over the years from our original shade of colour and therefore suffer from an identity crisis of sorts. If you ask any average Bengali what the colour of their skin is, very few will be able to tell you they are brown. They will identify their colour as either fair or dark. This colour consciousness has been ingrained deeply in us.” Bad enough as this is, having to hear from older generations and sometimes even your peers that you are not fair enough to be good enough, manufacturers have found a way to make a profit from this defective thought process.
They try to convince viewers that seemingly unrelated matters such as job prospects, talent, intelligence and love are somehow dependent on skin colour. The worst part is, they are hugely successful in doing so. TV shows and movies reinforce these attitudes subtly, by casting fair skinned actors for lead roles. The fairness product industry is now worth billions. “In my opinion, when ad campaigns for fairness products are created by multinationals, they are shying away from their social responsibilities,” Multinational companies use messages to influence says media analyst perceptions attached to skin colour. Muhammad Jahangir. According to Jahangir, skinned woman. Most TV shows, these ads and media campaigns theatre performances and movies patronise all the negative values and made in the subcontinent have fair beliefs within the society and skinned protagonists. The question reinforce them, while discarding the that arises now is, why are we still g o o d . “ I f y o u h e a r a n d s e e holding on to this archaic mindset? something at least 20 times a day, “I think this is because unlike the you are bound to be convinced at black and the white population, our some point,” he says. “The problem people do not have a history is, very few people question these attached to the colour of their skin,” campaigns and of those who do, says Karim. “We are considered a even fewer stand up for their hybrid society that has changed beliefs. Many women lose their selfMarch 9-22, 2012
confidence because of these ads and they carry themselves in a way that makes them invisible or unnoticeable. These campaigns in a way cripple women psychologically. You look good if you think you do and are confident because you know you look good—people tend to forget that.”
No scientific basis
Jahangir shares that there is no guarantee or scientific proof that these fairness products actually work the way they are advertised. “I have worked with people in pharmaceutical companies who say that these don’t bring about the changes in skin colour that the ads promise,” says Jahangir. “However their voices are not heard. The multinational companies creating these ads have huge expensive campaigns and the people opposing them do not have funds to equal theirs to create anti-fairness product campaigns. So for the most part, they are ignored.” In the past the only way a dark skinned woman could change her skin colour was through the use of many layers of white make-up. Although the tradition of the unnaturally white bride (or person wanting party make-up done) still continues, nowadays every parlour in the city offers ways to become whiter, permanently. They offer whitening facials that contain bleach and encourage regular visits to maintain the resulting artificially fair skin. Those who can afford it spend thousands on what they call “skin treatment”. This phenomenon is not just limited to South Asia. East Asian women, who are already light skinned, try ways to be lighter, Middle Eastern women crave for a more pinkish white colour—the obsession is widespread. “We have progressed in terms of women’s education and development, but we have a long way to go, perhaps another century before this mindset can be changed,” says Muhammad Jahangir. • 21
Photos by A mirul Rajiv/ The Daily Star
religion,” says Karim, “The word Krishna means black/dark, but the Hindu god is depicted as a blue man, simply because there is no way black is a good colour for a god. Think about the goddess Durga who has many identities, one of which is Kali the warrior. Kali is the only goddess who is painted black, and that too because she is the angry and dangerous version of Durga— attributes that are generally viewed in a negative light. All other gods and goddesses are painted white.” Innumerable famous paintings and sculptures glorify the white