*Insert pun playing on multiple meanings of "fair" here*

I tried to buy moisturiser last week.
My local chemist shop is part of a large chain, has a good selection of cosmetics, and has one of those schemes where you rack up points over time and eventually have enough to win you a free tube of toothpaste. Buying moisturiser there wouldn’t be too difficult, you’d think.

There was an entire wall of creams of various sorts. This was good. Except that practically every product there promised to “prevent darkening” (to be fair, some of them were sunscreens) and lighten my skin. It was phrased in various ways – “light”, “fair” “fair and glowing”*, and so on.

As I’ve mentioned in comments elsewhere, I like dark skin on myself. I think it suits me. And while I think sunscreen is a good and useful thing despite preferring myself with a tan, I’d rather not be made any fairer. But I don’t generally rant about the obsession with fairness in this country. (I suspect this is because I’m light skinned enough myself not to get any grief for it. It’s not a flattering thought).

But honestly. Even Vaseline has started marketing something called “healthy white”. The only product that seemed to say nothing about my skin tone was some thousand rupee stuff by Vichy. Since I wasn’t going to spend that much, I caved and simply bought the cream that seemed least likely to work.

*”glowing” never seems to come separate from “fair”, for some reason.

10 Comments to “*Insert pun playing on multiple meanings of "fair" here*”

  1. Actually, I always thought it was the darker skins that glowed. Fair skin only turns an angry red.

  2. lekhni:
    True, but this is ad-speak. Fair skin is lighter than dark, and as everyone knows, ‘light’ glows but darkness doesn’t. Hence.

    This has been a bug-bear for ages, and I’m still surprised that nobody has tried to sue these companies on the grounds of discrimination or biased personal profiling.

    Considering the amount of frivolous religious suits that get filed, you’d think somebody would at least attempt to file a case against these companies. It’d get media attention, at the very least.

    The thing to note, however, is that the same brands dare not market their products in a similar fashion in the West – because they know they would be sued for millions under those very grounds, and lose. There’s something to be said for political correctness.

  3. This is actually more amusing/serious than you think it is. The people who do have fair skin, all the whiteys, who we think are gifted, would do anything for darker skin, or the euphemism for it, a tanned skin. (I even saw an ad that said, go for the matte (opposite of glowing no?) look or something like that.)

    Check out one example I could find: http://www.lorealparisusa.com/_us/_en/default.aspx#page=top{nav|media:_blank|overlay:_blank|diagnostic|main:subcategory:skincare_sunless|userdata//d+d//}

    (I am sorry if it doesn’t work, but the website totally built on flash.)

    Somebody said once, “Someday all of us are just going to be beige.”

    PS: Does the opposite scenario count as discrimination against fair skin?

  4. Lekhni – This is sadly true. and so few people can pull off bright redness.

    ??! – Well most companies could simply argue that a market for these products (a huge one) exists, and that they’re not entirely to blame.
    And political correctness can be very useful.

    wnwek – Isn’t “whitey” usually a perjorative? I assume you’re not using it as one.
    I don’t know – while you can to some extent equate the two by explaining them as instances of people sinply wanting what they can’t have (or relate them to economic factors of some sort, though I don’t know how that would work), the fair vs tan thing in the west does not have the same sort of history as the light skin vs dark skin thing in India. Fairness has always been seen as superior here – whether we put this down to race, caste, colonialism, etc. In Europe (and for a while in America), pale skin was considered beautiful – and even now, you can only want to darken your skin if you’re already white (you don’t see the asian immigrants trying to be darker, and if you’re black you’re mpre likely to be widely considered attrative if you’re a lighter shade of black. You can be pale and be widely considered beautiful – here, if you were dark, people would say it was a pity, since you had such good features and could have been attractive, if only…
    So. No. Not the same thing, and I don’t think the opposite scenario is discriminatory. Certainly not in the same way.

  5. That part about blacks that you mentioned, is not necessarily the right generalisation. It might be Michael Jackson’s though, but it’s not the case with everyone.

    I agree with you though, people with paler skin (I refrain from using “whitey” :), which I wasn’t using as a perjorative, anyway.) haven’t as virulently wanted to be darker as we have wanted to be fairer.

