Issues

After seventieth Independence Day, fair is still lovely

Dr Mohd Faiez

I have seen this fairness cream in my home since childhood. Like me, millions of Indians must have noticed Fair & Lovely, a fairness cream, in their homes. This ‘fairness cream is being used for the last 40 years in India in most families. Recently, a thought flashed in my mind about the words fair and lovely. At once Jacques Derrida’s line occurred to me, “There’s nothing outside the text”. I tried to go with this statement. I consulted my little Oxford dictionary for the meaning of the words fair’ and lovely. The dictionary says that fair stands for blond, not dark, while lovely stands for exquisitely beautiful.

I tried to reach the conclusion that a woman will be exquisitely beautiful if she is blond or of light skin. In fact, this can be seen in the perspective of the legacy of colonialism which considers a woman beautiful on the basis of her complexion. This definition of beauty cannot, and should not, be attributed to the Asian or African countries, where people are of wheatish and dark complexions.  

If a person is dark, or not white-complexioned, it is not his or her fault. Rather, it is the climate in which one has taken birth and acquired the complexion. India is a country in which most of the states experience hot summers for about six to eight months. And coastal areas are humid where no cold winters are there. Rather there is moderate climate throughout the year to which can the dark complexion be attributed. A majority of south Indians are dark-complexioned, and that is due to the climate. But, for colonial masters beauty exist in white skin only. This is what they instilled in the minds of the natives in colonies where they ruled.

Fairness cream claims that it controls melanin - the substance responsible for the colour of the skin. By the word fairness, it can be understood that it is made to make your skin fair or light and you will no longer be dark.

This cream claims that there will be improvement in the complexion of the skin in six weeks. It shows a commercial on television in which a woman’s dark skin becomes light and it can be measured on the scale week by week. The question arises as to what is the need to lighten the complexion of skin?

That light skin is beautiful has affected India deeply. Now, only fair-skinned girls are considered beautiful and every boy wants to marry a fair-complexioned girl. If you go through the matrimonial advertisements you will find that most of the advertisements contain a line “fair Complexioned”, or in Hindi rang gora”.

After years of independence, we are still colonized, not physically but mentally. In fact, this is neo-colonialism where we are still ruled and governed economically. Fair and Lovely is a product of a British multinational company, selling this cream for 40 years, as it claims on its website https://www.fairandlovely.in/our-story. It says that it has impact on the lives of women. “Fair & Lovely has reflected a Women’s Dreams for the past 40 years. This is a brand, which has championed the deepest ambitions and desires of women. Throughout its history, Fair & Lovely has inspired women to go for their dreams, even if they were at odds with what society expected them to do. In the 80’s, when society expected women to marry mostly via arranged marriages, Fair & Lovely gave them hope that women could marry by choice. In the 90s, when women desired not just marriage but also an equal partnership, Fair & Lovely inspired them to believe that this was possible. In the 2000s, when society believed that a woman’s place was at home, Fair & Lovely encouraged her to choose her own career. And today, when despite much progress, women still don’t get equal opportunities and society continues to impose barriers for women, Fair & Lovely will give women the confidence to overcome their own hesitations & fears to achieve their true potential,” the website boasts.

On closer scrutiny of this above mentioned statement of the company as mentioned on the website, company claims that it has inspired women to go for their dreams. Can it be said that a woman cannot be inspired for her dreams if she is not fair? Or what are the expectations of society from a woman when it comes to marriage?

These above-mentioned statements have only one answer. That only a fair-complexioned woman can do anything in her life. She can fulfill her dreams, can get her life partner of choice, will be able to make a successful career, and can get equal opportunities to that of man.

In the postcolonial context, this notion of beauty is not only affecting women in their marriage issues, but it has its effects on jobs where a woman is judged by her fair complexion. For the job of a receptionist, a fair complexion is a must and it surpasses a girl’s intellect, communication skills and good academic record. A dark complexioned girl is being marginalised on the basis of her complexion.

In all, it can be said that the idea of beauty is directly proportional to fair skin. We Indians call every fair-complexioned woman beautiful. This is what has been instilled in the minds of native Indians that only white skin is beautiful. There is a need to redefine the notion of beauty.

The author is assistant professor, JPM College, Bareilly. He may be contacted at mohd.faiez@rediffmail.com 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2016 on page no. 2

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