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     Volume 6 Issue 24 | June 22, 2007 |

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White-wash, Brain-wash

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Finally it is official. There is no beating about the bush, no attempt to even disguise it with clever words. We are blatantly, unashamedly white-wannabes. At least that's what the ads of the most popular skin products tell us. It's not about softer, younger-looking skin anymore, it's about softer, whiter-looking skin that apparently 'brings out your inner glow'. In other words every single one of us, even those of us with the strongest Dravidian genes, were actually meant to be white-skinned. It's just that we didn't know how to get rid of that ugly-dirty-melanin-filled layer that is the root of all our problems. Now, with all these wonderful products we can become as white as we want to be.

And it's not just us vain women who have been targeted, oh sorry, chosen, for these life-changing concoctions. Men no longer have to feel left out of the whiteness bandwagon. We have Fair and Handsome creams that will ensure instant stardom - the hell with myths like tall, dark and handsome - everyone knows that fair is in, dark is out right? There is also another product from Nivea, a whitening cream that a man just puts on after a rough and tumble with sun, sand and mud. The ad announces that it's nice to know that someone is always taking care of you, meaning the magic cream that will whiten, brighten and basically make sure that life is a breeze…

Reality check. Even with extremely little scientific knowledge it is obvious to most of us that our skin colour is determined by our genes, either inherited from a parent or grandparent or great-grandparents. True, weather, specifically sun-exposure can significantly darken the skin but usually the original colour comes back once the tan wears off. Thus the melanin inside the skin is pretty much there when we are born and common knowledge is that it is this melanin that protects the skin from the harmful rays of the sun. Thus the frenzied use of sunblock by people with lighter, whiter skin which does not have this natural protection.

Now however, we are being told how bad our brown skin is. How unattractive a dark woman or even man is, so much so that a career, marriage prospect, basically whether you make it in life or not -all of this depends on how much of that cream you have been using.

One might argue that this is just an ad and most people are quite aware of it and so do not necessarily take it very seriously. But the truth is that people may not take the efficacy of the product too seriously (although many will, enough to buy it) but the message that is being put through to a wide range of people, maybe taken to heart. As it is our society promotes the idea that fair is good, dark is not so good, now they are saying this over and over again on television, one of the most powerful mediums.

These ads reinforce the racist attitudes that are part and parcel of not just South Asian but Asian, identities. They help to delude people into thinking that just by using a cream they can control their destiny. The manufacturers of these products will give volumes of literature on the surveys and tests they have done to show that these products do in fact lighten the skin. The question is just how much. Is it enough to make one feel more confident and hence successful?

Even assuming that these creams are safe and do lighten the skin to a certain extent, why are we so hooked on this idea that lighter is better? These products are an insult to people of colour, whether we are black, dark brown, light brown, wheatish, yellow or any shades in between. It is important for people to be proud of their ethnicity and their skin colour. Nothing is more pathetic than being uncomfortable in one's original skin.


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