The Origin of India’s Love for Light Skin

Let’s refrain from using tan scrub in beauty parlors in India, where constant reminders grow up with girls that fair skin is the only definition of beauty.

Signs can be found everywhere, ranging from older relatives advising younger women to use saffron paste to “keep your skin lighter and more even” to classified ads on Sundays promoting the desirability of an “MBA graduate. 5-½ ft. English medium. Light complexion”.

Even sentiments like, “She got lucky he married her despite her [dusky] complexion” are still whispered around India in 2017.

On its first day, the video went viral, reaching an audience of 1.5 million viewers from around the world.

Johar’s sincere criticism came just before Bollywood actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui used Twitter to accuse the Indian film industry’s discriminatory culture.

In the year 2016, during a live television appearance, actress Tannishtha Chatterjee experienced harassment because of her skin tone, leading to a significant negative response after she shared about it.

In recent years, there has been an increase in fear of dark and tan skin in India due to the harassment and attacks on African students living in the country. Many Indians still pretend to be unaware of the social discrimination based on skin color, although India’s preoccupation with fairness can sometimes lead to violence.

Why do Indians dislike their own skin tone so much?

The phenomenon of bleaching.

The history of India provides some solutions.

Many visitors claimed to be superior and all of these foreign “visitors” had a relatively fair complexion. The subcontinent was colonized by the British from the 17th century onwards and partly ruled by the Mughals in the 16th century, as well as being invaded by them. Throughout modern and medieval Indian history, the Indian subcontinent has been under the radar of various European traders and settlers, including the French, Dutch, and Portuguese, from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

Within the Indian society, light complexion has been historically linked to power, social standing, and attractiveness, owing to a series of dominant figures with predominantly fair skin. Presently, this disdain towards dark skin is embraced by both the upper class and lower castes, further reinforced on a daily basis through beauty magazines that predominantly showcase Caucasian models, often of foreign descent.

It’s the burden of the majority-non-white nation in this man’s dark desire to not have been able to change the post-colonial activism and concept of beauty that has been westernized.

According to a study conducted between 2016 and 2013, we interviewed 300 men and women who reported wanting to date or partner with someone who had lighter skin, which is what pushes many Indians to lighten their skin, a phenomenon known as “bleaching syndrome” or colourism.

In Asia, as well as the rest of India, the practice of skin bleaching is widespread. It is not limited to India, and it is not just about becoming more attractive. The belief in fair skin reflects a deeply ingrained identity of superiority, which is a strategy of assimilation and not just a superficial fashion trend. Bleaching syndrome is not just a superficial fashion trend; it is a reflection of a deeply ingrained belief in fair skin that is seen as a symbol of power and superiority.

A flourishing market for bleaching.

The market for salves and creams is growing and innovative, resulting in an annual demand of $400 million.

The prolonged use of a perilous combination of steroids, hydroquinone, and tretinoin, which are present in many of these attractively labeled creams such as Fem, Lotus, Fair and Lovely, and its male-focused counterpart Fair and Handsome, can lead to various health issues including permanent pigmentation, skin cancer, liver damage, and mercury poisoning. These creams are among the most commonly sold products.

The advent of online sales allows these young women to use these products in the privacy of their own homes, and they are willing to overlook the after-effects of bleaching. However, a 2014 marketing study found that nearly 90% of Indian girls still cite a “need for fair skin.”

Indian men are now targeted by beauty products that promise to fight sweat and give them fairer underarms. Initially focused on feminine beauty, these creams now cater to men as well.

Additionally, popular Bollywood celebrities such as Shahrukh Khan and John Abraham frequently endorse and support skin lightening products.

Bleaching backlash.

In 2012, the Clean and Dry brand initiated extensive advertising for a fresh cleansing product designed to brighten the vaginal area, pushing the boundaries of bleaching.

Nandita Sen supported the Dark is Beautiful movement, initiated by the advocacy organization Women of Worth in 2013. This time, there were plenty of women who had had enough.

In 2014, the Advertising Standards Council of India was urged by women and other feminist organizations to release guidelines specifying that “advertisements must not perpetuate negative societal stereotypes based on skin color” or “depict individuals with darker skin as…Inferior or unsuccessful in any area of life, especially in terms of attractiveness to the opposite gender.” The women, alongside other feminist groups, exerted pressure on the Advertising Standards Council of India.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution ensures that all individuals are protected from discrimination, while Article 15 prohibits biased treatment based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. These provisions align with the principles of equality outlined in the constitution.

Still available in the market is the product for bleaching the vagina. Within Indian society, there exist more nuanced forms of racism and bigotry that the law has limited power to prevent.

The “syndrome” of bleaching goes far beyond the concerns of Indian women questioning their style of dress, marital choices, speech, and raising real concerns about their self-esteem. It also extends to the color and texture of their hair and even the color of their skin.