While we are all praying for Covid to end, there is another viral disease that has been plaguing India for a while – Fairness Fever. Our obsession with the colour of skin probably started in the British era, at a time when being fair-skinned was seen as being privileged, powerful, and beautiful. The caste system also seems to have played a role as it is commonly accepted that people from ‘upper castes’ are fair-toned when compared to people from ‘lower castes’. But aren’t these relics of the past? Have you wondered why we haven’t been able to get over this fairness fever?
In 1975, a new brand popped up on the Indian cosmetic scene – Fair & Lovely, touted as “every girl’s best friend”. To sell this product, it was important for the marketers to spread the idea that being fair is not just about being beautiful but also about getting better opportunities. This led to the start of advertisements which showcased that the dusky skin tone was the sole reason behind various problems in life such as delay in marriage, rejection at interviews, social isolation etc.
This also led to many of us thinking that the sole purpose of make-up is to make ourselves look fairer. This is far from the truth.
The aim of skin care is to help your skin remain healthy and makeup is done to enhance your features. It is a commonly accepted rule in makeup that you ought to use a foundation that matches your existing skin tone. And you wouldn’t be surprised to know that very few brands offer foundations in diverse shades of dark to suit the Indian skin tone. So even brands do not accept dusky complexion and give out the wrong message that makeup is done to make you look fair.
Our obsession with fair skin has also been exacerbated by mainstream cinema with heroines being milky white and actors with dusky skin tones being relegated to background roles. All this leads to people who were already feeling inferior being made to feel even more so.
But can you blame brands and cinema for propping up a mirror on society to show us bitter truths? Our society does offer people with fair skin more advantages than someone with a dusky complexion, right? Well, by reinforcing the idea that fair skin equals beauty and success, they are not helping solve the problem. They are merely taking advantage of a social evil to generate revenue.
When one is subjected to ads that show that being fair can open hidden doors to success and movies that portray that fair skin is more beautiful, especially in one’s formative years, one catches the fairness fever too.
And while Fair & Lovely has been forced to change its name to Glow & Lovely (does it really make a difference though?), movie creators have started embracing the diversity of skin tones found in our subcontinent, there are other flags popping up. An example is the filters on social media that “hide” your skin tone and gives your images a fairer skin tone. And thus, another generation contracts fairness fever.
So how do we combat this? The short answer is to change our mindset.
Realise the underlying reasons behind this “fever”, talk about it with the people around you and help change others’ conditioning. When we, as a society, stop believing that “fair is beautiful”, brands, movies and other forms of pop culture will be forced to conform. The change might not be immediate as these wounds are deep, but as you must’ve seen around you, change is in the making.