Not so Fair = Not so Lovely…
It’s no secret that in South Asian communities (and many other communities), there is an emphasis placed on light skin being a standard for beauty. Many major cosmetic companies have a skincare line specifically for “skin lightening”. The “skin lightening” product industry is estimated to be worth close to $10 Billion and is projected to grow to $31 Billion by 2024. I’ll give you a minute to let that soak in….
The industry that tells womxn the key to finding the perfect partner, the perfect job, better opportunities- if they just lighten their skin- is a MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY. Many people will argue this is no different than how other cosmetics are advertised. One of the most popular products out on the market today is called Fair and Lovely. Fair and Lovely is made by Unilever, which also makes Dove brand products. The print and television ads for Fair and Lovely often encourage womxn to believe their lives can be improved if they just lighten their skin...that lighter skin is the key to happiness.
This idea is so ingrained in the Indian culture that even growing up in the United States didn’t spare us First Generation kids. I remember being encouraged not to spend too much time in the sun, for fear that I would get darker.
I was told not to wear certain colors because they would make me look darker. I bought into this thinking hook, line, and sinker. I would stay away from certain colors, try my best to stay away from the sun. I grew up in Texas- trying to stay away from the sun was virtually impossible. Growing up in Texas, the land of beautiful blondes and big hair, I already felt out of place. Not being able to fit into even an Indian ideal of beauty made things worse for me. I did not like the way I looked. I would think to myself, if only I was a little lighter, I would look so much better.
I remember describing myself as dark to some aunties and telling them I was okay with being dark. They immediately commented “Oh, don’t worry, you’re not THAT dark.” As if telling me I was not THAT dark, made it better? The thing is, these aunties were not trying to be mean or hurt me. They were genuinely trying to make me feel better. I could tell many related stories about how my skin color was a barrier. These stories are not new or unique to me, and there are tons of Indian womxn like me who grew up under this level of scrutiny. I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for some time, but I wasn’t sure how to begin or even what point of view to take on the subject. Then I read the Instagram post from @thelifeofasocialbutterfly and thought to myself, I could not have said it better myself. She captured all the same feelings I had growing up, and I especially loved her statement of TOO GLAM to GIVE A DAMN. Well said! I encourage you to check her out on Instagram.
The question is so what? What now? I can’t speak for everyone else, but I can say I find it HIGHLY troubling the skin lightening industry just keeps growing. If it remains profitable to make these products, companies will continue to create and market these products. When do we really step up and say enough is enough? When do we say we no longer subscribe to an ideal of beauty that just doesn’t make sense? I know it isn’t easy- it means breaking down years and years of programming, years of living up to an ideal steeped in colonization. I know for myself, I no longer hide from the sun. I wear pretty much whatever colors I want, and I am doing my best to raise my two daughters to care more about how they treat others than worrying about being “fair”.