Fair skin has its advantages in India
Way back in 1978, Hindustan Unilever (a division of Unilever in India) launched a skin whitening cream called Fair & Lovely. It's been a runaway success ever since and is going strong even now! That's not all. Fair & Lovely is not only available for women to help them in the eternal quest to become a fair bride (a highly sought after status in India), it now available for men as well! Talk about gender equality!
Contemporary India is obsessed with fair skin. Fair skin is equated with wealth, health, greater social standing, and therefore highly desirable. Fair skinned people are always treated with respect in public places and the marriage market places so much premium on fair skin that prospective brides and bridegrooms spend a fortune trying to look fair.
So when did India start to assume that fair is better? Here are some historical pointers that give us some clues on this rather pointless trend.
The history behind India's love affair with fair skin
We are not makers of history. We are made by history - Martin Luther King, Jr.
India's history is riddled with clues on what was life before the nation embraced Fair & Lovely.
Here are four nuggets from the past that throws light on the evolution of attitudes towards skin color.
1. Here is an interesting point about how Indian's viewed fair skin during the time of the famous European explorer, Marco Polo. Ronald Latham wrote a book titled “The Customs of the Kings of India” . This book is a travelog of Marco Polo. Here is what he had to say about India that will surprise you.
“For I assure you that the darkest man is here the most highly esteemed and considered better than others who are not so dark. Let me add that in very truth these people portray and depict their gods and their idols black and their devils white."
2. This site refers to a statement made by the British soldier Charles Gold in 1806. Apparently, according to Gold, South Indian women of the Coromandel Coast were "of small stature, have good figures, and some have such pleasing and delicate features that were it not for their complexions, they might be termed beautiful”.
3. While it is tempting to just assume that that the preference of fair skin was because of the British, here is an evidence that points to something else! According to the translated version of the Russian journal Khozheniye za tri morya (The Journey Beyond the Three Seas), that provides an account of the Russian traveler Afanasy Nikitin when he visited India in the 15th century. Here is an extract:
In the land of India, it is the custom for foreign traders to stop at inns; there the food is cooked for the guests by the landlady, who also makes the bed and sleeps with the stranger. Women that know you willingly concede their favors, for they like white men.
4. Finally, fair skinned people in India seem to have the same genes that most Europeans have! According to Popular Science, A team of biologists from Europe, India and Australia examined the genes of more than 1,600 South Asian people. Although previous studies had found three genes play a part in skin color in South Asians, the researchers zeroed in on the one gene identified as most important, SLC24A5, called allele A. Allele A is what makes Europeans and some South Asians fairer. This once again points to a possible migration of fairer skinned people to India and the effect it has had on India's preference for paler skin colors.
Things are changing!
While the preference for fair skin will continue to dominate the Indian psyche, darker skinned people are fighting back. There is a growing awareness about the fact that skin color doesn't make anyone good or bad. While India has a log way to go before Indians go completely "color blind", there is hope for all of us no matter what our skin color is.