It took me a while to realize how fair n lovely smoothly tricked a few generations, how we internalized everything they were telling us, without ever questioning them back. They barged in to our self worth and told us we are not good enough and we embraced all they had to say like an obedient child and started building our lives around it. In a country where majority of people are colored, it needed some gut to tell them you are not worth anything – a job, a groom and hence respect! I don’t know what worked for them exactly – the branding, the perfect baby pink advertisements, or the already wavering self worth of women.
Why are we talking just about fair n lovely, lets pick anything from 90-s. Karan Johar’s movies for example, the portrayal of an ideal world, dream of every growing girl, the modern day fairytale. Everything needs to perfect here, from massively ornamented mansions down to the skin – Yup, and Heroin can never be dark. That is plain unthinkable but the maids can be and if the director is generous (or low on budget) we can make her heroin’s friend but a scheming one. Hey, but let’s not give her too much screen space – bad for business!
Now we can’t blame it on Karan Johar and his likes completely. Let’s take a look at The history of film and photography here; Concordia University professor Lorna Roth has researched the evolution of skin tone imaging. She explained in a paper how the older technology distorted the appearance of black subjects because they were not designed for black people. It was designed for white skins and the chemicals on the film was simply incapable of capturing dark. We were so dismissive of the existence of dark skin that we told our technology to consider white as normal for skin. We believed only white deserves to be photographed. Tools are only as good as the people who use them. The preference for lighter skin is so pervasive in many parts of the world, and it starts early. This is a bigger problem then improving the technology for diverse skin tones. It was only in the 90-s that some furniture companies and chocolate industries reported this issue to Kodak because they could not photograph pigmented woods and dark chocolates and since then we are only trying to come to terms with dark skin.
If you objectively think about it – it’s a ridiculous idea. How can your skin color which is nothing more then a causality of the environment you are born in can be a parameter of your self worth? India comes with it’s troubles and a lot of variables make their way here – like caste, class, region, gender, economics, color but how did it seep in so much in the mass consciousness that we didn’t even realize we were being tricked and force fed. We thought whatever is being shown on TV must be true, the signals come from sky so they are words of God!
Think about how many generations of men & women gave in to it. Think about how many little girls were told they are not good enough. They told us to hate ourselves and we did. We taught our daughters and grand daughters the same thing and we prayed that one day they will wake up with a fairer skin and our boys will get a fair bride. We were doughebags, we still are – everyday they are convincing us hard for something and we are getting convinced. We are accepting the lives they give us – a life of dependency and needs.
It seems ancient India was not that dumb – beauty here was never linked to your skin color. In fact, the oldest evidence of classification comes from Rigveda – a classification based on occupation. At a certain point in history it became birth based and oppressive. Purush Sukta in Rigveda explains how four orders in society was emerged by self sacrifice of a certain human to maintain social order and these four were born – ‘Brahmin: from the head; Kshatriya from the arms; Vaishya from the thighs and Shudras from the feet’. Mind you, this was a symbolic classification and did not represent any hierarchy – All the four were born from the same body and addresses equally important functions. However, us mortals interpret it as we please as most of the vedic text was unwritten.
History is full of wonderful examples. The conflicts back then in history were based on survival – territory occupation, cattle, food etc not on your color and superiority. Mahabharata has a lot of dark complexioned heroes, Draupadi, a “fire born” daughter of Drupada, emerged from the yajna (sacred fire) as a beautiful dark-skinned young woman. Vyasa (author of the Mahabharata) described her as the most beautiful woman of that time with a radiant dusky skin, large intoxicating eyes and a graceful stature. Mythology describes Parvati, the divine consort of Lord Shiva, as the goddess of power with a ‘yellowish coppery’ skin. Goddess Sita, the wife of Rama known as a lady of incomparable beauty was earth-born and colored like the golden soil of India. Krishna was dark and irresistible.
Foreign invasions and the British empire happened and they conveniently told us that they are a fairer and superior race and we are dark skinned and slaves.
Then came the media and its sinister beauty ideals, they glorified white skin models. They are chosen for all the advertisements over dark women which automatically tells us that the ideal world is made of fair women only. Actors endorse fairness products and the fairness scale that comes with it to measure your skin tone. As u make your way to the lighter side u get visibly happy as well – as shown in the advertisements.
We didn’t even realize when we started treating dark skin as a disease which needed treatment. This is ironic because India’s population is largely comprised of darker skinned people. The representation is deeply skewed, the villains and the negative characters in the movie industry are brown colored men fighting the fair skinned heroes. The constant feeding of our media has greatly influenced what we consider beautiful.
We accepted our fate.
Some of the most beautiful examples of representation of Indian ethnicity in its purest form comes from ancient indian art when the artists were mature, honest and in complete agency of themselves. The frescos and murals of Ajanta Caves are some of the finest ones.
Now they have started telling us that we need to be white to be empowered too, to have a job, success and career. We need to be nice and fair and smiling all the time. This ruined us. This was the nail in the coffin. They pushed it too far. We were nice, we tried to see their point but now we will have to fight back. We have to be aggressive, dangerous, complicated, strong, angry all at the same time to redefine beautiful for us.
The day we start questioning what we are taught and shown we will take our first step and it has to start. Prescriptions include staring back in the mirror and drooling over your saturated self. Telling yourself often and loud how mind-boggingly gorgeous you are. Teach your kids to value themselves enough that the manipulators sitting inside the TV will not be able to play with their self esteem.