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White skin obsession, Indian-style

A lot of modern Filipinas are no longer obsessed with having fair skin. In fact, the Philippines has been constantly sending tanned girls to beauty pageants because, somehow, we realized that, by international standards, whiter does not mean more beautiful. But there are still plenty who aspire to lighten their complexion with the use of whitening creams and skin-bleaching methods. These people, perhaps influenced by moms, aunts and ninangs, continue to subscribe to the colonial-era way of thinking, placing the “mestiza” look atop a pedestal.

Indian film star, Nandita Das champions The Dark is Beautiful campaign that aims to halt India’s huge appetite for skin whitening products.
This bias is not unlike the one prevalent in India. The South Asian nation is notorious for discriminating against dark-skinned women, who are seen as unsuited for marriage, success and a thriving social life. Just like in the Philippines, India’s skin color woes can be traced back to its colonial past. We got the notion from the Spanish and the Americans; they got it from the British.
Market research says that India’s whitening cream market is worth $638 million in 2012, almost twice as big as it was in 2008. This indicates that Indians are actually getting more skin-tone-conscious, something that, according to reports, has been making “dusky-skinned” girls want to kill themselves out of fear that they will never be beautiful enough to attract a potential groom. Men taking out matrimonial ads typically seek women who are “beautiful, tall and fair,” or to use their euphemism, “wheatish.”
Interestingly, while it is widely believed here at home that skin whitening is a feminine thing, Indian men are also pressured to be fairer because of its association with a successful career, as demonstrated by pale-skinned Bollywood actors and dark-skinned ones who use and endorse whitening creams.
The discussion on Indian beauty standards was reignited following the Miss America win of Nina Davuluri, an American woman of Indian descent, in September. Davuluri is noticeably darker than most beauty queens that India sends to international pageants.
In analyzing the racist hate-tweets that Davuluri got—those that branded her un-American—The Hindu newspaper opined, “But before rushing to denounce American attitudes, it would be pertinent to ask if Ms Davuluri would have ever made it past the qualifying rounds of a beauty contest in India. In a country where a [multimillion] rupee cosmetic industry thrives on promises of lightening a woman’s skin color in 10, 20 or 30 days, it is fair to say that the dark complexioned 24-year-old would not have stood a chance.”
“Had she been in India, far from entering a beauty contest, it is more likely that Ms Davuluri would have grown up hearing mostly disparaging remarks about the color of her skin she would have been—going by the storyline of most ‘fairness’ cream advertisements—a person with low self-esteem and few friends,” the newspaper lamented.



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