BY MAHADEV DESAI
Appearance is deeply ingrained within our nature. Many of us go to great lengths to appear smart and good-looking to attract the opposite sex, to find a job, to get a modelling or acting role, to get a marriage offer etc.
“Mom, why is Seema gori and why am I kali?” asked Lata sobbing. “She even got engaged last week. She boasted that many boys in her college were running after her. And look at me. I don’t have a single boyfriend! I also can’t find a job. I get invited for job interviews but as soon as they see me, they reject me.”. “Stop crying Lata. It is not your fault. We belong to the lower caste. After your dad passed away when you were only eight, you helped me with all the house chores. You accompanied me to the farm where we toiled for long hours under the hot sun. Slowly your skin tone became dark. You have to learn to live with caste and class prejudice.”
Lata’s mom was right. People prefer lighter skin. Fair skin is associated with a genteel, upscale lifestyle. White skin is equated with beauty and self-esteem. Print media,TV, movies etc. feature skin-lightening ads and tout skin-whitening products like soaps, lotions, creams etc.Beauty brands use celebrity endorsements to sell their products.
The global beauty business is worth over $385 billion. It is a multi-billion dollar industry in India. Some of the leading players in beauty products are Lakme, Avon, Revlon, L’Oreal, Color Bar, Elle-18, Chambor, Maybelline;Amway and M.A.C.Cosmetics. These big names provide a variety of beauty products like lipsticks, facial and body skin whitening creams, perfumes, deodorants, powders, make-up kits, bath care etc. They cater not only to women but to men as well.
Men also use skin whitening creams, colognes, hydrating moisturizers, deodorants, sunscreens, shampoos, after-shave lotions etc. An advertising video clip shows girls chasing boys who use Emami’s ‘Fair and Handsome’ skin bleaching cream!’’The enticing clip has the tagline’ chup chupke ladkiyon wali cream lagaye’.
Those who wish to go into modelling ought to remember that mere beautiful looks are not enough. Body shape is also important. It may be noted that France has banned excessively thin fashion models, whereas in Australia people are debating whether they should allow obese fashion models to appear on the catwalk as it may imply that the organizers are endorsing obesity!
Many try to improve their looks and skin tone with skin whitening cream, make up and other accessories but some spend a fortune on plastic surgery-nose jobs, liposuction, facelift, bangs, eye-brows, navel piercing and more.
Those using cosmetic products are advised to check the ingredients used in the products because dangerous chemicals can harm than benefit the user.
There is no doubt that there is discrimination and prejudice against dark-skinned people. This impacts many areas. Conservative parents deny permission to their daughters to play sports like cricket for fear that playing outdoors for long hours will darken their skins and affect their marriage prospects.
It will take time to change the societal prejudice and mindset. It is encouraging that ‘Women of Worth’, a women’s movement NGO,initiated the laudable and much needed ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign, (with the tagline, For Justice Equality and Change) in Chennai in 2009. It’s avowed objective is to help women ‘be the best they can be’ by enlightening, encouraging, empowering and equipping them with life skills and values.The campaign is to celebrate the beauty and diversity of all skin tones. Film actors Nandita Das, Kangana Ranaut, Tanishtha Chatterjee to name a few have lent their full support to the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign. Boys and men have also not been forgotten. ‘Beauty beyond Color’ is an initiative of the Dark is Beautiful for men and boys wrongly influenced by deceptive advertising by the beauty products industry.