Monday 15 June 2015

Complexity of complexion: The Indian Psyche

One of the most annoying ‘requirements’ one sees in Indian matrimonial columns is the word ‘fair’ girl/boy. Why is the Indian sub-continent so obsessed with the colour white?
            A few years ago, I’d been to my daughter’s PTM at her previous school. Soon after we reached home after a good many tiresome hours, my daughter, who’d been rather quiet on our journey back home, burst out:
            “Mummy, my friend told me, ‘Your mother is black and ugly!’”
            After I got over the initial shock, it got me thinking how easy it was for the current generation to easily emulate the warped mental acclimatization received within their family circles, as well as society in general.
            The problem perhaps lies in the deep-rooted cultural conditioning, courtesy the decades of British rule.
            Chubby cheeks, dimpled chin,
            Rosy lips, teeth within;
            Curly hair, VERY FAIR,
            Eyes are blue, lovely too,
            Teacher’s pet, is that you?
            What can one expect when our toddlers are regularly taught such rhymes in the garb of language education? Words that iterate on impressionable young minds that only a fair girl with blue eyes no less (a la-Aishwarya Rai), with a dimple to boot, is liked and petted by her teachers? Not to mention the fact that most of these sweet toddlers are blessed with the classic Indian complexion (which is called ‘wheatish’ in our country). And, ‘Wheatish’ is a term that the English dictionary/thesaurus in Microsoft word does not recognise...poor Indian populace. How ironic!
            Mirror, Mirror on the wall,
            Who’s the FAIREST of them all?
            Everyone recognises the famous lines, for who doesn’t know the lovely Snow White? I used to love ‘Snow White and the seven dwarfs’, as a child, until the adult me realised the hidden racism it entailed. I mean, ‘Snow White’, to depict a pretty girl? And a step-mother who turns evil because of her darker colouring? What better way to impress upon little children that black equals bad and white equals good! To think that the British blatantly encouraged such racist monstrosities in their stories and we Indians simply lapped it all up as part of our education system, and we still do, till date. Do we really need such rhymes/stories to teach our children the International language? How did we let our education infuse such ideas so deep into our cultural framework? It’s about time Indians stopped giving such glowing tributes to the British, especially their colour. Isn’t that what true independence is all about?
            A dry cleaner’s place near my residence calls themselves ‘Snow white cleaners’ and I somewhat agree that the name is aptly suitable to show off their cleansing skills. I now know that any woman who’s as ‘white as snow’ would appear rather ghastly. After all, white is associated with ghosts and apparitions too.
           Most dark skinned girls, (including me) have heard varied versions of these oxymoronic statements:
            “If you had been fair, you would have been ‘very beautiful’...”
            “You have great features, if only you had been fair...”
            “You are so ‘black’, don’t wear this, it won’t suit you...”
            “You shouldn’t wear such bright colours, they suit only fair people...”
            “That shade of lipstick/nail polish looks better on fair skinned girls, ma’am...”
            To all the people who want to offer such enlightening ‘feedback’, thank you very much, but no thanks!
            And of course, the worst ‘compliment’ every dark skinned girl receives is: She is very beautiful, despite being dark.
            I’ve never dared to say this to anyone outright before, but it’s about time someone put things in perspective. So, today, my reaction to any of the above ‘compliments’ would be:
            “Excuse me! What do you mean? I am beautiful BECAUSE I AM DARK, thank you.”
            The worst part is, most people don’t even realise that some of the above are NOT compliments, like they believe. Complimenting others is an art; people need to ensure that they learn the same before making degrading comments such as these.
            Does fairness really imply beauty? Why then do some of these ‘fairies’ need layers of make-up/beauty treatments to hide or alter their flawed features? Why then do so many of them flock to the chemists to buy umpteen creams and lotions to whiten their skin tone some more? Does it really make a difference in their lives in the long run? Or is it just the confidence boost that one gets after a long session at the parlour? Not to mention all the men who have joined the bandwagon on the inevitable journey to fairness (meaning handsomeness), courtesy our superstars endorsing the very same creams. Whatever happened to the good old term ‘Tall, DARK and handsome’? Guys, give yourselves a break, you deserve it. I’m not even going to mention ‘Inner beauty’ now, that’s a good topic for another day...
            It was interesting to read an interview of an eminent film personality, who disclosed how some of the formerly dark Bollywood beauties have now turned several shades fairer, owing to sheer pressure to remain afloat in the demanding industry. This disclosure was uttered in the same breath after lauding the likes of Kangna Renaut, who refused to feature in a highly lucrative fairness cream advertisement.
            For many years through my childhood, I recall that my mom had to contend with unsolicited advice from numerous concerned people to ‘make’ her only daughter fair.
            “Make her apply so-and-so fairness cream twice every day, or else she won’t get a guy...”
            And I never ceased to be amazed when I saw some of my ‘milky white’ counterparts religiously bleach their faces, to become ‘more fair’. What chance did the dark ones have then, to ‘land’ those elusive guys? I’d like to believe that at least some, if not all men, aren’t as dumb or silly as they are made out to be, despite the clich├ęd statements about how they only choose the so-called light-skinned, brainless beauties over the smart thinking women...
            Is ‘landing’ a guy the sole aim in life for a girl? How about some useful advice like ‘Teach her to be a good person, build her confidence and character, have a fruitful career, etc’? Obviously, these do not feature high on the list of priorities for a girl now, do they? What people don’t realise that every time they offer such ‘advice’, they eat away a little more at the girl’s confidence and self-worth, which may have been low to begin with, given the way society treats her.
            One of my friends from Norway expressed her amazement at the Indian obsession with skin colour. She said that it was the first thing that she noticed in India: the ads on TV, the creams flooding the market and the mentality of the people, who praised her flawless complexion.
            “We work so hard sun-bathing to get the Indian kinda tan, and you guys work so hard to get rid of it,” she laughed.
            Every time a child is born in India, the first feature the parents notice is the skin colour. In fact, many mums-to-be consume food that promises to lighten the unborn child’s colour. We see umpteen instances where comparisons are made between siblings of different colouring. Perhaps it would be prudent for the parents to try and avoid situations such as these, when the darker child is allowed to feel less beautiful/talented/desirable for no fault of hers. After all, would the stars twinkle half as much if the night sky wasn’t so obligingly black? If wearing black makes one look slim; if black nail art is so cool; if colouring one’s hair black removes years from one’s age...why is black an undesirable skin colour? 

Picture Courtesy: