Fair & Lovely? Indian Vogue Takes On The Desi Color Complex

Indian Vogue Addresses The South Asian Color Complex. Image Credit: Indian Vogue

Anybody that grew up in the Indian Subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), especially as  a woman, believed one thing: Being fair is better. Lighter skin was always and continues to be equated with success in all realms of your life.

How many of us Desi women can count the times we heard the phrase, “She is not pretty, but her skin is very fair.” How many times were we warned to stay out of the sun so our complexion does not turn moila (Bengali for “dirty”), which would (gasp!) naturally result in us never landing a husband? Fair always meant beautiful in our countries, hence the huge success of the “Fair & Lovely” skin bleaching products.

Where do we get this idea from and why does it continue to be reinforced today in our media? I think it is one of our biggest lingering colonial complexes. There is so much historic irony in this obsession of ours especially since it was the darker skin tone of the “natives” that the Persians and the Greeks used to distance themselves from the “dark and scary” Indian natives, the dasyus. They used their whiter skin color as vindication of their superiority over us. Now we use it against each other.

I have written about this issue in the past, but I wanted to share this “Feministing”post with my readers which I have cross-posted below.

I could not be happier that Vogue in India is using its influence to take on this issue, and promote a better, more natural and real version of beauty to counter our very disturbing obsession with white skin tone.

Enjoy! And try not to hurl when you watch the Fair & Lovely advertisement below.

Vogue in India takes on prejudice of darker skin in their latest issue:

Every generation has its share of beauty myths. Perhaps it is time to bust this one,” the editorial says. “Time to say that as a magazine we love, and always have loved, the gorgeous color of Indian skin…dark, dusky, bronze, golden – whatever you call it, we love it.

Fueled by the appearance of light-skinned Bollywood stars and models, the demand for skin-whitening creams – from brands including L’Oreal and Unilever – grew 18 per cent last year and is set to increase by a predicted 25 per cent this year, the Times reports. The Vogue cover has been praised by the country’s fashion insiders for addressing the issue in a positive way.

I think it’s worth repeating that Unilever – owner of Dove and their “real beauty” campaign – is one of the biggest suppliers of skin lightening cream out there and are responsible for ads like this:


This issue of Vogue is being lauded as a positive first step. Nirupama Singh, an expert in the sociology of fashion says, “Skin color matters a lot for women in India…Fairness is a very valuable thing here, looked on as desirable. The fashion world can be a big agent for change in this area.”

Cross-posted From “Feministing.”

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