Our society’s obsession with ‘Fair Complexion’

~ Goray rang da zamana kabhi hoga na purana;

Gori darr tujhe kiska hai? Tera to rang gora hai! ~

( It is the era of fair complexion, this era will never get old.

What are you afraid of girl? Your complexion is fair! )

 Sung by a popular band Vital Signs, this song was a super- hit of its time more than two decades ago. In the song, the lyricist highlighted a popular idea that has been haunting the societies of the subcontinent – or even beyond that – since ages. It talks about the concept of a fair complexion as something that is one of the most important things for a girl to lead a satisfactory life. A lady has nothing to be worried about, if she’s got a fair color.

Only a piece of entertainment apparently, the song’s words portray the mindset of our society which expands to almost entire South Asian civilization. This is one reason why some of the sane minds in neighboring India felt the need to come up with the ‘Dark is beautiful’ campaign ‘against the toxic belief that a person’s worth is measured by the fairness of their skin’.

Our shops and markets are bombarded with products that claim to make one’s life a bed of roses by offering something that can change the skin color for life and those products sell like hotcakes. From beauty creams to body lotions, soaps/ face washes to toners and masks, all sorts of whitening products are there guaranteeing the ultimate goal of achieving fair complexion.

It may not sound like a real problem apparently but in reality it is like a termite harming the very society where it emerges from. We often hear some skin experts suggesting not to put oneself in harm and spend extensively on such products warning that it may harm the skin and even if doesn’t – in case you are using a quality brand – it would still be a burden on your pockets and most probably might not turn out to be a permanent fairness solution. But there are strong reasons that justify the obsession for a fair skin among females. There are few disturbing incidences that I have observed myself:

One of my friends once had to present herself in the best possible way before a family who had come to see her – like it happens in arranged marriage scenarios – only to hear later that the family was looking for an extremely fair-complexioned girl which they thought my friend was not. Similarly, one of the family friends wanted their son to marry a lady who ‘should be as white as milk’.

In yet another event, there was once a discussion going on among a group of fellows where one of the guys commented: “I like Katrina but not Deepika for the former is white while the latter is dark.”

They say beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. When the beholder’s criterion of beauty is only fairness, then the right environment is all set for businesses to offer one of the important elements to the world i.e.  secret to fairness. Hence, from lowest to highest quality whitening products are made available for the needy for fulfillment of their dream look. To further impose the idea, the advertisement industry plays its best psychological role to tell the potential consumers how essential it is for them to look fair. While one ad selling such a product says,

Bas pandra minute mein ho gai mein gori gori” (In only 15 minutes I turned white);

Another would be like, “Ab to main bhi dulhan ban jaoongi” (Now even I can become a bride).

In yet another ad, a guy praises his bride by saying “Lagta hai chaand zameen pe utar aya” (It seems like the moon has come down to earth).

And if you think these ads have nothing to do with real world, then the following ad from one of our most-read newspapers’ matrimonial section will give a glimpse of reality:

Matrimonial Ad

Since the demand is there as ever, the other side follows with the following sorts of matrimonial ads – very unfortunate that the society makes the females be presented this way:

11 (2)

In short, the secret to ensuring a timely ideal marriage lies in a girl’s skin being fair. Such is the psyche which is exploited well by all the fairness sellers out there. In a society where a large section still brings up daughters by telling them that one of the major goals of their lives is to secure a successful marital life, such exploitation works really well.

I often see some friends with quite a reasonable complexion carrying fairness products in their handbags and I wonder if they really need one but then I realize that it’s only the result of the obsessed society we are living in where girls have to look good to be valued and thus, they are not to be blamed for struggling to look fairer because that is what the society has made them to believe in.

The irony is that no matter how fair skin a girl has, though it might get her a good marriage proposal, it still cannot guarantee a happy married life. Otherwise, every fair-complexioned lady of the subcontinent would be leading a happy life, which obviously is not the case. What a blessing it would be if we as a society could realize that.

Since a fair skin is not a token of blissful future, it is better to abandon such people who look for snow-whites for making families. Rather, the following powerful words from a song are worth paying heed to where a father advises her daughter very beautifully:

~ Tumko apni talaash karni hai, humsafar koi bhi rahay na rahay

Tumko apnay saharay jeena hai; dhoondti koi aasra na raho ~

 (You have to look for your own potential, whether you have a partner by your side or not.

You have to believe in yourself; don’t keep looking for any support.)


Originally published in Express Tribune Blogs.

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