Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mirror Mirror On The Wall....

...who's the fairest one of all?

In the West, the focus has historically been on tanning, whether through natural sun exposure, tanning beds, or tanning sprays and creams. I spent countless days in my youth worshipping the sun in the hopes of capturing a darker, even toned complexion. I had even prayed that at some point, after spending enough time lounging in the sun, my freckles would some how unite and provide me with a darker overall look. People with that natural "sun kissed" look are often seen as healthier then those of us on the fairer side.

In India, the opposite is true.

My first experience with this mentality was back in January when I visited and needed to have some photos taken for identification purposes. I had some Indian friends along and we thought since we were there, it would be fun to do a little photo shoot so we could all have a souvenir of the visit. When we returned to the studio to pick up the photos I could hardly recognize anyone in them. The studio had digitally lightened their skin to the point that rather then the picture being comprised of a fair skinned westerner and three Indians, it instead looked more like a family from Woodbury. There was no differentiation in our skin tones what so ever. No one in the states would ever believe that those appearing in the photo with me were my Indian friends.

It's estimated that Indians spent over $432 million dollars in 2009 on skin whitening products. These products are geared towards every demographic, with the industry more recently focusing on products for men. The products range anywhere from face creams to deodorant, and are available in all the major brands. Each television commercial break results in exposure to at least two commercials for products that promise to give you a more desirable appearance in the form of a lighter complexion. It's really sad to see blatant racism being propagated by the media.

I was at first shocked by the brands offering these types of products. Nivea. Dove. Olay. Garnier. What happened to "Love the skin you're in?” At the end of the Garnier ad in India, the spokesperson (always a top Bollywood star) says "Take Care." As though not using their lightening products and instead, embracing your genetically disposed darker complexion, somehow implies one's not taking proper care of themselves. Product lines for Men, Women, and Teen fill the shelves of every grocery and convenience store on every street.

It's most disheartening to see products such as these geared towards the teen population. Girls in India are trained at a young age through the media that if they are on the darker side, they are less desirable and may even find it harder to be matched with a husband. There is a perception that if someone is darker they are of a lower class. Fair skinned Indians are revered and admired, regardless of their actual accomplishments in life.

I still hold the mentality that a little color is nice. What can I say; it's been ingrained in me my entire life. I imagine it's no different for the Indians who keep these product lines profit margins fat.

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