    I think that fairness is considered superior, because in Indian subcontinent atleast, there is a deeprooted cultural meme, that fairness is linked to purity. Hence the association with glowing, beautiful, and that’s why the heroines/actresses of our country are always fair, bar one or two.

    Even if somebody sued those companies on grounds for discrimination, it wouldn’t have helped. These products mainly sell, because they help maintain the image of a “sati savitri” which is a necessary virtue for most women in the country, especially those to be married.

    If you think I am wrong, you could scan the matrimonials of any widely read newspaper, and count the number of times fair complexion appears, in conjunction with that horrible euphemism “homely/convent-educated”.

    Anyway, I don’t think we are going to see this going away anytime soon. We as a nation, haven’t stopped killing baby girls. So making them accept dark-skinned women, is I think, a herculean task for now.

  6. Aish,

    This is pixel_juice from LJ. I had to comment on this because of the irony. Here in Austin where it is often 110 degrees (43.3 Celsius) during the summer days you will easily get tanned and sunburned if you are outside without sunscreen for more than 15 or 20 minutes. The sun is pretty brutal and I wouldn’t doubt if Austin has it’s own hole in the ozone layer.

    Anyway, since actual “sun tanning” is difficult to do without burning and fair skinned Texans look sort of strange, there are 100s of tanning salons where people pay good money to tan in a controlled environment. Those that can’t afford it or are impatient, actually pay someone to SPRAY their skin with a dye that simulates tanning. Its a mad mad world. I guess that old cliche about green grass is true.


  7. Wnwek – You’ll notice that black actors, models and singers (the men to a lesser extent that the women) who are widely considered attractive are usually comparatively light-skinned – that’s what I was getting at.

    That the fairness thing is a “deep cultural meme” in India is self evident – what I was trying to do (flippantly) in this post was to point out that the preference for fairness is so deep rooted culturally that we seem to have reached a point where companies can’t imagine a customer not wanting to be fairer. Which is simultaneously hilarious and sad.

    Plenty of people have written seriously on the issue of fairness in India – and most of them bring up the matrimonial thing as well. It’s an argument that most readers of this blog are (hopefully) familiar with.

    Ben – That is hilarious! So you have to have a tan because fairness in Texas would look weird because of the weather and yet people’s tans are artificial? Brilliant!

  8. the preference for fairness is so deep rooted culturally that we seem to have reached a point where companies can’t imagine a customer not wanting to be fairer.

    You realize, of course, that that’s an entirely unsupported conclusion.

    a) It may not be a question of what firms can or cannot imagine (assuming that a company has an ‘imagination’ at all) it may be a question of what their market research tells them would be profitable. At most, they’ve reached a point where they believe that there isn’t a large enough market for non-fairness related skin cream (and it’s worth remembering that not everyone uses skin cream) to justify introducing one.

    b) Also, it’s not a question of whether they think there are people out there who don’t want to be fair. It’s a question of whether there are people out there who so hate the idea of fairness that they would not buy a cream that would make them fairer. As long as they don’t believe there’s a significant population of the latter out there, why not add the claim that your product makes skin fairer anyway? That way they appeal to the people who do want fairness and people who don’t want it will end up buying their product anyway.

    I’m obviously not suggesting that the obsession with fairness is a good thing – though I tend to think of it as more silly than evil – but expecting corporations to take the lead in overcoming the problem makes no sense.

  9. Falstaff – I certainly don’t expect corporations to take the lead (or do anything, really, why should they?) in changing how skin colour is perceived in this country. All I’m saying is it would be nice to just buy cream without having to worry that it’s working.

    As for your a) and b), point taken.

  10. I have a friend who’s very fair, and (in the opinion of my girlfriends) not pretty. We say, “Oh, she’s not really pretty, she’s just very fair”. Yet she is thought to be the prettiest in my friend circle by the guys, though there are two other darker girls who, according to me, are a lot sexier.

    We, the darker girls of the group, have often moaned the focus on fairness in India. Now, even guys have to suffer it (Nivea, Fair and Handsome), which gives me some small satisfaction.

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