By Maria Sartaj
‘Gore chale gaye par apni nishani chor gaye’ is how fairness creams, lotions and facewashes can be best described in the subcontinent. 70 years since independence and yet our people have been unable to wear their skin with any sense of pride. Every third commercial on tv pushes the desi viewer to feel more discomfortable in his or her skin tone, advertisements for skin bleaching products silently breed low self-esteem in large batches. It is a global phenomenon that good looks can open many doors but on this side of the planet, fairness does that trick-features be damned. Perhaps there is subtle caste consciousness at play here as well but we have been conditioned to believe that fair is beautiful and beautiful is fair.
In Pakistan, a dusky person is often made the butt of all jokes, friends may even mockingly refer to him or her as Bangali or Sri Lankan to register their displeasure. Herbal remedies to combat kaalapan and brighten skin(and eventually lives) are a dime a dozen on our morning shows on tv. We are so obsessed with having a negligible amount of melanin in our skin that me thinks that day isn’t far when grocery store shelves will be stocked with edible whitening products. Basically anything with a whitening label is a blockbuster hit but no one that I know of has ever attained ‘gori rangat in 15 days or less’ by using any of these mercury laden cosmetic products. The market of making South Asians feel terrible about themselves thrives; companies like Neutrogen, Procter and Gamble that sell tanning lotions in the west cash in on our insecurity by selling whitening products that promote a regressive idea of beauty and encourage social disparity.
Besides sharing a smog-related pollution crisis, India and Pakistan also share a nauseating passion for being ‘gora’(white). The remnants of our shared colonial past has affected our psyche so much that till today we continue paying fines for being a darkie. Everytime we purchase a whitening product, secretly try out a totka(remedy) for skin lightning or tweak the exposure on our picture before posting it online, we are simply paying a guilt-toll for looking the way we do.
The Pakistani bridal makeup industry, for instance, is structured around literally painting a new face over the dulhan’s(bride) existing one, the main objective is always to alter the skin color and mask any signs of sanwalapan (wheatish tone). The fair complexion complex is so omnipresent that no drive in the city is ever complete without being visually bombarded by huge hoardings of complexion ‘improving’ commodities that strip us of our dignity as people. Young girls from an early age onwards are discouraged to spend time in the sun as that might harm their color. Over the years fair skin has aquired a solid currency, it is existence friendly. While it may not overhaul one’s destiny, it does help to elevate one’s presence amongst friends and foes. The general assumption is that a fair person belongs to an aristocratic background, and in a class-sensitive society family history plays a vital role in how an individual is processed in the minds of others.
Once in a while we may even see a South Asian celebrity spearheading a dark is beautiful campaign but he or she is quickly outnumbered by irresponsible stars endorsing Fair and Lovely and the likes. Even a Hindi language show like Bigg Boss unfailingly recruits a white foreigner contestant each year to whet our appetite for porcelain skin.
One then wonders how many more years will it take for the inferior person in all of us to break the shackles and obtain true azaadi (freedom) from a Eurocentric notion of beauty? It is wonderful that so many of us are now educated, well-travelled, fluent in English, indulgent in armchair activism online, but it is equally urgent that we wear the skin nature designed for us with a sense of ease and complete acceptance.
My chocolate brown skin should not put me at a disadvantageous level on the social scale, neither should a person with fair looks be celebrated more than necessary in the dating world, or later on in the marriage market.
Every rupee that is contributed towards a whitening solution is a rupee against our own dna, our ethnicity and an insult to the rich brown tones of our ancestors. It is time to stop being so mindless like that, and to bleach our mentality by tossing pro-fair skin attitudes and lotions where they rightfully belong: in the dustbin.
Story first published: 29th November 2017