Look anywhere and everywhere, there are blatant and subtle reinforcements that only fair is lovely. The men have also joined the race with an equal number of fairness products. Such pressure and so little public debate around it-Nandita Das
As a kid, makeup to me was applying face cream, powder, and bindi. That’s how my mother did to herself and me. This routine was in the morning after bath and evening after school, after a few years I started following this routine myself. We all follow our parents’ impressions, don’t we? To be specific on what we used, It was Vicco Turmeric face cream, Lakme compact powder. You can now imagine this scenario in the ’90s, where there were barely any cosmetic brands and even a colour TV in a middle-class household to show the difference between a dark skin tone and a fair skin tone.
This was my favourite time in front of the mirror, these 5 minutes I would grin and kiss myself until the mirror broke (okay, not really). The smell of Vicco Turmeric on my skin was my savoury, my energy booster. Until Vicco Turmeric and Black and White TV were in my life, I didn’t know I was of darker skin tone. (As per societal standards)
And then, our house had to be lit up with colours and a box of sweets to distribute to the neighbours, as we welcomed our BPL colour TV. It’s all about colours now, like a beautiful rainbow in a dark sky. A smaller version of me welcomed the Colour TV and the cable TV with the enthusiasm of watching colourful shows. What I loved the most about Colour TV was the Advertisements. I would diligently watch the Ad’s with the same interest as I would watch a movie/tv show.
Ask any 90’s kid in India, they will know all the ad’s by heart. If you are one of them reading this, I can hear you humming Washing Powder Nirma, Washing Powder Nirma 😀 However, somewhere between these Nirma’s and Liril’s, the fairness cream ad’s had an impact on me. Also, Unknowingly Colour TV’s contributed to colourism on a much larger scale.
Fair & Famous
In this specific Ad, where Actress Genelia is dreaming to be a cricket commentator, she will not be able to grow in her career. She gets fair and lovely in her hand and she becomes a commentator, the fame follows her. So as a kid, what seeded deep in me was, to be famous, I need to be fair. The switch from Vicco Turmeric to Fair & Lovely happened in no time, I was obsessed with this idea of becoming “Fair & Famous (Probably their product name should have been this). Every time the face cream gets empty, I made a rule in my house, that it should only be me who goes to buy a new one.
Teenage! What a beautiful age that we all cherish, the memories we make at this age will stay with us forever. Only if everyone remembers that probably there will not be any bullies at all. I was humiliated multiple times for my colour, I don’t remember feeling bad for it because you know I had my Fair &
Famous Lovely in my hand. I knew one day I will be Fair & Famous (this time I mean it), and that day I will take my revenge on these bullies.
At that age we will not even know it’s bullying, we assume there is something wrong in us, something wrong with the way we are born and we try to make that Wrong->Right. That’s when, Fair & Lovely turned to me as a friend, that pink tube with a smell that changes your life overnight. I had dreams every time I held the cream in my hand & looked at the mirror. I had dreams of being an Air hostess, of being a TV host, of being an actress, of being a model, and I knew none of this is possible until I turn “fair”.
Fair & Lovely was a huge hit, every household I knew had a tube, it turned out like a need as much as drinking water. It didn’t stop there, the success made them branch out to launch different flavours of it like Icecreams. One of my favourites was, Fair & Lovely Ayurveda, that’s when my hopes went even higher. You know, how important Ayurveda is in every Indian house, they touched my heart as they imbibed the core strength of India-Ayurveda.
I started earning, I invested in buying fairness kits, few “Upper-middle-class brands” and I even took a step ahead of getting facials done in the salon. A salon is a place where they will make sure to put your self-esteem down as much as they can, to increase their profits. You go to shape your eyebrows, they say things like we have this special facial that will turn your face like a full moon.
The switch gradually happened, I can’t remember anything in particular that changed my thinking. I stopped using fairness creams, I switched to conscious brands like The Body Shop, I was using BB/CC creams. At this point, I did not have any goal to turn fair; I just needed healthy skin. Around this time, I stumbled upon the campaign by Nandita Das-“Dark & Beautiful” on Facebook. That poster I saw is still edged in front of my eyes when I think of it, it gave me hope that if an actress is promoting a darker colour, so why cant I feel good about what I am born with.
I quit my job and started travelling, I met travellers from all across the world, mostly Europeans and a few Americans. They were all complaining about how much they hate their colour, and how jealous they are of my colour. Even while typing this, I smiled because that boosted my self-esteem that day and the thought of it does, even now.
I also had very little money so I could not afford any products, worked out even better as I started indulging in using products available at home. That’s what our Ayurveda is about, we never had the idea of cream, powder or soap. We have always used the ingredients available in the backyard of our house, turmeric for the face and curry leaves for hair. The beauty is, they need not even be applied externally.
To be fair
In all fairness, guess what I didn’t turn fair (I am ROFL as I typed this sentence), I didn’t turn fair for good. I didn’t turn fair even though I contributed to the biggest scam, I didn’t turn fair although I made these MNC’s turn into billionaires. To be fair, I didn’t turn fair!
All thanks to social media and the exposure of women who are standing tall, strong and proud, whatsoever colour they are. I read lots of stories about how deeply our society is obsessed with the idea of the colour white on our skin. The only colour they can accept on the skin is “White”. I am happy with the changes happening currently in the world, with the communities formed supporting all colours.
We still have a long way to go, just last month; while having dinner with few friends. A friend pointed out at another friend and said, “her colour has increased” (that’s the closest translation I could do of this statement in Kannada) If I would have turned darker, that would have not even been a part of the discussion because Black is not referred as a colour! (Only with skin)
There are lots of factors behind this, which may need another post. Most of the times, these conversations are not even intentional, it’s a conditioned conversation is that I would like to call. If we would like to change the conditioning, we will have to stop ourselves, think before we talk. That’s how we put a break, that’s how our kids learn, that’s how we pave way for our younger generation to accept how they are.
I would like to share 2 instances that have stuck in my head and affected me on a negative note, I want to put it down here so that I can put this to the grave at last. Those situations and words can’t be reversed but can be forgotten!
- During my MBA days, we were on a field trip. All of us were out in the sun, I was applying sunscreen. A classmate of mine, in front of everyone, said: “Sneha, how much ever sunscreen you apply, you won’t turn fair” and started laughing out loud.
- At that right age of marriage, that’s defined by society. You know arranged marriage proposals start coming in. I denied getting married to all those proposals that came in. In front of my mother, this aunt (my mother’s sister) said to me. You are not good looking, how do we find boys for you if you keep denying them!! I remember my mother, feeling insulted about this more than myself.
Whoever is reading this, who could relate or not, who was part of these kinds of situation. Just know, that the moon has dark patches too. Still glows, and still beautiful.
Photos clicked by a dear friend Baishaki Mehatori.