I recently came across an online movement called ‘Dark is Beautiful’, a campaign that has drawn attention towards the unjust effects of skin colour discrimination in India. The campaign features famous Indian actress Nandita Das, who has urged women to throw out their fairness creams and abandon the belief that dark skin is ugly.
I was quite surprised to find out that Das is, perhaps, the only actress to have resolutely kept her dusky skin tone, despite the demands of the ruthless entertainment industry, where there is an explicit preference for light-skinned actors.
The same stands true about Pakistani society. We are also obsessed with fair skin in female appearance. Like many facets of our society, which is built around hypocrisy, opulent display of wealth and a growing divide between the haves and have-nots, there is also a clear disparity of ‘fair’ and ‘dark’ complexion of women. Racism runs deep in the subcontinent’s history, with its roots intertwined with caste and colonialism.
A majority of women in our society focus on their colour and body image upon reaching puberty. Teenage girls try to fit in by having fairer and flawless skin, and perfect bodies, all the while trying to be ‘cool’ and popular. They worry more about their appearance instead of their academic work. Girls who are not able to keep up with this fashion begin to suffer from low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
For me, it is not just an issue of self-confidence and self-esteem alone. I have personally come across many girls who have experienced adverse side-effects from the continual use of these fairness and bleach creams in order to find the ‘perfect rishta’.
Some of them had gone to great lengths to lighten their skin colour, even resorting to the use of steroids. Most fairness creams contain mercury which can easily penetrate into the skin and reduce the amount of melanin, making the skin more vulnerable to UV rays by thinning it. This may lead to serious problems like skin cancer, muscle weakness, osteoporosis and in case of pregnant women, it can cause damage to the foetus and the nervous system.
However, despite warnings from experts, the demand does not seem to be lessening and the credit for this goes to aggressive advertisement campaigns by the corporate sector. The media and marketers play a huge role in influencing young girls, by getting popular female media personalities to endorse their fairness brands. Most of these advertisement campaigns are designed to ‘hook’ gullible women into believing that happiness, success and romance are connected with having fairer skin.
Hopefully, things will change and get better. It is campaigns like ‘Dark is Beautiful’ which establish steps in the right direction. I believe we should have a similar campaign in Pakistan to stand up against such notions that generate discrimination based on skin colour. It is obvious that we need to take some action and help young girls understand that looks don’t always matter.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2013.