Reflections by Toronto based playwright Sindhuri Nandhakumar
I won’t lie. I’ve used Fair and Lovely. I don’t want to make excuses, but it was curiosity that drove me to squeeze that supposedly magical potion out of the tube and rub it on my face. I wanted to see if the claims were true : would I really become so many shades lighter within six weeks?
This was about 15 years ago. Looking back at my childhood, I realize that I was raised not just by my parents, but also by Indian, particularly Tamil, cinema. I was the child who would happily stay home, faking some kind of stomach ache, so that I could stay home with my eyes pasted on the television screen.
During commercial breaks, my favourite female actors would come on screen, revealing to me how their lives had somehow been miraculously transformed after they started using Fair and Lovely. Click here if you would like to see the advertisement that influenced my childhood. Single ladies now had husbands; previously unemployed women now had dazzling jobs – it just seemed like a ticket to a world that was so much more amazing. Whatever shade of brown you were, you could be three shades lighter!
So, during a family trip to India, I purchased a small tube of Fair & Lovely and dutifully rubbed it on my face for about two days, until I lost interest and patience and forgot about it.
I haven’t really thought about it much since, but somewhere along the way, I slowly came to understand how many dangerous connotations and how many prejudices lie beneath the flourishing of products such as these. Millions of rupees are being poured into this “fairness” industry, and nobody is complaining. The underlying notion is quite simple: dark is bad, light is better.
Well intentioned grandmothers and aunties will advise you to stay out of the sun, or to carry an umbrella. When I went to visit my grandmother after a trip to Rwanda (a country that is really close to the equator), her face dropped in dismay. “How could you get so dark?” she wanted to know, implying that I had the choice to stay away from the sun, and that I was foolish not to do so.
But why is this the case? Why are so many young South Asian women and other women of colour around the world made to feel like they’re not good enough? Why are we letting companies sell skin lightening products that cause terrible and irreversible reactions in our skin? Why did society let an eight year old girl think that it was okay to buy Fair & Lovely so that she could see if her skin would lighten? Why are we okay with the idea that black and brown are not as beautiful as white?
The thing is, dark is beautiful. And so are all the other shades between dark and light. Yes, we all have our “types” and personal preferences, just like we would pick our favourite colours, but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It’s just a preference, and that’s it. If we’re fixated on the colour of everybody’s skin, then we’re missing out on all the other beauty around us. What we should be helping create is a world where people can exhibit their beauty in whatever form, whatever shade.