Obsession to look fair goes beyond the skin



Skin tones decide your destiny- a funny but true take on life through shade cards (INL Image)

Praneeta Mahajan

Hamilton, February 22, 2023

For many years, the Indian society has been obsessed with fair skin. The preference for lighter skin tones has been ingrained across the South Asian communities,  with people often associating it with beauty, success, and social status. This obsession with fair skin has been prevalent in India for centuries and continues to have a profound impact on the region’s social and cultural fabric.

A colonial legacy

The roots of this obsession with fair skin can be traced back to India’s colonial past. During the British rule in India, the lighter-skinned British officers and administrators were seen as superior to the dark-skinned natives. This created a narrative that fair skin was superior and desirable, while darker skin tones were inferior and undesirable.

Experts believe that this obsession with fair skin is deeply rooted in India’s caste system and the country’s complex social hierarchy. Dr Shalini Singh, a sociologist at Delhi University, says that “The obsession with fair skin is a reflection of India’s deeply ingrained caste system. Fair skin is associated with higher castes and social status, while darker skin tones are associated with lower castes and social inferiority.”

This association between fair skin and social status has created a vicious cycle, with people using skin whitening products to try and improve their social standing. Dr Rajeshwari Pandharipande, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Illinois, said that “The desire for fair skin is not just about physical appearance, but also about achieving social mobility. People believe that if they have fair skin, they will be more successful in their careers and personal lives.”

Present day influences and impact

This narrative has been perpetuated over the years through the media, advertisements, and popular culture. Bollywood, India’s thriving film industry, has played a significant role in promoting the idea that fair skin is beautiful and desirable. Many of India’s leading actresses are fair-skinned, and the industry often portrays darker-skinned actors in less prominent roles.

The obsession with fair skin has also resulted in the proliferation of a multibillion-dollar skin whitening industry in India. Products such as skin lightening creams, lotions, and treatments are widely available, promising to lighten the skin and make it fairer. However, these products often contain harmful chemicals such as hydroquinone, which can cause severe skin damage and health problems.

What the numbers say

A market research survey by Allied market research states that The cumulative share of Asia-Pacific and Europe regions in global market was 69.0% in 2021 and is anticipated to reach 74.3% by 2031.

According to the research, the skin lightening products market analysis clearly states that on the basis of gender, women segment was the highest contributor to the market and is estimated to reach $10,671.9 million by 2031, at a CAGR of 7.4% during the forecast period. The convergence of advancements, beauty, and lifestyle is propelling the skin lightening products market forward.

Skin Lightening Market size was valued at US$ 4.84 Billion in 2021 and is projected to reach US$ 8.02 Billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 6.15% from 2023 to 2030.

The rising consumer preferences for the skin lightening due to the rising disposable income driving the global skin lightening market.

Furthermore, the global skin care products market has grown steadily over the years, owing to an increase in beauty consciousness among women. Several other factors, such as an increase in women’s labour force participation, increased awareness about the importance of maintaining long-term beauty, and changes in lifestyle, have significantly increased demand for skin care products, which in turn boost the growth of the skin lightening products market during the forecast period.

Skin lightening market is projected to grow from US$ 4.84 billion to US$ 8.02 billion by 2030 (Verified Market Research)

Why is the change important

Experts say that it is essential to challenge the idea that fair skin is superior and desirable. Dr S Anandhi, a gender and cultural studies professor at a prominent Indian University said that “We need to have more positive representations of darker-skinned people in the media and popular culture. We also need to educate people about the dangers of skin whitening products and the importance of accepting and embracing our natural skin tone.”

This obsession with fair skin has also led to discrimination and prejudice against people with darker skin tones. People with darker skin tones are often discriminated against in schools, workplaces, and even in their personal lives. This discrimination can have a profound impact on a person’s self-esteem and mental health.

Anjali M, a young, 26 year old professional and second generation Indian living in Hamilton said that she has often struggled with confidence as her skin is  often a point of discussion at community events by older “aunties” who are far too generous is giving advice and share home remedies on skin lightening.

She said, “I often feel my value as an educated, independent person is being underplayed and my looks take precedence over all my achievements. It is frustrating and I know nothing can be done on the matter, as the elders know you are a non starter if you are not fair. Nothing is good enough.”

The obsession with fair skin in India is a deeply ingrained social and cultural issue that has had a profound impact on the country’s society and individuals’ mental health.

It is essential to challenge this narrative and promote the idea that all skin tones are beautiful and deserving of respect and acceptance. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink correspondent based in Hamilton.

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