Friday, April 21, 2006

The Ideal Complexion in Asian and Western Cultures

Hi guys,
I’m a year 12 student from Australia, doing a major work on the obsession with fair skin as an ideal of beauty in Asian cultures, especially in India, and how it differs to Western Cultures, where it seems to be the other way around (i.e. people seem to want to be tanned rather than fair). If any of you, from any part of the world, have any personal experiences to share that are related to this topic, or if your own skin colour is an issue for any of you, it would be really great if you left a comment. Also, if you have any ideas or suggestions as to why this ideal for fair skin is such a big deal in Asian countries, with the media, the internet and cosmetic companies promoting it to both women and men, or any ideas as to why it is the other way around in Western Countries, where you are more likely to find tanning creams on the shelf than fairness creams, I would really appreciate if you left a comment on that as well.

Just some points for discussion-
Is one's ideals of beauty (i.e. the ideal skin complexion) shaped by the power structure, or the values of their society? For example, in India darkness is equated with the labourer classes, and perhaps its history of British colonialism and Aryan rulers has contributed to the perception of fair skin as superior. In Western Countries, such as Australia, being tanned is associated with lesuire, a healthy outbdoor life, etc. and fair skin may be seen as a sign of an unhealthy indoor life, or is perhaps associated with the snobbish upper classes.

Perhaps the obsession with fair skin in Indians could stem from a shame of their cultural identity? Are they trying to emulate the white cultures because they deem theirs to be inferior?

How does the media contribute to this perception; e.g. the perception of fair skin in India is reinforced by Bollywood actresses and models, advertisements, television shows. Any examples or opinions on the role of the media in either Western countries for tanned skin, or India for fair skin would be great to hear.

Do we just want what we can't have? Is it just because fair skin is considered to be an exotic, and therefore more desired quality in India, and the same for Western countries with tanned skin?

Also, it would be handy if you guys could leave you age, gender, ethnic background and the country you live in so I could compare opinions across different ages and cultures etc


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

eliza its carla

yeah its weird. i think ppl want what is more exotic. but there is a cultural side to it...
in singapore and malaysia instead of selling fake tan products they sell skin bleaching products so you can make ur face like porcelain white. the idea is that if you have fair skin you obviously don't have to work or even go outside and that means you are rich and have status. the same way long nails means someone doesn't have to do manual labour. i think the australian fascination with a tan is to do with the importance of like sport and going to the beach and shit because thats the cool thing to do. if you are tanned it implies you go to the beach and lead an active life instead of sitting at home playing warhammer and having no friends or something.i think it has a lot to with the values of the society you are exploring. no idea if that helps


1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah and in japanese culture theyre like obsessed with western culture and lots of them use tanning products there. crazy!

1:50 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Thanks guys!
And Carla- i agree with you; there has to be a cultural side to it as well- if your skin complexion is associated with things that are valued in your culture, then it is considered as beautiful. If it was solely that they think its beautiful because its exotic and unusual, then why are black people considered by many to be ugly and inferior in India- theyre just as 'exotic' as white people are.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Have you thought about looking at it across time as well as cross-culturally? Because beauty is a very contextual thing that constantly changes. e.g. through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, the Western cultural ideal of beauty was the same as what Carla is saying is prevalent in Singapore and Malaysia now. That is that fair skin was coveted as it was a symbol of status. That's why they'd kill themselves by putting lead and mercury on their faces to remove all pigmentation. Haha. Fools.

2:33 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Haha yeah i was just reading about how they used to eat this cream with arsenic in it cause they thought it would make them fair. Yeah I think I'll do it across time as well cause the fair skin thing in the Renaissance and Middle Ages supports my argument of how it reflects values and power structures of the culture

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

(I guess my main point of that which I didn't really state was, how long has fair skin been an ideal in India? Was it ever more desirable to have darker skin?)

2:40 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Umm I haven't completely researched that, but I think at the beginning, as you see with the goddesses and stuff, there wasn't this whole issue of fair=beautiful. But then we were ruled by Aryans, I think people who came in from Persian countries, and you also get British colonialism- and I think it was around then that this perception developed?

