It is a fairly simple task to find out, what is the most popular cosmetic beauty aid make up in India. Any person connected with this trade would confirm that the whitening creams fill the bill here. (No one knows for sure if these creams really lighten the skin colours.) These creams also are highest selling cosmetic beauty aids in India. Almost all major companies in this cosmetics business, have their own specialized whitening cream, which they try to push under some or other brand name. The annual report of even big daddy Hindustan Lever, recognizes this fact, when it says that from their cosmetic products portfolio, whitening creams have turned out to be one of the most important product. Even in the rural markets, their sale of whitening creams has grown by hundred percent. The second most important change in product user database is that this product, which was mostly used by women, is now being used more and more, even by men. The overall sales of whitening creams in India continues to grow steadily at twenty percent. Other cosmetic majors like ‘Imami,’ Nivea and Garnier have also now started making this product. The companies now have specialized whitening creams for men even.
All these companies, marketing whitening creams, heavily advertise their whitening cream products in all forms of media resulting into a non stoppable continuous bombardment of whitening cream advertisements at us. Most of these advertisements have a common formula. A person (could be a woman or a man but always with a darkened skin), is depressed because his/ her attempts of either getting a job or a friend have been futile so far, when another friend (always with lighter skin colour) recommends a whitening cream to that person. Within few weeks, the skin of our depressed person lightens up and he/she becomes fair. Needless to say that he/she gets the job or friend desired.
One firebrand woman leader and member of India’s parliament, feels aggravated and insulted with these advertisements. She feels that these advertisements actually foster prejudices about darker skin and help apartheid based on skin colour. These advertisements try to create an impressions in your mind that persons with darkened skin are some way or other inferior to persons with lighter skin. In the world of these advertisements, your inborn talents, skills and education have much less importance than the skin colour and you are better likely to get or achieve, whatever you desire, with a lighter skin colour. She has now started complaining about the advertisements with the concerned Government bodies
I do not think that any one would have issues with opinions expressed above by this lady. However, the real world is never like the glitzy world shown in these advertisements. In most of the real world job interviews, the candidate, who has right experience and qualities is normally selected. No one would select an unfit candidate because of skin colour. There are few specialized jobs like that of a receptionist or an air hostess, where looks of a person perhaps is an important factor for selection. In such cases weight might be given to a person with lighter skin. But leaving aside few such jobs, which can be counted on fingers of your hand, the job selection processes would hardly count skin colour as an important criterion for selection.
That leaves only the point of getting friendship of a desired friend with us. In the real world, it would be impossible to predict why a person likes another person. When they form friendship, they do it because they like each other. I don’t think that in a true friendship, colour of skin matters at all. If this is what happens in the real world, why these advertisements try to create a false picture or expectations in our minds? Do most of the ordinary people who watch or see these advertisements really believe in them?
I think the answer to this paradox can be easily found in the mental frame up of most Indians. We are fed, right from our childhood, with stories and rhymes that always describe all the heroines or central figures of stories as fair. The name Snow White itself indicates extreme fairness and that is why her witch mother keeps asking the mirror; “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is fairest of them all? ” It is said that Indians perhaps are the most colour conscious people in the world and I feel that it is a truth to some extent.
Some people attribute this liking of fairness as a remnant sign of our past history, when white English Europeans ruled over us. I do not agree to this view and feel that our attraction of fairness is even much older. The features that are listed even in ancient Sanskrit texts as hallmarks of beauty, include fairness of skin along with others like a straight nose or small sized lips. If a survey is carried out of the matrimonial advertisements, it would be found that more than 90% of the advertisements list fairness as prime requirement. I remember my grand mother’s advice to any pregnant lady, who came to visit her, that she should drink milk mixed with turmeric powder, so that the baby would be fairer.
I think that all of us have a secret urge in our mind to look more beautiful than what we are in reality. In young age, perhaps this urge is very severe. Bald people wear wigs or now days even implant hair. The men and women, in their 40’s get themselves ‘Botox’ injections to remove age wrinkles on their face. Some skinny women even get fat injected in their bodies to improve the look of their body or even have silicone implants. Therefore, once our mind has this fixation that fairer is better, trying out different ways to look fairer is natural. The fairness cream advertisements try to take advantage of this fixation in the minds of all Indians that fairer is better, and try to impress on us the superiority of their products.
The anger and aggravation of our woman leader notwithstanding, as long as we Indians have this fixation with fairness and want to look fairer, the sales of whitening creams are bound to grow only skywards. It is also obvious that larger is the share of these whitening creams in the total cosmetics markets, more would be the bombardment of advertisements at us.
(First published in Akshardhool on 7th April 2013)