‘Dark Is Beautiful’ Campaign Questions India's Skin Colour Prejudices

A movement in India promoting the beauty of all skin colours is pushing back against the country's obsession with fair skin.

Dark is Beautiful‘, founded by a group of women in 2009, has picked up steam in 2013 especially since award-winning actor-director Nandita Das has become the face of the campaign. Das, who has spoken out against the bias against dark skin in recent years, has been actively promoting the cause in interviews on social media and with mainstream media.

The desire in India for lighter skin is fueled by a widespread belief that dark-skin is ugly and inferior. Not only is fair skin perceived to be a key definer of beauty, but also seen to be an essential element of self-confidence, success, and happiness.

And brands have been quick to tap into this fervor, selling creams, lotions, soaps, cosmetics, and personal hygiene washes promising skin-bleaching. The so-called fairness industry brings in more than 400 million US dollars per year, more than the sale of Coca-Cola and tea in India, according to The Atlantic magazine. One Facebook app promoting a skin-lightening product caused controversies a few years ago (See Global Voices report).

In fact, the Bengali community in India has come to finely grade the complexion scale, never mind that the rest of the world sees bulk of Indians as being brown-skinned. So, you could find mentions of ‘very fair’, ‘pale fair’, ‘doodhe-aalta’ (a peculiar Bangla term used to describe a rosy complexion, a pink obtained when a drop of red paint is added to milk), ‘wheatish complexion’, ‘bright and glowing fairness’, to dusky, ‘ujjwal shyambarna’ (again a peculiar term, referring to the dark skin with bluish-grey hue, generally seen in Vishnu/Krishna iconography) right down to ‘koochkooche kaalo’ or the coal-dark skin.

Recently however, calls to do away with the skin colour prejudices, move toward a more inclusive definition of beauty, and uncouple concepts such as confidence and success from skin colour have been growing. The campaign ‘Dark is Beautiful’, explains why a change is needed:

Dark is Beautiful is an awareness campaign that seeks to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin colour bias and also celebrates the beauty and diversity of all skin tones.
Launched in 2009 by Women of Worth, the campaign challenges the belief that the value and beauty of people (in India and worldwide), is determined by the fairness of their skin. This belief, shaped by societal attitudes and reinforced by media messages, is corroding the self-worth of countless people, young and old.

Indian Actor-Director Nandita Das has spoken up against skin colour bias in the Indian society. Image from the Facebook Page of the Dark Is Beautiful Campaign

Indian Actor-Director Nandita Das has spoken up against skin colour bias in the Indian society. Image from the Facebook page of the “Dark Is Beautiful” Campaign

The campaign is being promoted actively across social media and has caught the eye of mainstream media.

On Twitter, their message was loud and clear:

As part of the campaign, a video was released on 15 August, 2013 calling on Indians to “celebrate Independence Day with 1.2 billion shades of beautiful”.

Here is a video uploaded by “Dark Is Beautiful” campaign celebrating the diversity of skin colours in India:

The campaign has generated a lot of discussion online. Tweets reflected some of the thoughts – ranging from debates about attitudes towards fairness and fairness products to hopes that the campaign will be able to change the way people view beauty for the better and start a conversation that will help alleviate prejudices related to skin colour.

From Kolkata, Sandip Roy (@sandipr), culture editor at Firstpost.com, wrote:

Computer engineer, management consultant and global health professional Parul Batra (@parul_batra) reminded Twitter that fairness products are big money-makers:

From Mumbai, film director Shekhar Kapur (@shekharkapur) blamed advertisements too:

From Delhi, journalist and tech writer Madhavan Narayanan (@madversity) tweeted:

Cognitive Dissonance (@_HJ86) from Mumbai pointed to the hypocrisy of fairness cream ads:

From Trivandrum, Lilly (@lillyvgp) has high hopes:

Skin color bias is an issue in India. Image by Zippora Madhukar Photography for Dark Is Beautiful Campaign.

Skin color bias is an issue in India. Image by Zippora Madhukar Photography. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The Dark is Beautiful campaign is also actively trying to engage with marketers and brands of fairness products, calling upon them to take down ‘unfair’ advertisements that imply that fair skin is a precursor to success. An online petition has been launched calling upon cosmetics company Emami to withdraw their latest commercial for Fair & Handsome cream featuring Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan, who is brand ambassador for the product. According to the campaign leaders:

This petition is the latest initiative of the Dark is Beautiful campaign. Since 2009, the campaign has been challenging women and girls to see “Beauty Beyond Colour”. Now, with this change.org petition, we are speaking up for men and boys, who are also targets of “unfair” advertising.