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it comes down to ppl wanting what is not 'ordinary', because what is not ordinary is unique. This relates to any individual. Furthermore it is the tendency of individuals to want what they dont have. For example short ppl want to be taller, dark skinned ppl want to become lighter and vica versa. In a country like India, you can imagine nearly a billion people with brownish skin colour, an individual with fairer skin is not seen as beautiful because he or she has fairer skin, but because it is different. This difference is seen as unique and thus is established as a symbol of beauty. Exceptions can be made, due to certain cultural, social, political and cultural factors. In the end it comes down to societial values, and ppls attempts to conform to what society defines as beautiful.

2:48 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Well, 'anonymous commmenter', you can't justify the entire issue with "we just want what we don't have" because, as I said before, how does that explain the fact that African features and skin colour is not seen as beautiful, but I actually think it is seen as ugly and inferior. Not every unique difference is seen as a symbol of beauty, and there must be a reason as to why some particular ones a chosen over others..

2:53 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

And before when I said African features are seen as ugly and inferior..I don't mean in general, I just mean I think they are by a lot of Indian society. And Ive also heard stories about how African tourists are treated like crap, especially when compared to white tourists.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Alyssa said...

Im 16, live in Australia and I have an anglo-saxon background. Being a super pale person or "see through" as i like to say, its always been a pressure for me to be more tanned. My desire to be more tanned is definately a result of society, because all those that are shown to be beautiful or sexy have a nice glowing tan.
I think you're right when you say that the value placed on being tanned is a result of the values of Australian society. Like carla was saying, the stereotype of the "Australian way of life" has always been based around going to the beach, playing sport, having a bbq in the backyard so someone that has tanned skin is associated with leading a "healthy" life. Also as a historically fairly working class society the symbol of the "aussie bloke" is a (tanned) working class guy and thats who the average person would want to fit in with.
In India i think it would be different because of the different power structure. Those that were in power were white, and there was a much greater divide between the rich and poor. Indian people would probably strive to be fair because that was a symbol of status and power and they wanted to identify themselves with the white upper class.
But has it always been like that in India? Was fair skin valued in the beginning of the century because of colonialism or is it only gaining popularity now? I guess it wouldbe a similar sort of thing now anyway. Because of globalisation and whatnot people in India would be exposed to images from the Western world, especially America, where the majority of people portrayed in television, movies, advertising etc are white. And even though they would be tanned - to suit the western values - they would still be seen as "fair" compared to many Indian people.
I also would have to disagree with the statement that we just want what we dont have. I can agree to some extent, eg. short people want to be tall, , but the person that wants to be tall has got that desire from somewhere. There must be some social value placed upon the feature for it to be desirable. For example if there was a tiny isolated community somewhere where everyone had dark skin and a baby was born with fair skin, it is likely that he or she would be seen as some kind of "freak" rather than being beautiful because of their difference. So those that strive to have fair skin wouldnt necessarily do it to be differentiate themselves from their society, rather to fit in with another group that is seen as socially superior.
So in India, yes people want to be fair because it is different, but this difference means that they are set apart from the social minority in terms of power and have something that identifies them with the "in group" - whether it be the Aryan rulers a century ago, or the American celebrities they see on tv today.
Ok! My brain hurts im going to stop. I hope this helps elize.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add that I'm completely opposite to the Indians you talked about- I'm Indian but I actually want to be darker, because I think that I look more attractive that way. I guess its because I've never actually lived in India that I'm different to most of them over there, where its all about having fair skin if you want to look good

8:40 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Thanks for the comment
I actually used to be like you as well a few years ago- I used to try and make myself even more tanned than I already am, as I was convinced that I looked better with dark(er) skin. But I guess our perceptions would be different if we lived in India for most of our lives- where you have all the bollywood images, billboards,advertisements and fairness creams continously in your face. I would be interested to know if there was actually anyone who is living in India who wants to be darker?

8:49 PM  
Blogger Sujai said...

Hi Eliza:
I am Sujai (M/32/India). I am putting my comments in here. my blog posting is at:
What you trying to do is interesting.

