Fair skin, one of the remnants of the colonial hangover, refuses to leave us. In this colour-obsessed society, fair complexion has assumed the ultimate epitome of “beauty”. This stereotype was reinforced during the British rule when people with fair complexion were considered to be from the higher echelons of society and enjoyed more privileges and opportunities than those with dark skin.
Even India’s first fairness cream was called “Fair and Lovely”, meaning if you’re fair then only you can look lovely.
Actress Nandita Das, who is always described as “dusky beauty” in the media, says: “Colonial rule and its overt racism has been adopted and integrated into the society and compounded by the caste attitude. There is this caste sense of superiority, despite Indians’ default setting being dark.”
If white skin is the epitome of beauty, then why do people with Caucasian features, especially women bake in the sun to get their skin tanned?
Well, Mark Twain has the answer. According to the great American writer, in the US, darker skin has been associated with health and pale skin with sickness.
In fact, he found the white ugly and in “the Complete Works of Mark Twain: Following the Equator, Volume 2,” goes into length explaining disadvantages of fair complexion.
While attending the coronation of a prince in Rajasthan, he observed: ” It is not an unbearably unpleasant complexion when it keeps to itself, but when it comes into competition with masses of brown and black the fact is betrayed that it is endurable only because we are used to it.
“Nearly all black and brown skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare. How rare, one may learn by walking down a street in Paris, New York, or London on a week-day – particularly an unfashionable street – and keeping count of the satisfactory complexions encountered in the course of a mile. Where dark complexions are massed, they make the whites look bleached-out, unwholesome, and sometimes frankly ghastly. I could notice this as a boy, down South in the slavery days before the war. The splendid black satin skin of the South African Zulus of Durban seemed to me to come very close to perfection. I can see those Zulus yet–‘ricksha athletes waiting in front of the hotel for custom; handsome and intensely black creatures, moderately clothed in loose summer stuffs whose snowy whiteness made the black all the blacker by contrast.”
Further elaborating the disadvantages of white skin, he says: “The white man’s complexion makes no concealments. It can’t. It seemed to have been designed as a catch-all for everything that can damage it. Ladies have to paint it, and powder it, and cosmetic it, and diet it with arsenic, and enamel it, and be always enticing it, and persuading it, and pestering it, and fussing at it, to make it beautiful; and they do not succeed. But these efforts show what they think of the natural complexion, as distributed. As distributed it needs these helps. The complexion which they try to counterfeit is one which nature restricts to the few – to the very few. To ninety-nine persons, she gives a bad complexion, to the hundredth a good one. The hundredth can keep it – how long? Ten years, perhaps.”
While describing the advantages of dark skin, he gives an example of a Zulu.
“He starts with a beautiful complexion, and it will last him through. And as for the Indian brown – firm, smooth, blemishless, pleasant and restful to the eye, afraid of no colour, harmonising with all colours and adding a grace to them all – I think there is no sort of chance for the average white complexion against that rich and perfect tint.”
So, why change your natural looks just to please the crowd