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Accolades for Akki – Bollywood star Akshay Kumar slams ‘fairness products’ and endorsers of such products at a news conference.
Rani Mukerji, Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu, Konkona Sen Sharma are all the dusky leading ladies of Bollywood that may have succumbed to the ‘Fair and Lovely’ fever at one time or another–even images of them found on the internet are substantially lighter in tone than their actual skin color.
While my mother in the United States of America is haggling me about my ‘sun-burnt’ skintone wondering when it would get better and my 75-year-old grandmother ruins her face with yet another facial product in her efforts to lighten her skin color (‘fix’ her face as they put it in my family), thousands of other Indian mothers across the world buy fairness and beauty creams for their young daughters. Darkness is a curse in our culture–it is likened to ‘evil’ — one need not look further than Diwali, “Festival of Lights” — the victory of good over evil, light over dark. Even Hindu Gods are depicted as light-skinned contrary to texts that write about their androgyny and darker tones.
The persistent importance given to ‘lightness’ and ‘light-skin’ is not just Indian culture but across the world. The global economy of whiteness employs fairness creams that exacerbate and thrive on the kind of racism that privileges light skin over dark and you will even find them in markets across the Middle East and Northern Africa, in villages of Southern African countries and beyond.
By now, everyone must have heard about the alleged L’Oreal white-washing of Beyonce Knowles that drew an immense amount of criticism :
But L’oreal has done this before with Former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in another commercial. She looks light-skinned, blue-eyed, and devoid of any ‘Indian-ness’ even in her accent and passes for ‘white’ in this commercial where she is seen stating “feels like your dark hair is too dark” (whatever that means)…
Maybe it is not just about ‘light-skin’ but our perception of what makes women beautiful, at times an intersectionality between race and gender. Are our women just not beautiful enough for the world of glitz and glamour? After all, Penelope Cruz wore fake eyelashes for L’ OReal last year, Kate Winslet‘s thighs were substantially thinned down, Keira Knightley‘s breasts were suddenly enlarged, Eva Longoria‘s frown lines were airbrushed, the list goes on as time and again real beauty is desecrated by photoshop.
However, the privileging of whiteness, of light-skin over dark, cuts across borders and gender binaries when even the biggest star of Bollywood Shahrukh Khan (touted as the most popular movie celebrity in the world with a fan-following that leaves Tom Cruise biting dust), has endorsed “Fair and Handsome” for men:
When questioned about his endorsement, SRK quips, ““All fairness products are really appearance enhancing, more to do with brightness than fairness.”
Sure Shahrukh, just like your public smoking appearances have more to do with “appearing cool” than increasing public health risks.