It’s 2020, and many Indians are still obsessed with the idea of fair skin; it sickens me to the core when people pass comments about someone’s skin tone or complexion. I reckon I will never be able to understand our obsession with white skin.
Recently, ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests broke out across the globe. In India, after many celebrities tweeted their support for ‘Black Lives Matter’, the widespread colour discrimination that exists in India took center stage. The condemns and appeals backfired, especially in cases of those who had endorsed fairness creams in the past.
Actor Abhay Deol too called out actors for their ‘wokeness’ in a series of Facebook posts highlighting the taglines of beauty products which include ‘white glow’, ‘fine fairness’, and so on.
But he is among the few who have actively campaigned against colourism. There are some celebrities who have spoken up against skin-lightening, but in fact, have also been a part of skincare ads featuring skin-whitening products. Let me give you some examples.
1- Aishwarya Rai spoke that she doesn’t believe in endorsing skin-lightening products, but appeared in an ad for L’Oreal White Perfect.
2- Back in 2015, Anushka Sharma had said, “I would not endorse products that propagate racist and sexist (beliefs)….and propagate social taboo. I don’t want to endorse products that propagate fair skin and all. I will not propagate anything that says this is right or wrong,” but did an ad for Nivea Whitening Cell Repair prior to that. So, one hopes that she had a change of heart and refused to endorse such products after doing that ad in 2013.
3- Dia Mirza, recently welcomed HUL’s decision to drop “fair” from Fair & Lovely but she was the face of a range of skin-whitening products from the Body Shop.
On the other hand, there are several stars who have rejected deals from major companies because they don’t want to propagate the wrong idea about beauty. Here are some of the stars who turned down fairness cream brands despite the crores offered to them.
Sushant Singh Rajput
Back in 2018, the actor turned down a deal worth ₹15 crores. He reportedly turned down the deal saying, “We should not, in any way, endorse or promote the ideology of preferring one skin tone over another.”
Bipasha has always been proud of her dusky skin. Recently she opened up on how happy she was about the word “Fair” being dropped from the name of the skin cream, Fair & Lovely. In that Instagram post, she also added, “Many skincare endorsements with loads of money were offered to me in the last 18 years (some were very tempting)… but I stuck to my principle always.”
Kangana is one of the most vocal celebrities against the racism propagated by the fairness cream products. She rejected a ₹2 crore worth deal saying, “Ever since I was a kid, I have never understood the concept of fairness. Especially, in such a case, as a celebrity, what kind of an example would I be setting for younger people? I have no regrets about turning this offer down. As a public figure, I have responsibilities.”
But, she did an ad for Boroplus Perfect Touch cream which talks about “nikhri twacha” and shows skin becoming lighter from the use of the product, but without explicitly talking about skin-lightening.
Swara is one of the most vocal dissenters from Bollywood who is not afraid of speaking her mind. In one of her interviews, she explained why she doesn’t endorse fairness products. She said, “This fair skin obsession has to be discouraged. It’s so regressive and problematic to put a value, negative or positive to skin colour. It’s actually the seeds of racism and it only promotes low self esteem. For me, I believe in loving yourself just the way you are. Dusky, dark or wheatish, you are perfect, all I want to tell the girls is don’t change?”
She became the face of Namyaa Skincare, which focuses on intimate hygiene. Swara said, “I think it’s great that the brand is taking skincare beyond beauty and skin lightening to hygiene and health taking into account the practical life conditions of numerous young women in India.”
She is one of the rare actors who does not mince her words and stands for what is right. Among all her fearless opinions, an event in 2017 won many hearts. The actor pulled out of an event as soon as she realised that it was being sponsored by a fairness brand. She said, “I agree it was a last-minute call, but when I found out that I would have to pose at the event with fairness brand in the background, I decided to take my name off the event.”
At the peak of his career in 2011, Ranbir turned down offers to endorse skin-lightening creams. Later, in 2017, news surfaced that he turned down a Rs 9 crore deal to endorse a fairness cream. Though he did not openly make any statement against fairness brands, he let his action do the work.
Recently, when there were tweets going around asking if anyone can name a famous South Asian celebrity who hasn’t endorsed skin-lightening products. Pakistani actress Mahira Khan responded to one such tweet, saying: “Been refusing ever since I was a VJ till now. Never endorsed a skin lightening product.” It turns out, she’s actually being honest, because there is no whitening cream deal in her kitty of ads.
Randeep Hooda spoke about India’s obsession with skin-lightening and how it perpetuated problematic ideas of beauty. He said, “It’s a colonial hangover to be fair. India, as a country, has an obsession with fairness, whereas the entire world is lying under the sun and getting a tan.”
He said that beauty is never about fairness after turning down a fairness product for men. “The idea of beauty being fair should be demolished. I was offered big money for this project… but I refused, as everything can’t always be about money.”
Actor-director Nandita Das has been known for criticising Indian’s obsession with fairness. Time and again, she has called out the film industry’s pre-conceived notions about having a fair person in the lead role. Several years ago, Nandita Das launched a campaign called ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ to end prejudices against dark skin colour. She even came out with a 2.5-minute powerful video titled India’s Got Colour.
We hope that the obsession with fair complexion goes away. It is high time we cut out the racism that all of us are a part of.
Whether you are fair, dark, wheatish, or dusky, you are beautiful—do not let anyone else tell you otherwise!