Are you tired of being told that you need to be fair to get married, get a job, or get anywhere in life? Are you sick of applying lemon juice to your face instead of drinking it to ‘improve’ your complexion? Well, you aren’t alone. Even saints are not spared the pressure to look like Snow White. Priest Jijo Kurien, on a Facebook post written in Malayalam, shares the following:
"It is difficult to segregate myths from history. Man’s history is created, not evolved. That is why it is difficult to now find a real picture of St Alphonsa who lived just 70 years ago among us.
As per ideas of sainthood, saints should be fair complexioned and beautiful. These are some of the notions nurtured by colonial, western thinking. Today is her death anniversary and this is my attempt to retain her history.
Look at her her real image and the one created.”
As you can see, Photoshopping is not limited to the Katrina Kaifs and Deepika Padukones of the world!
Even the gods are not spared this whitewashing. Draupadi, the Pandava queen from The Mahabharatha, was considered to be extremely beautiful and sensuous. And she was supposed to be dark-skinned. In fact, her other name was Krishnaa, meaning ‘the dark one’. But what did we do to her? A Google image search reveals many Draupadis, all of them uniformly white-skinned! It’s only Kali, a bit of a rebel goddess, who is still permitted to retain her complexion in modern renderings.
It’s sad that so much of our visual media is eager to reflect and reiterate our obsession with fair skin – we’ve reached the stage where a Caucasian actor like Amy Jackson plays the role of a heroine in South Indian cinema with no explanation whatsoever for her complexion worked into the script. The few female actors like Kajol who have made it big despite their darker skin tones have also been getting fairer steadily.
Some might ask what’s wrong with having a preference? Some like curly hair, others like straight hair. In the same way, why can’t we like fair skin over dark? The point is, this is not a simple question of what appeals to our senses. Standards of beauty don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re connected to how we feel, as a society, about caste, class, gender, and our history.
Take the West where women in the past were giving themselves cancer by injecting arsenic into their skin to look whiter…they’re now getting fake tans (and giving themselves cancer again) to look darker! Previously, very white skin was associated with the aristocratic classes who never did any physical labour in the sun. Now, the rich in the West play outdoor sport, travel to sunny countries and go back with tans that have made dark skin fashionable.
A certain complexion is associated with a certain status in society and that is the aspiration from which standards of beauty emerge and evolve. Everywhere. We have to think about why a type of beauty appeals to us more over another kind if we’re to get over this obsession with fair skin as a country. Remember, “Kabali”, a Rajinikanth-starrer, listed Fair and Handsome as one of its sponsors! Now if that isn't a sign of things to come, we don’t know what is!