Brown and lovely: Internet weighs in on India's obsession with 'being fair'

Skin tone biases aren't new. And though we tend to tell ourselves that such discrimination doesn't bother urban India much, that's not always the case.

If you think discrimination on the basis of colour doesn’t exist in our young and urban India because we have come so far, then think again. India’s obsession with fair skin goes way beyond the surface. For decades now, India has, quite visibly, been a fan of the gori chamdi. Whether it is young girls growing up in the village or the girl who was brought up in the high-tech city, she is told one thing and one thing alone: she must not spend too much time in the sun because she might get dark. The reason why she is told to preserve her skin tone is to increase the prospects of getting the perfect groom. A bride and a groom must be porcelain images on their wedding day snapping picture perfect moments where both look as if a Tsunami of powder/makeup had exploded on their face. Since marriage is the ultimate goal in India, fairness is an item that must be tick-marked on the checklist. India’s obsession with fairness is the daily evidence of a deep-seated racism. And whether we admit it or not, these girls grow up to believe in the shallow norms of beauty. They spend hours and thousands of rupees on skin lightening, brightening, tightening and God knows what all. Our society is convoluted enough to believe that being fair is the epitome of superiority.

Here is a Quora thread that hits the nail with its question Why do Indians like fair-skinned people so much? What’s so great about fair skin?

One Quora user, Dinesh Jayaraman, started off with a logical point, that it had been ingrained in our society throughout history:

Historically, fairness has been an indicator of social status across many societies. The poorer classes, the peasants and labourers would spend their days working outside in the sun and thus have a darker complexion in general than the richer classes and nobles.
Put this together with the fact that high-class society has always defined notions of fashion and beauty around the world. It is an advantage for peasants to look more like nobles because it helps their upward social mobility.

Another user, Subhadeep Paul, did not wait to pass the judgement. We Indians are RACIST!

Because we are RACISTS. We’re all obsessed with fairness and fair skin. It’s not hard to find many instances in public where the hatred for the darker shades and the love for the fairer shades amongst Indian men and women shows itself shamelessly.

And this one passive user, Madhumitha Ravichandran,  couldn’t really understand the need to address the issue of fairness at all

First, is this really an issue worth addressing? I think it is. However it’s not unique. Most people look at embellishing some feature or the other. Is wearing make-up wrong then? Wearing accessories/jewellery? All of these have similar effects as focusing on fair skin. We glorify being slim, having clear complexion etc. I think the solution is more toward reducing importance on outward appearances. The fair skin focus in particular is so deep rooted in India that it does need to be addressed separately.

A post shared by Sruthi Jayabal (@shruz007) on

And then she went on to describe the top 4 reasons that guide the inherent obsession with fairness

  1. Movie culture: Our movies have from a very long time, posed a very pertinent way of how Bollywood actors live and dress. It is a shame that we don’t see even a single dusky girl/ boy in the lead role, unless it is someone who is from a lower class, but eventually they also manage to get a makeover during the course of the film. 
  2. Idolizing the west: Western culture is attractive and hence, we often try to imitate them. We fail to appreciate our own beauty and inherent skin tones.
  3. Marketing/Advertisements: Ads have the power to sell an idea more than a product and for time immemorial, they have been pitching the idea of a glowing and radiant skin. Fair & Lovely has time and again shown ads of women becoming successful after applying their cream or their fate with their boyfriends changing after they used a product and had a makeover. Forget beauty products, every other endorsement has examples of fair toned men and women who are successful in their lives because they take care of their appearances.
  4. Exclusivity: Being fair is not a norm in India, at least not camera-perfect fair. And hence the idea of becoming fair becomes an exclusive trait that must be revered.

Also Read: AIB’s painfully on point Narcos parody video is a recap of the last 3 years in India

No matter what we do, we remain in the shackles of these outward appearances and despite all our talks of development and intellectual enhancements, we fail to make any real progress.

For more interesting content, visit