Sunday, February 14, 1999
IF you were to believe the extravagant declarations made in matrimonial advertisements in newspapers, you would expect Indians to be of only gora, white, extremely fair complexion, with stray incidence of wheatish colour. Aspiring brides now even the grooms all of them claim to have a very fair complexion.
Nirad C. Chaudhuri, in his Autobiography of an Unknown Indian wrote caustically on Indians colour bias: "This comes out most blatantly in connection with marriages.... An intense artificial selection in favour of fair complexion is going on throughout our country. I have seen many matrimonial advertisements laying down unreasonably unIndian standards of complexion, and among them one... asking for a bride of Jewish complexion" This scenario he observed more than four decades ago.
Times and things have changed much since yesterdays bias is todays obsession. The craze for fair, white complexion has become just more naked, commercialised, unnatural and even shocking.
Now, fairness creams and perfumed bleach packs promise you the complexion of famous Hollywood heroines. These revolutionary creams will help you to "discover the confidence that fairness brings" and put the men back "in the dark ages", as one of the advertisements assures in a premium women magazine.
Thus, the artificial fair complexion is being bought at a high cost of money and skin health risks. The cosmetics industry is thriving by creating an unprecedented demand for unrealistic fair complexion through powerful publicity and exploiting the Indian psyche.
Tracing the preference for fair colour to Indian traditions, mythology, political and historical background, Jitendra Mohan of the Psychology Department, Panjab University, says that fair, light colours are associated with competence and healthy body throughout the world.
"However, it is the obsession with white skin among Indians which is condemnable. In our society where as much as 90 per cent of the parents still consider the birth of a girl child as an economic loss, they find the marketability or saleability of their fair daughters is better in matrimony," explains Professor Mohan.
Surprisingly, the preoccupation with white skin is so deep that there is an unreasonable demand on the transparency of the skin than the quality of mind and character of a person. "This is due to the lack of awareness of right values and correct potential of a person in our competitive society. The emphasis is more on the wrapping than the gift, the real person behind the skin," says Professor Mohan.
Interestingly, when even in the western countries a transformation in the concept of beauty is taking place (one of the highest paid models in France is dark). But for Indians, beauty is generally associated with the colour of the skin, in which white is the indisputable winner. Therefore, the race to achieve a fair complexion through artificial cosmetics which could be harmful to the skin and, ultimately, to the psyche of the individual.
Additional Professor at PGIs Skin Department in Chandigarh, Dr V.K. Khanna, says that a number of patients with skin problems like irritation and discolouration due to cosmetics usage come for treatment. While those wanting to improve the complexion go to beauty parlours and big clinics, which charge even Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 for improving the complexion.
Advises Dr Khanna, "Ones complexion is the end result of ones parents, climate, stress level, diet and environment. The best way to protect complexion is to avoid sun and use simple sun screen lotions. People have problems when they use heavy make-up for years and any drug used for years develops resistance and we dont have safe alternatives in India like non-allergic or hypoallergic creams as they have abroad."
The medical fraternity feels that even some popular fairness creams contain harmful ingredients for the skin, and cosmetics manufacturing companies do not declare harmful information and contents under the cover of trade secrets plea. The fairness creams manufacturing companies, as they are registered under cosmetics licence, are not bound to disclose contents. But some medical experts feel that there should be proper monitoring of their working as some use harmful drugs in fairness creams. Some of the creams banned abroad for their harmful effects are being sold in India.
Consequently, the present trend is not only towards white but healthy white skin with herbal products. Says Dinesh Singh, director of an ayurvedic cosmetics showroom in Sector 17, Chandigarh, "Herbal cosmetics are the in thing as they dont contain harmful chemicals; people are very aware and health-conscious."
About the response to his fairness creams and the profile of the customers buying it, Singh adds, "Our skin whitening and fairness packs are favourite among young boys and girls, besides old ladies. Surprisingly, the number of boys buying fairness packs is no less than the girls and they come from far away places like Ludhiana and Amritsar. Thanks to television boom some people wont compromise with anything less than a very fair complexion which means good business for us."
However, many psychological studies over the years have shattered the chronic myths that white is superior or more intelligent. But the competition for white skin does generate arrogance, intolerance and highheadedness among the fair, while a dark person becomes depressive and negative and suffers many complexes and heartbreaks.
In India, where the colour
bias is even perpetuated by mythology there is need to
stop inculcating the discrimination between gora and
kala during childhood. Interestingly, in a
psychological study conducted recently, some boys below
the age of five were asked to tell the colour of their
friends. One of them said, "I dont know.
Tomorrow, I will ask and tell you." Is there a
lesson to be learnt from this?
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