You can get more details about the petition here. Follow the blog, Twitter and Facebook page of the campaign.

22 comments

  • Aaron_of_Portsmouth

    The obsession with skin color and the evolution of the mental image of lighter skin being more desirable than darker skin is a human concept that has fascinated me quite a bit as I learn that this conception afflicts people in many parts of the world.

    Questions:
    1) What motivated this thinking among humans?
    2) At what time in human evolution did we begin to take a special fancy to lighter skin color over darker skin?
    3) How do we re-educate people to look beyond this surface phenomenon and not ascribe some sense of self-pride just because one’s skin color is of a lighter hue?

    Fortunately, my father, who was of very light complexion, didn’t let skin color bias afflict his
    sense of love for my mother who was of very dark skin color. And he married my mother despite a wide-spread belief in the Afro-American community that it was better for a man to seek a lighter-skin woman(a product of media stereotyping and marketing).

    I always see my dad as being a truly enlightened man, and my mother as a beautiful woman
    as I often gaze at a photo of them at their wedding.

  • splooge

    Have to agree about this skin lightening thing its just stupid, especially if men do it because its a very feminine thing to do. Unless they are gay metrosexual bottoms then ok makes sense. Females are the fairer sex not men. Hell darker skin makes the muscles more defined, i dont care if my skin goes black(use to be white skin as baby) and neither should other guys. The girls here in western country like the color.

    Even though even here even among white guys lighter skin kinda wins but its not the death sentence you make it out to be, its like being a short guy, it sucks but aint a big deal if you got a better quality like good facial features or awesome body like short stocky dudes or real curvy black and latin women for example. When I say light I mean light for that races complexion so is has that “fair glow” if that makes sense like a tan dark white guy doesnt match a light skin indian or black male but you can tell thats his tan.

    Its similar to the chinese standard of beauty when you think about it. “Tall,rich and handsome” and “Fair, rich and beautiful”.
    But I wouldnt bother telling people what to find attractive its impossible like fat acceptance.
    Best helping the things you can. If you can get a fit toned physique do it, looks better then any flabby body of “some perfect skin tone” be it pale or olive skin(fair for indians and dark for north euros). And then just get a good style and keep the hair ,skin,teeth clean. Thats all you can do.

    If youre pale,freckled,dark,short,small frame(sucks for guys),afro hair,small tits,etc dont obsess with it just focus on your strengths and be cool with your flaws. Forcing people to like your insecurity be it darkness,fatness, shortness is just an insecurity that wont be fixed in your life. Because youll find another thing to obsess with. Like say theres no color preference then india will jump on and say fattys are hot like fit people or short is good as tall. Theres no end, we are not equal just accept and be happy about it. No one wants to be the same and be equal, We’d rather be different and try to be better then ours.
    we only cry equality when we are on the short end of the stick but start having fun when we are at the winning end and feeling good about it indirectly at someone elses expense like “wow youre tall”, youll feel good about it but thats only coming from that you are among smaller people.

  • splooge

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TallDarkAndHandsome

    I dont care if I am dark I’ll just role with this……then again im not tall or handsome either lol, least skin you have some minor control

  • […] discriminatory advert for Fair and Handsome cream. Another campaign called Dark is Beautiful (see Global Voices report) in 2013 pushed back against the idea that dark skin is somehow uglier or inferior. The following […]

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  • […] 肌の色による差別に対して、かつて他の運動が起きていた。インドの化粧会社のEmamiに対し同国で起こった署名活動では、「Fair and Handsome」クリームの非常に差別的な広告を撤廃するよう求めた。2013年には、別の運動の「ダーク・イズ・ビューティフル」(グローバルボイス記事を参照)が、色黒の肌はどこか醜く劣っているとする見方と闘った。その翌年、インドの広告基準協議会は美白製品の差別的な広告を禁止した。 […]

  • […] discriminatory advert for Fair and Handsome cream. Another campaign called Dark is Beautiful (see Global Voices report) in 2013 pushed back against the idea that dark skin is somehow uglier or inferior. The following […]

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