss India collage where all contestants look the same – whitewashed.
On the other hand, one can view this as a women’s rights issue, that they have the right to choose what they do with their bodies for whatever reason, be it using cosmetics or dyes or hair-straightening products, and that for others to criticize what they do is a form of controlling women and denying them agency. It is a debate similar to the one in the US black community about hair straightening.
Ultimately this is a specific case of a more general question of whether one should try and conform to the norms set by society on some issue or defy them and try to change the norms to be more inclusive of a wider range. It is perhaps best left to each person to decide for themselves which side they want to be on.