By- Aneesha Puri

Nothing can escape from the ravages of time and the advertisements of the most popular cosmetic product- fairness creams have had their own evolution in the last two decades in India. The advertisements no longer show that a coy, good-hearted young girl who is nothing but a paragon of traditionally cherished virtues, has to face rejection in the harsh marriage market because of her dark complexion, instead now we have a young professional woman who wants to climb up the ladder in the corporate world but faces hurdles due to her unfavourable skin tone. So matrimony is no longer the only option available to young women to carve their niche in the world, they are apparently free to explore their potential in any unchartered territory of their interest but on one condition: glowing fair complexion. Lest the good old married women should feel left out in the world of charm and beauty, there are newly launched fairness products especially catering to middle aged women who due to ageing undergo inevitable skin darkening and hence must be suffering severe uncontrollable insecurities about their married lives. To make the whole fuss about fairness creams supposedly more equal on the gender front, now we have men narrating stories about how an application of a particular brand of fairness cream made them nothing short of irresistible Greek gods and majorly contributed to getting them their dream jobs. So it is apparently a move towards a more equal society. But is it really a progressive societal gesture? The obsession with fairness and stereotyping of people with dark complexion and the carefully constructed images of desirable and undesirable by the consumerist culture concocts an unhealthy mixture of regional chauvinism noxious for a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-racial population. So what is the solution? To spread around a philanthropic message that God resides in every being irrespective of his or her physical attractiveness? Well, this is nothing but arousing pity and sympathy for the ones supposedly born unlucky due to dark skin tone and does not combat the deeply entrenched fetish with the fair skin. The desperate urgency is not just to appeal to the humanity of the ones with dark complexion, but to deconstruct the whole notion of ‘only fair is beautiful’ as a corollary of colonial hangover. The contemporary Neo-colonialism is persistently marketing western aesthetic standards as the quintessence of beauty. The problem of normative and conventional beauty is that it is not just about physical appearance. Society is still reeling under the Platonic conceptualisation of external beauty connoting inner worth. What is externally in sync with normative standards of beauty becomes a testimony to inner virtue. As per the logic scheme and moral universe represented by the fairness cream advertisements, fairness is almost apparently always equal to ‘beautiful’ and’ beautiful’ is supposedly the same as ‘good’ and this ‘good’ can be variously interpreted as “virtuous” in case of a marriageable girl, ”talented and ready to take on the world” in the case of a professional girl and “confident and determined” in the case of a man appearing for a job interview.

Aneesha  Puri  is pursuing her Masters in English Literature from Miranda House. A self-confessed book- ravisher , keen surveyor of  society and its ideological politics, loves deconstructing and decoding  anything and everything that even remotely concerns people,  ranging from  celebrated, canonical literary texts to popular cinema and advertisements.  Her idea of utopia is a truly emancipated world which allows everyone, unfettered freedom to foster  his/ her potential to the maximum.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind