My brother and I have always had significantly lighter skin than many in the specific region of India that our family is from. While living in America, our skin tone seemed to not matter as much, in India, the melanin levels in our skin seemed to be a direct cause of not-so-sneaky mocking smiles and awkwardly extensive stares. Ever since I can remember, my grandmother reminded me that light skin was beautiful. However it is not just my grandmother that maintains this view in her mind, but rather the culture of India as a whole. Starting from acidic face whitening creams called ‘Fair and Lovely’ ranging to the constant photo-shopping of popular social figures to seem lighter skinned, the perception that “white” is beautiful is one that has deeply been rooted within Indian culture.
It can be said that beauty is often a reflection of societal values. In many third world countries including India, lighter skin seems to be indicative of class. Starting from the British control of India, people of lighter skin were the ones of higher power and class. Lower class workers had dominantly darker skin, perhaps from working outside or farming under the sun. Lighter skin indicated that one spent more time inside than out and were given more preference by British officers. In a society where poverty is ubiquitous, the physical indication of higher financial status is one to be thrived for. Pressure to become “pale” has led India’s whitening cream market to increase from about $400 million to about $650 million in just four years. Apart from color, this is also why girls with smaller, more slender figures are looked down upon in most Indian societies. Having a more curvy body is indicative of being wealthy enough to afford food. This is a stark contrast from Western culture, where thinness is a characteristic that is held on a pedestal and tanning salons have become as common as fast food restaurants.
While this cultural difference of beauty still exists, the continual globalization has redefined beauty in many Eastern cultures, especially for younger generations. My grandmother’s perception of beauty is one that may live on in the older generations, but it is easy to see that things are changing. In fact, a new movement called ‘Dark is Beautiful’ has been taking on India’s obsession with lighter skin. Actress Nandita Das has become the face of the campaign, speaking about how she has received emails from women talking about the prejudices they face from being darker skinned. Some women have even come to the brink of committing suicide. She hopes to change the media in a way that looks at “beauty beyond color”. In a world where media holds so much influence upon culture, these are the first steps in creating a more equal world for people of all color.