Editor’s Note: This month, that is July 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Body Image, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront, with respect to our bodies in private or public spaces, or both. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since time immemorial, we as a society have leaned towards fairness. Unfortunately the fairness we chose to admire was the shallow fairness of the skin while we left behind the fairness in judgment, which should have been an inherent human trait.
When I was in my primary school, we had competitions in class to see whose skin was the fairest. The fair-skinned kid would get to become the leader in all the games we played. I fell into the middle-bracket; the grey area between white and black. I have often seen dark-skinned children turn their backs and cry because they were so closely associated with ‘Kalia’, the infamous villain in the Chhota Bheem cartoon series.
I have often accompanied my grandmother to visit new born babies of relatives, and often stood dumbfounded when my grandmother sympathized with the mother saying, ‘Bad luck, a black baby is born. Better luck next time.’ I found it hard to fathom that a woman who worshipped Lord Krishna (literally translating to black) everyday looked upon a dark-skinned tot as poor luck.
While still a pre-teen, I developed a black mark on my chin. Snoopy relatives left no stone unturned in asking me how I had developed this mark of bad luck. It was one of those nosey relatives who first introduced me to the world of fairness creams. At first I thought it was magic—turning black skin white. I soon became obsessed with using these products. I also applied heavy make-up to hide the black mark on my chin.
Over the past decade the Indian society has turned itself into a huge market for ‘fairness’ creams. The advertisements for fairness products went the extra mile to put down everyone on the dark side of the spectrum and equate beauty to fairness. Our movies, advertisements and daily conversations have subconsciously made us believe that our success depends solely on looking good. Psychologists define this phenomenon as ‘implicit biases-an unconscious stereotype that we cultivate in our minds about a certain individual or group of individuals.‘ This implicit bias has led to so many youngsters in Indian society striving to become fair-skinned, resulting in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Recently, Unilever renamed its product ‘Fair and Lovely’ to ‘Glow and Lovely’. The fact that the corporate sector is taking notice of the wide-spread movement for body positivity is encouraging. However, the change in name unfortunately doesn’t change much. The society still knows what the product is for. We still prefer fair skinned men and women on the silver screen. We still teach our children that skin colour is ‘peach’.
It is here that the movement for body positivity must gain solid ground. We need to introspect on the factors that drive our daily decisions. It is only through careful analysis of our own behaviour that we can consciously avoid being ruled by our inherent negative stereotype towards dark skin.
We need to create safe spaces where individuals can share their experiences of discrimination on the grounds of skin colour. Schools should promote acceptance by collaborating with psychologists and behavioural scientists to design educational programs that help break down stereotypes. Homes and friends’ circles should become more colour-friendly.
So how fair are fairness creams?
Firstly, these fairness creams segregate individuals into in-group and the out-group based on the colour of their skin. They lead to strong negative stereotypes against the dark complexion which is a form of social inequality.
Secondly, these products have a negative impact on our health. The chemicals used in most skin-care products lead to allergies, rashes and other dangerous dermatological conditions. Advertisements for ‘fairness’ products do not mention the nature of ingredients being used in skin-care products. This is a form of inequality of information between the producers and consumers of such products.
Thirdly, ‘Fair and Lovely’ is a product targeted towards women consumers. Renaming this product alone is highly irrational considering that there are thousands of such products targeted towards male customers as well. By looking upon body positivity and colourism as a ‘women’s issue’ deprives men of the opportunity to talk openly about the issues they have faced owing to their skin colour. This is a form of gender inequality.
‘Fairness’ creams test our fairness of judgment. It is extremely important that we stand up to all the forms of inequality created by the production and sale of such products. Instead of trying to clean up the surface alone, we need to reach out to the root of the problem. We need to take body positivity movements to the grassroots level so that every individual, regardless of their economic status and gender identity can take pride in their skin colour.
Dominance of the fair-skinned is a thing of the past. Fairness in judgment is the new normal.
We need to stand up for the real fairness—fairness in judgment; fairness in character; fairness in ideologies!
Anagha is a passionate debater, keen reader and a youngster with a passion to make a difference to the society. She is the co-founder of ‘MindChamps’- a youth-led e-magazine aimed at destigmatizing mental health. She is also an advocate of the Girls in Science 4 SDG’s platform under the aegis of the United Nations.
Featured Image Source: The Daily Beast