There are many factors why Indians prefer fairness.
1. Yes, it is seen as a superior color. It could be because most of the rulers (Mughal, British) were fairer.
2. Even some of the mythological evil characters are dark in color.
3. This is perpetuated by families- uncles, aunts, and even parents taunt the kids - using many adjectives which refer to darkness- and it mostly derogatory.
4. In school, the kids are referred to by their colors- as part of teasing.

There are many examples to quote.

Now a days, the media shows blatant ads which clearly show that a fairer person is more beautiful and more successful. Recently, I a saw an ad from 'fair & handsome' which targets men. A guy is shown to be meek and shy because he is dark. The friend suggests he should use this cream and walks away confidently.

Movies and tele serials portray fair to be nice, strong, beautiful and successful; while the dark people are shown as villians, laborers, and comedians. In Telugu (a language in India) movies, the taunting goes completely overt- by calling names and ridiculing dark comedian only because he is dark- mentioning that he is dark. The darker women are shown to be ugly- they are bad and unsuccessful.

yes, it is true that black people (from Africa and other countries) are treated very bad in India. Their hospitality takes a U-turn when they meet a white person.

The language itself has many words which indicate that fair is nice and beautiful while the dark is ugly and evil.

yes, its indian's way to equal the western people. now a days, the celebrities are coloring their hair blond. Soon this will catch on. And in another five years, having golden or blonde hair will seen as superior while those sporting dark hair will be seen as inferior.

Hope this helps.

10:04 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Thanks Sujai! It was really good to hear the opinions from someone who lives in India. I've read about the 'fair and lovely' and the 'fair and handsome' ads, where the person turns from completely ugly and not able to find a partner to super beautiful with everyone wanting to be with her/him. I also heard somewhere that theyve started a cream that can be used to lighten the skin of babies??

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

indians r obsessed with fairnes, but so r whites, ..white australia policy..nowadays things have changed in western countries..but india sticks to it because they think being fair= purity and better looking..btw u only ever hear things like tall dark and handsome, and black beauty

12:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Eliza.

A lot of wat u have mentioned..ur own arguements or 'things to consider' are true. And reading these blogs makes a lot of sense. But if u think sensibly and place urself in the modern world, u realise one thing. That no matta wat ppl used to think..wat cultures and backgrounds we come from..religion nd beliefs are rarely respected let alone considered by any of us 'young generation'. Many of us if not all of us..follow wat we believe in blindly..though there are exceptions..its not a definite thing. Y am i sayin all this.nd how is it ok.
Well....i believe that to be fair skinned..has simpliy got to do wit ones feeling of being different. Everyone is 'brown' or dark skinned in if u r fair..u r different...u stand out..u r recognised in a crowd. The media needs to make a recognises these issues..nd highlights them...therefore infulencing more nd more ppl. So uniqueness nd media r my guesses. Similar story wit the western world. They are all white...they wnt to look diff...tanned women are not common..yet r considered hot. So this image created by media..created by society that having a tanned skin complexion is the way to go...influences ppl to believe that. Our tastes nd preferences are all shaped..they r not given to us since birth. If we were brought up to believe that grass was blue nd the sky ws green, thats wat we will will beleive...similar story to skins complexion..we grow up in a world which has its values already cemented..we simply follow them because we r humans. Its wat the media says..wat models do..wat the opp sex prefers..nd wat can make u diff nd stand out that makes us choose our 'ideal' skin complexion. Different parts of the world have different ideals..beacuse they r different from the start.

Rangat (m/17/Aus)

12:44 AM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

thanks for the comments
Rangat- I can see what you mean about how people want what it different- but I still think there must be more to it than just that. As alyssa said, in India, apart from just being different to the majority, fairness is also associated with positive values like power, and status and wealth, and this is the same in the west with tanned skin. For example- if you were the only dark person in some state in India where everyone in fair- e.g. Kashmir, you probably wouldn't be satisfied with your complexion even though its different from most, because a dark complexion over there is associated with negative things.
And the anonymous before who said that they feel fair equals purity etc; is that perhaps hinting that this whole fairness thing might stem from a sense of rascism or white superiority among Indians? Which would explain thier treatment of Africans even though they are as different, if not more, than fair skinned people.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Jess said...

