a woman of the 21st century. I believe in myself. I know that
with my mirror-shattering beauty, I can make any dashing young
man fall in love-at-first-sight with me. I know my parents
will never lack anything because I can fulfil their every
dream. I know I can do anything, be at par with any man in
any profession. I know I can fly . . . Because I'm fair!
of a let-down? Sad, but true.
Who would've thought that one's complexion could determine
one's level of self-confidence, security, love and marriage
prospects, even social acceptance and a career? The disturbing
truth is that -- especially in our part of the world -- it
always has. The even more pathetic truth is that, despite
the centuries and so much "progress", it still does.
from television commercials -- and less but still apparent
from the way people check each other out -- that being "light-skinned"
increases (dramatically) a person's, especially a woman's,
prospects for marriage and even jobs. A fair complexion does
wonders. Not only will it clinch the most sought-after eligible
bachelor (hitherto unimagined, so good-to-be-true was he)
but it will literally take one flying through the skies!
Not at all, for these are the manifest messages of often highly
inappropriate advertisements for fairness products, ranging
from creams and lotions to soaps and milks. Fairness is equivalent
to beauty, confidence and control over one's life.
could argue this? Almost every face up on the silver screen
that we know to be a success story is fair. There are exceptions;
mostly those who end up playing vamps and seductresses show
their dark sides. But, over all, fairness is the symbol of
innocence and purity, glamour and success.
nowadays -- thanks to modern technology -- even "dusky"
faces seem pale enough under all the lighting. And, thanks
to the art of make-up, every bride on stage on her wedding
day is painted (sometimes unrecognisably) white, making each
one indistinguishable from the other. (Not to mention their
cloned guests with their identically shaped eyebrows, straightened
hair, crepe sarees, dark lipstick and fair-polished skin.)
as long as any woman in our society can remember, they have
either been praised for being very fair (and so, beautiful),
been tolerated for being "shyamla" or,
better still "ujjol shyamla", or looked
down upon for being "kalo" (meaning black),
"moyla" (intended to mean black but literally
meaning dirty) and a variety of other adjectives, depending
on the home district one is from.
concern for most women, especially of the third category,
is a good marriage, which seems sort of unlikely if you can't
describe yourself as "brilliant white" or at least
"wheatish" in your bio-data. In rural areas, though
you're usually married off to someone much older and, yes,
darker than yourself, a compromise is sometimes made by the
girl's side offering a higher dowry (which is illegal anyway)
than usual. Some people actually consider a dark complexion
to bring bad luck to the family, ruining any chances of prosperity,
causing many an in-law to agonise over their less-than-fair
daughters-in-law. A job, which would have been somewhat of
a saving grace, also becomes a little iffy at times, depending
on the level of prejudice of your prospective employers.
not everyone in this world is white or fair, and not everyone
who is, is successful. Again, there are a number of success
stories of those who aren't. But we make the biggest deal
out of those who are and somehow, for whatever reason, most
people want to be. They are made to want it. Those who don't
care still have to work somewhat harder to create an impression
alongside those pale beauties. But why should they?
obsession with looking like our colonial rulers, or our great-to-the-power-of-infinity
Aryan ancestors -- basically, looking like people we're not?
Because they were the rulers, and the more we looked like
them, the more chance we had of escaping our own miserable
roots and the farther we were from ploughing the fields day
in and day out? Perhaps that's one of the reasons. Then of
course there's globalisation and the media and marketing and
consumerism (and everything else we can blame this on).
no end to the reasons and they all make sense. Be it Cindy
Crawford or Aishwarya Rai, most faces plastered on billboards,
TV screens and magazines are flawlessly fair (face it, there
are only a handful of Naomi Campbells, Halle Berrys and Bipasha
Basus up there). So what if their looks don't represent those
of the majority population of their country? The faces up
there are what are considered to be beautiful and they are
what we all strive to look like. And, compared to liposuction
and nose jobs, fairness is usually the simplest and cheapest
way to go about it. It's also the predominantly striking factor.
As one wise woman said, as long as you're fair, it doesn't
matter even if you're missing a nose!
so women, and, actually, even many men (32 percent of consumers
of fairness creams in India, apparently), make the sun their
worst enemy and go in search of their true complexion (usually
brought out in four to six weeks) in tubes and sachets and
pots and packs, generally costing between Tk 6 and Tk 50.
There really is no end to one's choices and they all meet
the latest craze -- from being ayurvedic (excuse
me, but then what harmful chemicals have I been slathering
on my face all these years since I was six?), to having the
power to make you not only fair but also looking fresh, nourished,
unblemished and glowing pink. And, for those who can afford
beyond the plethora of ready-to-apply creams and soaps and
everything else being sold, there are always the beauty parlours,
ready with their bleaches and polishes (often confusing the
drivers picking up their apas and khalammas
at the gate).
really a done deal. For ages, we've been taught and we've
taught that fair means beautiful, and with outer beauty comes
every other success in life. In the modern day and age, businesses
pick up on this obsession, advertise like mad to create demand
lest we stray from our inherent beliefs, and provide us with
just what we want and desperately need. And, for most of us,
who just want to look like everyone else, this is fine. Who
are we to want diversity, to challenge the stereotyped, i.e.,
accepted notions of beauty and glamour and success and set
our own standards and trends?
have choices. Society and advertisers only half-force their
ideals upon us. They can't sell them if we don't buy. Most
of us simply give in and choose not to be different (and,
thus, truly striking). We'd rather all look lovely by glowing