Sunday, December 06, 2009 - Comments 3
While most of the efforts of the True Campaign’s efforts to challenge the cultural standards of beauty have to do with issues of weight and size the Dark is Beautiful Campaign of India is working to challenge cultural standards of another kind. In many countries dark skin is seen as inferior to light skin. In fact, as seen in the video below advertising Pond’s skin lightening product “White Beauty” which sells women on the idea that they will be loved if only their skin were lighter:
To help you gain some insight into this sad trend we interviewed Kavita Israel, director of the Dark is Beautiful Campaign:
True Campaign: In America many men and women spend hours in the sun or salons in an attempt to achieve a darker skin tone. Would you help us understand how your culture is different than ours?
Kavita: In India the story is quite different. Being “fair skinned: is considered beautiful. India is actually a combination of many different cultures and ethnic groups. We have therefore all sorts of skin tones ranging from white, whiter shades of brown to darker shades of brown and so on. But the general perception is that “fair’ is beautiful and ‘dark’ is not. The darker a person is the lesser are his or her chances to be considered beautiful. In fact the bias or prejudice is so strong that they are often seen as the second or last option in industries that seem to set beauty norms such as fashion, film, hospitality and services, etc.
TC: How is the prejudice against darker skin usually expressed?
Kavita: People with dark skin have been put down and treated differently from their other, fairer skinned siblings. They often hear uncomplimentary words from their own family members and relatives, which usually has long-lasting effects on their self-esteem. They have been rejected by potential marriage partners (in the arranged marriage system), are often subject to negative comments made by friends and even strangers from a very impressionable age. Comments like, ‘she has nice features, but she is so dark or being dark, she will have trouble finding a nice-looking guy’ are not unfamiliar comments.
It’s not only women who experience the bias towards fairness. Men have similar experiences when it comes to jobs or feeling attractive. But the effect on women is more pronounced.
TC: Where do you think the preference for lighter skin comes from? Is American culture as seen through movies and television part of the cause?
Kavita: This false belief has been shaped by societal attitudes and reinforced and is taken advantage of by the media. Every other advertisement you would find on Indian television channels promotes a “fairness product’. In India I would say the problem is deeper than one can possibly imagine. I am attaching part of an article that was written about our campaign in one of our leading newspapers:
“It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white emphatically crooned Wacko Jacko. But before the song could favourably colour our views, Michael Jackson himself embarked on a ruthless peeling, whitening mission, leaving no grey area about his obsession with fair skin. But in our country, this fixation with fairness acquires epidermal proportions. While our Health Minister of a hundred causes would like to banish forever the ugly stretch marked by commercials on TV that promises to blanch, bleach and breach every flaw in our skin, maybe someone ought to tell him it’s not fair blaming the cosmetic industry alone for our black out mindset. The temptation of turning a shade or shadow lighter is something many cannot resist if only because it conforms to our widely held belief of beauty being synonymous with fair skin. And advertisements in the media only mirror our engagement with our fair at-any-cost outlook.“
TC: How have people responded to your campaign?
Kavita: The response has been amazing, even beyond our expectations. The purpose of the contest was to give people an outlet to express their sadness or frustration regarding discrimination based on skin colour. As this is such a sensitive issue in India we had to go about it very cautiously. Many who’ve been victims of such discrimination would probably hesitate to even admit that this is an issue as the bias usually starts from within the family. So our aim was to give this issue ‘artistic expression’ through the various events / contests we had put together and it worked just great.
All the leading newspapers of our city carried an article about our campaign. Some of the articles are a must read, you will find it on our campaign website: www.darkisbeautiful.in
Our special thanks to British Council Chennai who partnered with us and gave us great support. We believe that this is just the beginning. Our desire is to take this message that “beauty is beyond colour’ across our whole nation.
TC: The True Campaign tends to deal with the prejudice toward thinner bodies as more valuable. Is this also an issue in India?
Kavita: I guess that is an issue world wide. Yes, it is an issue in India that is becoming increasingly damaging to thousands of young girls who constantly see the thinnest of models and movie actors as role models for beauty. But this is an issue mostly felt across urban India. Whereas the issue of skin colour bias resides even in the remotest parts of India.
Thank you Kavita for taking the time to talk with us. We hope and pray that both of our campaigns experience success in challenging the cultural standards of beauty and treating women of all shapes and colors with respect.