In popular culture, Indian people are referred to as “brown people” owing to the tan skin color most people have; however, the majority of them don’t seem to favor this brown shade. While skin tanning is a popular culture in Western countries, where the majority are people of European descent, in India, many people, mostly women, are very much invested in preserving their skin tones. Some even take careful and drastic measures to “whiten” their skin.
Skin tone is dominated by the concentration of melanin present in the skin, giving it its pigment. Because the Indian Subcontinent experiences harsh and direct sun rays, the Indian skin has evolved to resist the harm from the UV rays. However, most of us wish to rid ourselves of this pigment because it is undesirable.
The main focus is on women; in fact, the Indian marriage market for women pivots around their social status, financial status, caste, religion, education, and appearance. Women who have a fairer skin tone are preferred. If one looks at mainstream media, most actresses have extraordinarily lighter skin tones. The epitome of beauty in the Indian collective psyche is pale skin.
This sentiment has to do a lot with the colonization of India by Britain until 1947. The European person was supposed to be superior and beautiful, and the Indians were supposed to be savages, without etiquette and a desirable appearance. As a matter of fact, the habit of eating food with bare hands is still regarded as unhygienic by the masses, who mostly use cutlery to eat. The result is the inheritance of this complex revolving around a tan skin tone, which passes from generation to generation through constant remarks and phrases one hears, praising pale skin and equating dark skin with ugliness. The significant impact has been sustained throughout the years, is prevalent still, and controls our preferences or even lifestyles.
The market for skin-brightening products in India is huge and grows with time. Products aimed at it perform well in the market due to the obsession people have with pale skin. However, these products are often unsafe, and quality control is often ignored. A lot of botched products are also sold openly, and the prey of these products are always uneducated and unaware people. The fact stays the same; however, the preference for a paler skin tone is preferred by people of all strata and classes.
One wonders what this reflects about the standards of beauty we hold. Our desires are almost paradoxical; we reject something that is inherently ours because years ago our ancestors were told that it was inferior, but the obsession, this indulgence that has resulted, is a consequence of deep-rooted feelings of self-doubt.
But why have we, after more than seven decades of our independence, still relied on the opinions of people who are long gone?
The glorification of lighter, desirable skin in India is not a new lore, it has now impacted generations, walking us back to the grim and upsetting fact of the state of irrational beauty standards governing our society, the issue is important because for a country where the female literacy rate stands at 71.5% in contrast to the male literacy rate at 81%, where only 23.97% of the eligible women participate in the workforce, and where dowry is paid in 95% of the marriages, where in a situation like such, for a woman who has been blinded by the lustrous whiteness of the ideal skin tone since she could make sense of it, each gaze, measures her worth through her looks so it all ultimately boils down to, for her, at the matter of pale skin.
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