Fair & Lovely? Indian Vogue Takes On The Desi Color Complex

Indian Vogue Addresses The South Asian Color Complex. Image Credit: Indian Vogue

Anybody that grew up in the Indian Subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), especially as  a woman, believed one thing: Being fair is better. Lighter skin was always and continues to be equated with success in all realms of your life.

How many of us Desi women can count the times we heard the phrase, “She is not pretty, but her skin is very fair.” How many times were we warned to stay out of the sun so our complexion does not turn moila (Bengali for “dirty”), which would (gasp!) naturally result in us never landing a husband? Fair always meant beautiful in our countries, hence the huge success of the “Fair & Lovely” skin bleaching products.

Where do we get this idea from and why does it continue to be reinforced today in our media? I think it is one of our biggest lingering colonial complexes. There is so much historic irony in this obsession of ours especially since it was the darker skin tone of the “natives” that the Persians and the Greeks used to distance themselves from the “dark and scary” Indian natives, the dasyus. They used their whiter skin color as vindication of their superiority over us. Now we use it against each other.

I have written about this issue in the past, but I wanted to share this “Feministing”post with my readers which I have cross-posted below.

I could not be happier that Vogue in India is using its influence to take on this issue, and promote a better, more natural and real version of beauty to counter our very disturbing obsession with white skin tone.

Enjoy! And try not to hurl when you watch the Fair & Lovely advertisement below.

Vogue in India takes on prejudice of darker skin in their latest issue:

Every generation has its share of beauty myths. Perhaps it is time to bust this one,” the editorial says. “Time to say that as a magazine we love, and always have loved, the gorgeous color of Indian skin…dark, dusky, bronze, golden – whatever you call it, we love it.

Fueled by the appearance of light-skinned Bollywood stars and models, the demand for skin-whitening creams – from brands including L’Oreal and Unilever – grew 18 per cent last year and is set to increase by a predicted 25 per cent this year, the Times reports. The Vogue cover has been praised by the country’s fashion insiders for addressing the issue in a positive way.

I think it’s worth repeating that Unilever – owner of Dove and their “real beauty” campaign – is one of the biggest suppliers of skin lightening cream out there and are responsible for ads like this:

This issue of Vogue is being lauded as a positive first step. Nirupama Singh, an expert in the sociology of fashion says, “Skin color matters a lot for women in India…Fairness is a very valuable thing here, looked on as desirable. The fashion world can be a big agent for change in this area.”

Cross-posted From “Feministing.”


  1. We may hate it but men do find fairer-skinned women more attractive. Whiter people just looked cleaner even if they haven’t bathe in days. And skin reflects social standing. If you work under the sun all day it is only natural that you have tanner skin.
    Now, I don’t mean to say that being whiter is more beautiful. I’m just stating the sad but true facts. What I believe though, you should find someone who loves you no matter what skin color you have.

  2. Ashley that’s definitely not true. You’re totally perpetuating the same myth. Everyone has different tastes, and I assure you there are many men who would prefer Halle Berry to Scarlett Johansson. Also, the definition of darker skin has totally been re-appropriated anyway. How many people do you know lying on beaches or burning in tanning beds trying to get darker? Darker skin now implies a life of leisure as much, if not more than, as it does labor. I do agree with your last sentence though…at least in the sense that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How to build what should be the most basic self confidence into people seems to be a very difficult task though.

  3. Hands down, agree with Borzou. You may say you’re stating the ‘sad, but true’ facts, but to assume it is ‘true’, is perpetuated the misguided idea that fairness is the be all and end all.

    Glad you wrote on this. This was my first topic of contention in a consumer culture class, so fair and lovely and I have a special bond 😉

  4. It’s sad to see that the effects of colonialism are still visible in the 21st century in the form of color complexes. I’m African-American, and this issue has hit my people hard. It sickens me when folks fail to see the beauty in themselves and let society dictate what is “pretty” and what is “ugly.”

    As far as that video, I thought the girl was prettier in the beginning BEFORE she messed with that whitening cream! I mean REALLY…Who wants to walk around looking like an extra from some vampire movie! Love yourself, ladies!

    I actually wrote a guest post on a friend’s blog about this very same topic. Check it out when you get some time… http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2009/11/get-over-your-color-complex.html

  5. Love this article. It’s such a sad reality amongst South Asians, and I think it’s our generation’s burden to change that entire perception.

    I think Bwood’s actresses (of late) have some dusky/darker beauties, which is the first step. Instilling in our children that the color of your skin is an indication of nothing at all is the next step. Too bad for these Vitamin-D deficient ladies – they have no idea how much fun frocking in the sun really is.

  6. Looks I am not the only one who is concerned about the whole skin whitening and skin bleaching issue. Excellent article and I like what you wrote. Fair and Lovely is fuelling the unrealistic against girls with naturally dark and tan skin and it is like telling them that they are not pretty like their naturally fair-skinned counterparts. Lastly, I want to say we are living in a very funny world where in the non-Western world, they want fair skin while in the Western world they want tanned skin.

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