Dark obsessions with fairness

India is a country obsessed with fair skin. The desire for white skin is embedded in our very culture. The question is, why? Why do we so strongly believe that the globally coveted, olive, dark tone of our skin is ugly?

Years ago, when I was with my daughters trying out bangles at a roadside vendors stall, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of two ladies standing nearby, mostly because they were talking about my daughters. “Those bangles look great on the little one’s fair skin; she looks exactly like her mom. The darker one must take after her dad.” It annoyed me that it became their business that I should have fair daughters, especially since I couldn’t think of anything more beautiful than them as they were.

Living in North America for a good amount of time as a skin and color analyst ( and now as Image makeover coach ) , I worked with a large spectrum of skin tones. The experience made me realize that the skin tones we, Indians have, can take strong, bright colors. In fact, our gorgeous skin tones are the only reason we don’t look drained out when we dress in the colors of our vibrant culture.

This came up today, because I could not get a certain meeting out of my mind. Last week, I met a woman who grew up hating the face she saw in the mirror. Hating it, because her entire family consistently pointed out that she was too dark to be beautiful. This bothered me even more when she admitted to occasionally saying it aloud, and her daughter would hear.

As a mom, I know that even when my kids had indiscernible, pink, scrunched up features, I thought they were absolutely beautiful. I also know that to them, I was the most beautiful person in the world. When I heard that this mom would say this around her daughter, and indirectly tell her too, that dark is not beautiful, it troubled me.

To deal with this, I start my sessions with a personal evaluation test. I encourage people to evaluate their physique, so that I can tell which parts of their body they consider assets and which parts they consider liabilities. This helps me decide how positive their body image is, and which parts I can concentrate on to better their self image. These tests have drawn my attention to the fact that most people I deal with are unhappy with their skin color. It’s not just the women though. On numerous occasions, I have been asked to suggest skin lightening creams or processes for men.

Sometimes, I find it difficult to believe that so many Indians do not see the advantages and beauty in the tone of Indian skin. I think it may finally be time to stop putting chemicals on our skin hoping that it lightens it and realize that it couldn’t possibly get any better than it is.


Babita Jaishankar


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