By: Niharika S. Patil
A very old advertisement of a popular fairness brand plays on television. This girl with much lighter skin suggests that a dark skinned girl uses the product, and tells her that she can be as light skinned as she is! You might have seen similar ads elsewhere in the world. In the West, in Asia, or in a different part of the world. But in the West, they have started accepting their skin as it is, presenting a different type of beauty, suggesting that true beauty comes from your uniqueness. Western celebrities implore their masses of adoring fans to love themselves as they are. Then in India, celebrities who have lightened their skin (if they were not part of the lucky few to be born white as a lily) through surgery and photoshop, stand smiling with a fairness cream.
Young girls walking in the mall with their friends see the photo of a beautiful, fair skinned girl with men swooning around her, while she poses with the fairness cream, accessorizing with a knowing smile. Young women hear that their friend got married (that ultimate goal for young women) not because she was witty, or caring, or stylish, but because she has fair skin. Older women avoid the sun at all costs, not to prevent skin cancer or wrinkles, but to prevent their skin darkening. As if the fairness creams/ beauty treatment for women wasn’t enough, then came the men’s fairness cream. There’s a huge competition in the beauty market and the demand for them is increasing day by day. The obsession with fair skin is rampant in the media. Kpop fansites whitewash their idols’ face, Indian ads use painfully obvious filters which makes the models skin paler than snow. When we are bombarded constantly with evidence why dark skin is ugly, how can we ever be expected to be happy in our own complexions? These fairness creams are not cosmetic, nor are they even useful. They do *not* make your skin fairer, and don’t even have any other uses, such as making your skin softer or smoother. On the contrary, they damage your skin, giving you blemishes and dryness.
Older women avoid the sun at all costs, not to prevent skin cancer or wrinkles, but to prevent their skin darkening
I saw many people use these creams, not only dark skinned people, but also light skinned people. I’m nowhere close to dark skinned (also called dusky), but I also wanted to use them. The brand wasn’t promoting just fairness, but an entire lifestyle. I wanted it. As a young kid, I didn’t pay any attention to these beauty standards, but as I reached adolescence, the message slowly began seeping in. And I thought this existed only in India, because internet wasn’t accessible back then and you couldn’t get in touch with people so easily . But as soon I caught up with the internet, social media, I realized colourism is a widely prevalent phenomenon in Asia. Just recently I watched a YouTuber talking about colourism. They were talking about how colourism exists and summarised that it exists not because Asians want to be white, but only because it signifies that the person has a high status. And honestly, I agree with them. Asians tend to associate dark skinned people as lower status.
The message slowly began seeping in
I don’t think that I can speak for all Asians, by any means. I can talk about Indians and other South told to not play in the sun, because we might get a tan. We are told to cover our faces if we walk outside, we are told to apply sunscreen so that we can prevent our skin from tanning. I can’t speak for the struggles of other ethnicities with dark skin, but what I can say is that it’s not easy to be a dark-skinned Asian
So, what can we do about this as Asians collectively?
I don’t think that saying “Oh no, but you’re beautiful!” is going to solve anything. We have to address this issue, not by just talking about it, but actually doing something about it. For one, we shouldn’t recommend, even as a joke, that dark skinned people should use fairness treatments. They don’t make you fairer, they just make you hate yourself. Yes, applying sunblock and sun protection is extremely important, but we should apply it so that our skin isn’t damaged- and dark skin is not damaged skin.
To all the Asians:
You’re beautiful and you don’t need to be light skinned to be considered beautiful, or worthy. It doesn’t matter what skin color you have. What are your thoughts, your talents, your creativity, your message- that is what matters. So what if you’re slightly dark, or even the darkest skin color? Melanin is a beautiful thing. So what if you’re slightly tanned? And so what if you don’t fit in the ‘Asian beauty standard’ of fairness? I see you, and I only see the human that wants to put their work, their message out there, who wants to leave their mark in this world. And I don’t think that you having a lighter skin color than before will change anything. I see myself and I have accepted my skin color. I see you and I have accepted your skin color.
(Header image: Pexels)