On another note, I don't think the whole tanned being "in" thing is that prominent in Australia now. I don't see as many ads these days for tanning lotions as I did a few years ago, for example. And people tend to be more sun-cautious due to awareness and promotion of health risks. May have something to do with celebrities of the time, too. E.g. mischa barton and reese witherspoon are seen as cool and fashionable now and have fair skin, whereas in the 90s it was all about baywatch and that crap.

And the desire for fairness in India could be to do with that whole symbolism of white = purity dark = evil that's throughout literature. Fairness seen as superiority because of past British rule is an interesting link to look at though eliza, you could link it to power & authority and all that shizz.

12:43 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Yeah I'll have to talk about the British rule for sure- its interesting to see how so many of these colonised Asian cultures have all these western ideals of beauty; e.g. fair skin, im sure theres others I dont know of- like I think the finer, more western looking north indian features are more valued as well than the broader south indian ones.
And yeah I think the tanning craze has died down a bit over here- although its still there, its probably in a much smaller scale than the whole Indian fairness obsession.
The media is also a lot less blatant about it over here- it doesnt really continuoulsy throw the whole 'youre ugly if you dont have this colour skin' message in your face- you would never get the types of ads you do over there cause people would just laugh at them. Perhaps thats also something to do with why its not such an obsession any more?

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Dj said...

hey you know how indians put dots on their head... the white dot means elite and the black dot means defeat and instrustable and shit.. yeah and thats like the first instance where black and white were differentiated and black was made inferior. this was in like 1500bc when some of the Aryans crossed the Kyber Pass into india and created hinduism, which pretty much is the first caste system.
Its also interesting to know how they wrote the holy Vedas in Sanskrit which created Greek, German, Latin and English.. and the Greek culture began western civilisation and that meant white domination.

2:13 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

thanks dj!
So i suppose before the caste system and stuff was established in India this whole ideal of fairness wasnt around? Cause Ive read a lot about how the whole fairness thing is tied into the caste system

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

What section of the syllabus are you linking it to? Popular culture or what?

2:34 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Umm i have no idea! I know what society and culture terms I'm linking it to...yuess. Is popular culture the one it links most to?

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ELIZA! It's Amie.

With what Jess was just saying about the obsession with tanning now decreasing in Australian society, I think that now it is not only not as serious an issue but it is a much more subconscious act.

By ‘not as serious’, I mean that in Australian society I don’t think that the issue is particularly prominent anymore and people care much less about it. Generally (obviously not everywhere and with everyone), we can actually joke about fairness and darkness and no one will get offended. As you know, I’m super pale, but I can joke about it amongst friends because I do not think it is a big deal, rather its just the way I am – and while its funny, its neither particularly good or bad. Whereas, from what you’ve told me, it seems that generally in Indian society it isn’t an issue that many people can joke about, because it is actually linked to feelings of inferiority, social status, power etc etc.

So, while in India, culture is heavily woven into the need for fairness, in Australia our desire to be tanned is rather on a superficial, aesthetic level and power and the like, I don’t think come into it. And as a result, the obsession is able to change and adapt much easier in Australia, as it isn’t set into our beliefs or values. SO, with increasing multiculturalism and rural-urban migration (meaning the decreasing image of tanned farmers on horseback, eating straw) and all of those gradual shifts in society, the image of a typical Australian has changed from the bronzed body to a much more general figure. But it has been seen as the typical Aussie ideal for so long that it cant just disappear from society and mindsets in a matter of a couple of years. So, like I said before, the act of wanting to be tanned is now a more subconscious act rather than a deliberate attempt to fit into the “in” group.

3:07 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Amie! you posted! woot
I agree with you on the tanning thing- the fact that we can laugh about shows that its not as big an issue any more and isnt a definite ideal of beauty over here- and people are pretty accepting of pale skin and dont care as much as they used to. I mean, if I thought you were really fat I would never mention it cause I know you would be offended- but I have no probs calling you pale and bagging you out for having crazy red hair.
But in India (well according to my mum anyway, Im not actually sure if its true) talking about someones complexion is still kind of a taboo subject, as it some people can be touchy about being too dark etc., which I suppose shows that its a lot more ingrained into them as being an inferiority or a bad quality to have dark skin. So its the extent to which it is an issue there is defintely not as much as a tanned complexion is over here, and thats basically because as you said, our values are changing, while over there the basic value of white= power and wealth is still there,esp. because now you have globalisation where you get more infiltration of western white values into India, as you did before with the British colonisers.
I dont know if that makes much sense- Im tired and Ive been staring at the computer for too long.
Ooh and I love your society lingo about 'rural urban migration' and the "in groups".

