Shifting Values on Fairness and Beauty

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By Shoma A. Chatterji
Indians suffer from a gigantic colour complex. This is as obvious as the billboards that line the streets from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari, the celluloid stars of Indian cinema, and the statuesque models that appear in advertisements placed in the print and electronic media. Fairness is said to be a colonial concept. Why then, does it also exist in Western fairy tales? The major cosmetic companies are global today and believe that women are universal, only their needs are different. Are women responsible for their homogenization by cosmetic producing firms? To sum up - the globalization of culture marches on - internationally standardized canons of physical allure struts arm in arm with the objectification of women. One refuses however, to face the fact that Indian men have a complexion complex too, though this might not extend to the matrimonial market like it does for young ladies. Besides, they apply fairness creams on the sly surrendering to yet another gender stereotyping that insist that for men, the colour of the skin does not matter. In My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi narrates an incident. As a young boy, embarrassed by the colour of his dark skin juxtaposed against the white-skinned Britons around him, he kept washing his face with soap over and over again till his skin cracked and began to bleed. Placed in perspective, it appears amusing. But it is a racist mindset we have not been able to rid ourselves of, more than five decades after the British left Indian shores. The ‘colour’ complex we suffer from may be gender-centric but is not culture-specific. The stepmother in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would look at her face every morning and keep asking the mirror who was the fairest of them all. If the magic mirror had been a bit politically correct and not as truthful, it would have saved Snow White the sufferings she went through till Prince Charming kissed...
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