The power of media can be denied by none. An average woman sees around 400 ads on a daily basis. And how many of these advertisements tell her how she is supposed to look? Well, unfortunately, the answer is too many.

The Advertising Industry has time and again been accused of sexism, whether it’s in the recent controversy of “Take your work home” ad by Jack and Jones which depicts Bollywood star Ranveer Singh carry a girl across his shoulder, or the persistent Fair and Lovely ads that promise to ‘’cure’’ your dark skin. The advertising industry benefits from the insecurities that plague not just Indian women but now also men. Whether it’s the ad for green tea or for a breakfast cereal, it rests on the narrative of – ‘if you are not thin, you are undesirable.’

The ridiculousness of linking fairness to a successful career or happy marriage is found in all promotions of cosmetic products. The next necessary question is – what impact does it have? The impact does not end in the matrimonial ads seeking fair, thin and ‘homely’ brides. The impact goes beyond years of struggling with low self esteem and inferiority complex.

A few years ago, All India Democratic Women’s Association carried out a research in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu only to discover that on an average women spent more on cosmetic products in the hope to get rid of their dark skin rather than on required sources of nutrition like milk. A prominent member of AIDWA that helped conduct this study, Sudha Sundaram tells us “The way in which beauty is being linked to goodness is problematic. Products like fairness creams are racist in a country where 70-80% of people are dark skinned. It’s bad for their health and sense of equality and achievement.”

However we do witness slow progress and a change in mentality. For instance, Chirayu Jain, a student at National Law School Bangalore, has filed a complaint against Hindustan Pencils at a consumer court accusing the company of racism for producing a crayon named ‘skin’ the color of ‘’light peach’’. He questioned why the company chose to label this particular shade of colour as ‘’skin’’ when majority of Indians do not look that way. Jain demanded compensation as well as that the company “refrain from projecting racist ideas.” He started an online petition and a campaign “Brown n Proud” to raise awareness about the same.

Image result for hindustan pencils crayon skin the colour of light peach

Although colorism is a newly coined term by Alice Walker, an American novelist and activist, the history of colour discrimination can be traced to racism in the west, and caste-discrimination in the Indian subcontinent. It’s been an umbrella term for causing an inferiority complex that goes hand in hand with slavery. Since most Dalits or so called ‘’untouchables’’ were darker in skin in comparison to the light-skinned Brahmins who were considered superior under the caste system, it has unfortunately ingrained a desire to look fair in the Indian society. Similarly, the colonial hang up is a part of systemic cultural oppression by the white rulers to establish dominance against the colonized.

This obsession of looking ‘’gora’’ is an implicit belief in one’s racial inferiority which can be seen in all parts of the world. While we see brand ambassador of Fair and Lovely Yami Gautam regard her fairness like it’s her greatest achievement, this mentality is playing at a world stage. Recently a detergent advertisement earned a lot of criticism while it showed a Chinese woman push an African man’s face down the washing machine until he magically transforms into a light-skinned Chinese man.

The subscription to Eurocentric patriarchal beauty standards is reflected through the exclusivity of fair actors, actresses and models in Bollywood. At the same time, when famous personalities like Kalki Koechlin take a stand and refuse to participate in any advertisements regarding fairness creams, it brings a ray of much-needed hope. Meanwhile a country in west Africa, Ghana, has banned all fairness products in a bid to end colourism. As a result, “Dark and Lovely’’ has become the number one cosmetic product there.

Whether promotion of Dark as the symbol of beauty is a part of black pride, or just another beauty ideal, is a rather controversial debate. Regardless, of whether it’s a successful solution or just another misguided but well meaning attempt, it is an instance of colourism. Many feminist groups and women’s rights activists have raised their voices to stop these beauty ideals from being forced down the throats of several generations. In early 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan spoke out against body-shaming ads that were plastered across the tubes in the city. He raised concerns for the advertisement that potrayed a bikini clad, conventionally attractive, thin woman with the slogan- “Are you beach body ready?” The mayor spoke about how “Nobody should feel pressured while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic beauty standards surrounding their bodies and I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this.”

The above instances prove how unrealistic beauty standards are a global phenomenon even though the cultural implications are different in various societies. All said and done, there’s a burning need for Indian mentality to get rid of the colonial hangup.

(Cover Photo: A screenshot from an ad for a winter fairness cream)