3:37 PM  
Blogger Ozymandias said...

The contradiction between temperate (Western, Japanese) and tropical eastern cultures (India) can actually be satisfactorily explained by the contrast principle. When all are dark, a fair person stands out and is noticed, and vice versa. I don't think cultural considerations matter. So South Indians prefer fair skin.

My blog entries are generally sarcastic/ironic in nature, and those who frequent my blog read it in that light.

South India

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Raamesh, your comment does not explain why redheads are picked on in Australia. lol.

3:58 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:14 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Also Raamesh (thanks for the comment btw) isnt it not only South Indians who prefer fair skin? Im pretty sure that even in places in North India where a lot of them are fair it is still preferred- I still cant accept the whole 'we like whats different' as the only explanation

4:19 PM  
Anonymous kpc said...

Hi ElizaG, I guess one could blame ‘the media’ for perpetuating the light/dark issue but in terms of these ads- these companies may or may not claim societal responsibility or obligation- so, really for them, it’s about business. If u read communication theory then you’ll know part of advertising is the creation of ‘false need’. These needs prey upon the vulnerabilities existent within a society. This means in buy-a-tan society, normally a tan means you have money to go somewhere and lay around until you become toasty. Fair-skin-prizers society means you have the money to not put one foot over your threshold into the sunny-outside world because you can supposedly pay for someone to do everything for you. These ads imply you too can jump a social stratum just by obtaining the proposed elixir.
I’m interested in why you are focusing on the politics of color in India particularly. I understand this side of the issue to be as prevalent in China and the Philippines also. Some reading you could start with are texts about the construction of identity, not only in the psychoanalytic sense but with regard to socio-political and historical contexts. Franz Fanon “Black Skin White Mask” and reading Stuart Hall, Jaques Derrida, Gayatri Spivak, E. Anne Kaplan are good places to start.
the stats you request: kpc, 28, female, american living in mumbai

5:24 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

thanks a lot kpc- especially for the texts you mentioned. I agree with what you said about the media playing on the already existent vulnerabilities in society- I think it plays a huge role, especially in India in reinforcing this whole fair=beautiful perception, and its probably the reason why its still such a big issue there. Im focusing particularly on India cause Im Indian myself (living in Sydney), and Ive been noticing this fair skin thing whenever I go on holidays there. I know its pretty prevalent in Asia as well- its just that it would probably be easier for me to do interviews and stuff with people from India- cause I can use all my relatives.If you had any personal experiences or observations on the types of ads they show in India, or the extent to which people actually believe that fair skin is much more superior to having dark skin (cause my parents have been saying that nobody cares about it as much any more, but when I looked at the matrimonials it seemed to be a completely different story) that would be really great as well. Thanks for the comment!

6:39 PM  
Anonymous kpc said...

Hi again,
From living in India and through encounters with friends who are ‘Indians from India’ while in nyc, I gather that the discrimination against darkness is more public as you head north. This is not to imply that the insults do not happen south, it’s just less blatant. What I mean is that people say insulting things without really understanding what they are saying to the person the insults are directed toward. The insults happen from people you just meet rather then rearing their ugly heads after getting to know people a little. If you appear to be Indian and your appearance deviates from the norm in any undesirable way, then you will hear running commentary about that one characteristic as long as it is a part of your appearance. An old friend from the Southern region told me once that he feels less black in the US than he did in India. From the time he was born his colour was an issue to everyone around him- from his mom eating some plant extract while he was in the womb so he would be born fair (which he wasn’t) to getting kicked out of school because he got in so many fights over kids taunting him about his colour. Even at work I notice the guys chiding each other and often the dark guy gets chided about his colour. Darkness/ fairness even figures into conventional ideas of ‘hot or not’. Many times I’ll be with friends here, I’ll notice someone dark and say, “Wow, s/he is really attractive, don’t you think?” And friends just give me these little smiles, shake their head a bit, and say, “We just have different ideas about beauty.” They can’t see passed the colour. Often people don’t understand this as wrong, or a power play, or anything potent. It’s like not finding people who have big feet attractive ever. This strikes me as strange since in the US the politics of colour is an issue everyone is keenly aware of on some level.
The fairness cream ads are just icing on the cake. I hate the L’oreal one because they finish the ad with their motto “Because you are worth it”. In this case “you” are worth being fair. The Garnier ad takes the science angle with a little subscript claiming 94% efficacy in achieving lighter skin with their product. Science = Truth, Truth is that they’ve got the secret to fair skin on lock. I hope that helps you. I’d be interested to read your paper once you finish it.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Graham said...

