India’s beauty industry thrives on the country’s ugly obsession with fair complexions and skin lightening products. Prejudice against darker skinned people, especially women, is not a new phenomenon but has been deeply rooted in our culture, be it due to some sort of colonial hangover that has loomed over our society for hundred of years now, or as some reports state it to be tracing back to the caste system where members of the lower caste often had darker skin. Young girls growing up and being told that having fair skin determines the quality of their life distorts their sense of self and ingrains what’s basically racism and colourism at a psychological level. While on one hand fairness creams continue their absurd campaigns of ideal beauty and matrimonial sites demand fair-skinned prospective brides, there is a growing counter movement destabilising the fairness illusion that has clouded India for far too long.
Campaigns like actress Nandita Das’ ‘Dark is Beautiful’ strive to put an end to the popular notion that places dark skinned individuals as inferior in some way. While the colour complex is huge in India, it’s an international problem where women’s beauty is being judged based on their skin tone and it’s increasingly being highlighted and criticised by more and more people. Texas-based photographer Pax Jones addresses this issue in her campaign Unfair and Lovely, a shout out and against India’s beloved Fair and Lovely ‘beauty solution’ which is said to make over $400 million each year, more than even Coca-Cola and tea. “[These products] are damaging to society as a whole,” says Jones. “They undermine the beauty of a select group of people and perpetuate various systems of oppression.” It started as a creative project in which she photographed sisters Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah and uploaded it on her website. “Mirusha’s experiences of being dark and South Asian helped me conceptualize the critical intersection that colourism rests at between various communities worldwide,” says Jones to SELF. “I realized that our experiences of colourism overlapped so much,” she addded. It was a friend of hers that suggested that Unfair and Lovely be turned into a global hashtagged movement and the results have been enormous.
A woman of colour herself, Jones started the official Unfair and Lovely Instagram page which serves as a global platform celebrating the beauty of women of all skin tones. Tying up with Reclaim the Bindi, a campaign that “fights cultural appropriation by promoting those who identify with the bindi to reclaiming their cultures,” as stated on their Instagram, the joint effort has sparked a movement across the world with the hashtagging of ‘unfairandlovely’ gaining popularity as women reclaim their identities as proud, beautiful dark-skinned women. Mumbai-based Seema Harindran’s picture was among those featured on Unfair and Lovely’s Instagram page, and she is said to even be starting her own skin equality campaign. “One is born with skin colour and no one can change it. It should never be used as a criteria to set up beauty standards,” she said speaking to DNA, adding that even though she grew up in the United States, she faced more racism and colourism during her college days in India, which seriously affected her self image and self esteem. “My fight is not about being called beautiful by others as it’s a subjective thing. What I want is the whole idea of being successful and beautiful by being fair to be quashed out from the mindsets of people. The advertisements on television of ‘Fair and Lovely’ should be pulled down for stereotyping that having a fair complexion gets one a good job and a loving partner,” she stated.
Jones put it very aptly, contrary to what Indian girls often hear growing up–dark skin is not a misfortune. India’s deep-rooted discrimination against women with a darker complexion is beyond absurd and it’s time this perception is eradicated from its core. “Dark skin is not a misfortune; it is beautiful and is worthy of celebration,” says Jones, adding that the only place fairness creams belong is the trash, and it’s time that India accepts the same. We’ve posted below some images of the amazing women who have fully embraced their identities and are comfortable in their own skin, regardless of it’s colour.
Words: Sara Hussain