Boycotting Fair and Lovely is just the beginning of decolonising our minds.
For centuries, the skin lightening industry has been booming. This is especially the case in India. Around 50% of India's skincare market is infiltrated by noxious skin lightening treatments, a bestseller being the renowned Fair and Lovely. Targeted at darker-skinned Indians, the products offer them the opportunity to obtain a fairer complexion to allow their ‘loveliness’ to flourish. Why is this a problem? Well, this toxic mentality - that having fairer skin equates to being ‘lovely’ - is troublesome in a country built on a kaleidoscope of different shades of brown skin. Fair skin is deeper than a beauty standard - it is a ticket for acceptance and respect.
Society is flooded by Eurocentric beauty standards; there must be an origin for this ideology. The people of India were ruled by the British Raj for over 200 years, contributing to colonialism and casteism. Indian people recognised that positions of power were held by white people, which created the mentality that, in order to be powerful, we must assimilate to white people. This not only perpetuated white supremacy, but also resulted in the subconscious racial hierarchy which deems darker-skinned individuals as less successful economically and culturally.
India's familiarity with the light skinned oppressors contributes to the institutionalised belief that light skin is the key to unlocking power, fortune and high caste, while dark skin is the barrier secluding them into a recurring cycle of misfortune. This visual discrimination has persisted its way through the generations, and this old-fashioned mentality now comes in the form of a pink shiny bottle.
Growing up, I never truly understood the detrimental implications caused by this mentality, until I experienced the effects of it first-hand. Fair and Lovely is often gifted to Indian daughters as a traditional rite of passage that enables us to find an ‘ideal’ husband. I was eleven years old when I received my first bottle of Fair and Lovely from my mother while she explained to me that it was vital that I applied this cream to my face every morning and night to achieve a lighter complexion. Of course, my young enquiring mind questioned why it was necessary. I was then given a lesson on how darker skin will limit my marital prospects which will isolate me into a loveless hole of poverty and labour. This scary vision into the future made me hyper aware of my complexion, restricting me from playing with my school friends in the sun but also forcing me to stick to the laborious skin bleaching regime that stripped me of my golden layer. The notion that a bride or groom's skin colour is more significant than their personality in a marriage leads to superficial love and discrimination against darker members of society. Our pigment should not evaluate our marital eligibility.
The extent to which India is infatuated with skin lightening is so extreme that the BBC found more skin bleaching creams are sold in India than bottles of Coca Cola! Fair and Lovely advertisements teach us to satisfy our burning demand of acceptance with gracious supplies of their toxic chemicals. These ads often feature artificially lightened Bollywood actresses to showcase lighter skin bearing gifts of power, wealth and prosperity, reaching a diaspora of impressionable Indian girls. The deafening silence from actresses such as Aishwarya Ra’ around the implications of skin lightening is detrimental to the youth of today, who must be educated. This silence does not blind us from the reality that our community continues to anchor desirability based upon skin colour. As a naturally fairer-skinned Indian, it would be easy to silence my provocative views; however, this damaging approach to systematic racism will propel it further into generations to come. It is vital we call out celebrities who have a social responsibility to condemn the morals behind these products but choose to prey on our vulnerability to profit from institutionalised racism. Being anti-Fair and Lovely cannot be the sole source of our activism! We must stop buying these products that are feeding into the archetype, eating away at our melanin. We can no longer live through our ancestors' views, but actively unlearn the stereotypes that have defined us for years to dismantle our colonised minds, releasing the shackles of our mental enslavement. Advancement will be slow, but not out of reach.