Indian women have been raised to believe that fairness is beauty, and this has given rise to a vast and ever-growing skin-whitening industry, which is now encouraging women to bleach far beyond their hands and face.
The desire for lighter skin is nothing new in India. For centuries women in South Asia have been raised with the belief that a fairer complexion equates to beauty.
That the industry should reach a new low, excuse the pun, has reopened the age old fairness debate.
Should such products be on sale? Is applying bleach to your skin healthy, and what are the psychological effects on girls who are told they’re only pretty if they’re paler?
But, despite repeated concerns, the lightening industry is booming, and diversifying. One market research firm even reported that more skin lightening creams are sold in India than Coca Cola.
The market, which initially focused on beauty conscious women, is now pitching to men too.
“The first fairness cream that fights sweat” read the large white letters on a bus stop billboard.
It was accompanied by a photo of one of Bollywood’s actors of the moment, John Abraham, his chiselled face promising fragrant fairness to all who buy the product.
If those variants weren’t considered enough, you can also find deodorants for fairer underarms and talcum powders for whiter skin.
Advertisers specializing in this field, must spend hours devising new campaigns for their products.
“Do you think twice before wearing certain clothes because they don’t seem to suit your body’s uneven skin tone?” asked one half-page advert in a respected newspaper.
“Notice how the color of your hands is different to the color of your face?” asked another.
It seems illogical that such prejudices should continue to exist in modern day India, but they do.
One wannabe actress said she failed to get parts in films because directors bluntly told her she was too black.
You only have to look at posters and ads in India to see glamorous Bollywood stars who, thanks to a bit of graphics software, have dramatically lighter skin tones – with others going the whole hog and endorsing the products.
These are the stars who are worshipped by so many in India, and if many of them are complicit too, then it’s fair to assume that this industry will only continue to grow.