The lethal combination of wealth and fair skin or beauty bulldozes every trait in the struggle of a girl's life. An executive wants a smart, good looking female as secretary; airlines go for beautiful girls; receptionist must be smart and beautiful. Beauty is in demand everywhere; in every walk of life. The fairness bias is religion in itself irrespective of the followers. Some call it 'Noor' while others prefer to term it as 'Tej or Sunderta.'
Way back in early 70s, Unilever had launched a commercial skin lightening cream called "Fair and Lovely" to encash the fairness bias among Indians. Since then many companies promised us look like Gori. They knew that it is important for the Indian women to be fair. However, the famous Indian actor Nandita Das- a woman with a dusky complex, believes that the bias against dark skin has taken on new forms in the modern world.
"We're part of the consumer world today. The market is waiting to cash in on people's aspirations and biases." According to a Wall Street Journal report of July 2013, sale of fairness creams generates over $400 million in revenue a year in India, which is more than all other skincare products combined.
Let this scribe make a confession. I believe this prejudice is intrinsic and not deliberate. But moot question is- how to get rid of it? The inspiration of this article comes from three quarters. Firstly, Nandita Das, who is a supporter of ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ campaign. She has been urging the women to throw out their fairness creams and abandon the belief that skin is ugly. Secondly, a lyric recently heard by an African poet Abdel Meeropol written against the back ground of Apartheid.
“Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of the burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
From the rain to gather, from the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.’
Thirdly, the first few lines that come to the memory surface when I think of Gone With the Wind - “Negros were always so proud of being the bearers of evil tidings.” I'm an admirer of Margret Mitchell and her magnum opus but always found her frequent use of the word ‘darkies’ irritating.
In the Indian context, we are quite used to the words- Kallo, Kalloti, Kalia etc. We are mute spectators to the regular insults and frustrations of an innocent girl rejected in marriage just because she didn’t posses a lighter skin. While everyone shares the sympathy, very few have shown the courage to raise their voice against this prevalent evil trait of society.
We know that Fair Skin is a thriving source of fashion industry. It is not easy to kill the hen that lays the golden egg; an almost uphill task. However, some efforts are being made in this direction. Intellectual and legal challenges are filed against the companies that want to ensure consumer continue to be the prey of this bias. Sometime ago a petition was filed against the market giant Emami.
In these dark clouds there is a silver lining. Hearing the speech delivered by Lupita Nyongo on the subject 'Racism and Western Perceptions of Beauty' I was moved to my roots. She was speaking at the annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon– hosted by Essence magazine as she accepted her award for Best Breakthrough Performance. She is a Kenyan girl who had lived her childhood in Mexico City. Here are some salient quotes:
"I too remember a time when I would turn on the TV and only see pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself before I was in front of a mirror, because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced just the same disappointment at being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God. I told him I would stop steeling sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted. I would listen to my mother's every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But, I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because I never woke up lighter.
And then Alek Wek came on the scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman that looked so much like me as beautiful. Now I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far-away gatekeepers of beauty.
My mother used to say to me, 'You can't eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you.’ And these words played and bothered me, I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume. It was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant by saying that you can’t eat beauty is that you can’t rely on beauty to sustain you.
What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master. But it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even though the beauty of her body has faded away. And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation for your beauty, but also get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty."
The entire audience was mesmerized including Chaka Khan and Oprah Winfrey.
May be here is something that could bring a paradigm change in our attitude.