Recently, the Netflix show “Indian Matchmaking” became one of the most hyped shows on the platform, with people all across social media talking about it. A sort of reality-show that covers the journey of a few Indian individuals in New York trying to find a partner through an arranged meet-up by a “matchmaker”. While the focus of this piece won’t be the show, it will be one particular characteristic Indian parents always desperately want in their prospective children-in-law. “ FAIR ”. One word we see riddled across almost every proposal.
Academic successes, jobs, personalities; everything practically essential in a life partner, somehow goes into hindsight, with the number one priority for suitability being the fair colour of one’s skin. While the world is protesting against racial discrimination, Indians still have not been able to disassociate beauty with fairness. I find it very weird that in a country where a majority of our population has a brown skin tone, everyone wants a fair son or daughter-in-law.
Today, social media holds a lot of power. It gives people a place to strongly voice out their opinions and gives it a platform to reach millions. People have expressed their concerns over this issue as well. Youngsters being exposed to the world’s ideas, and becoming more woke day by day, are vehemently opposing the idea of fairness as being beautiful. Brands across the world have always heard what people are talking about in the digital space, and have made changes to their products and ad campaigns to fit in with their audiences. In keeping with this, in June 2020, Hindustan Unilever Limited’s product, Fair and Lovely changed their product name to “Glow and Lovely”. This fairness cream has been a very famous skin-whitening product across South and South East Asia. While I do believe that every small step counts, I feel like this does not change anything. All it is is a PR exercise to portray itself as an issue-sensitive brand while continuing to make profits by showing someone with a darker skin tone suddenly turning pale.
Across decades, the advertisements for this product have shown how people across all professions get promotions because they used the cream and got fairer. Air hostesses, corporate jobs, and even doctors. Let me say that again. Doctors. Promoted because they got fairer. The brand, along with several others like L’oreal, has created this passion for fairness in the minds of the common man. Fair=beautiful. I am eagerly waiting to see how the brand now sets it’s new marketing and advertisement campaigns. If they still show how someone getting a little paler wins at everything, this will be a lost cause. Changing ‘Fair’ to ‘Glow’ will have had no impact at all.
What we truly need, are campaigns against this. Campaigns that promote being comfortable and feeling beautiful in your own skin, no matter which colour it is. We need celebrities to actively speak up on the matter, instead of just posting stories and tweets saying “Black Lives Matter” to pander to audiences abroad, while they do advertisements promoting products like this in real life. Bollywood has played a huge huge role in making the “gori” the most beautiful. Songs, dialogues, movie names, and of course scripts and movie plots need to be changed to actually have meaning, instead of focusing entirely on the fair skin tone of the actress. Villains need not be darker than the heroes and heroines.
We are majorly a brown population, and that should be celebrated. It is one big reason why the wave of Black Lives Matter barely penetrates Indian minds because we consider anything darker than white to be less. Shaadi.com too recently removed their “skin preference” filter after facing backlash from its users. While these are welcome steps, it is astounding how companies that make crores of rupees and spend so much on research remain oblivious to any sort of positive change.
Companies like Barbie are making more-inclusive dolls now, and crayon companies in the USA no longer call peachy-white as “skin colour”. Few actors like Jameela Jamil are taking stands against these issues, and promoting beauty in oneself, asking people to love themselves no matter what shape their bodies or colour their skins are. Sales did not go down in the least bit, and the companies actually contributed to improving society and fulfilling their corporate social responsibility.
It is going to be a long-drawn battle, but as long as our brands do not actively have campaigns and products that fight against this notion, as long as our films and TV have “humour’ based on the color of someone’s skin and the way someone looks, and as long as Bollywood stars do not actually take the correct stand for this, we as a society are not going to change, and mind you, changing a fairness cream product’s name by one word is a flimsy attempt at covering up all the negativity spreads through decades in the minds of the people.