Hi Eliza,
Thanks for the comment on my blog.
I truly believe that the obsession with tanning in western societies is just a cultural fad. Just as in some cultures today, tanned skin was seen as a sign of the working classes in Georgian times (mid 18th-mid/late 19th centuries). Howeve, with the Victorian era came an increase in 'holidays' taken by the upper classes, popularising the summer holiday phenomenon as it was then. Tanned skin began to be associated with wealth and status as only the wealthier classes could afford to take such holidays. Following WWII and with the emergence of civillian air travel, foreign holidays became a possibility for far greater numbers of the working classes. Tanned skin became not only a symbol of financial prosperity, but also of health and wellbeing. Add to this the emergence of technicolor filming and finally the bronzed bodies of popular hollywood stars can be seen by all those impressionable young minds.

I suppose you could argue that a whole chain of events popularies the idea of tanned skin, simply by association with cultural icons in the form of movie stars and with the idea of prosperity and wealth. Despite being told constantly of the potential for skin damage as a result of sunbathing etc, the overwhelming message being given to todays youth is that pale and pallid skin is sickly, whereas glowing tanned skin is a sign of youth, health and vigor. Fake tanning has probably helped to perpetuate the ideals of tanned skin even more, since it still proports the idea that tan = healthy.

26, Ireland

10:00 PM  
Blogger Sreejith said...

hi eliza. I've pretty much written my opinions on my blog. As for these advertisements that i wrote about i'll see if i can send some over to you over email.

5:28 AM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Thanks for the comments-
kpc- Its interesting what you said about how in India noones even really aware of how important this whole colour issue is, unlike in other countries where it is at least acknowledged. Btw, would you go as far to say that a person would be disadvantaged in some parts of northern India in terms of employment etc. because of a really dark complexion or if they were african or something? Im trying to figure out how deep this whole fairness issue really is in India, cause I think its probably a lot more superficial over here with the whole tanning thing. Its also wierd about Loreal and Garnier marketing fairness creams in India. I guess I shouldnt be suprised really but I know those companies! Crazy!
And about the reading my paper (which will probably have quite a few quotes from you in it)- I was going to say I would only be done by the end of the year but then I realised its due in June! So you can probably see it in like three months time, when I will apparently have it completely done somehow. Woot

8:01 PM  
Blogger Pastichna said...

Hey Eliza!
I just thought I'd say a little thing about the thing with tanning in the West: my sister used to really want a tan because it apparently makes you look skinnier, so maybe it's a bit of an eating disorder ideal thingo. So that might be one of the reasons it has been perpetuated by the media etc.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Nanda Kishore said...

Hi Eliza,

This is in response to your comment on my blog. I don't remember what my comment was precisely, however I do have some views on this. Anyhow, I think this is a complex, nuanced subject that probably requires a great deal of diligent research, and I appreciate that you are working within a framework here.

In response to some comments, I'm not entirely convinced that in societies with a majority caucasian (to use the term loosely, my anthropology knowledge is not upto scratch) population, dark skin is somehow more desirable. There is a strong distinction between a desire to have tanned skin and dark skin (in the real sense of the term). I have lived in the UK, USA and now live in Melbourne and I don't see a strong attraction among Aussies for people with dark skin tones, at least nothing beyond the 'exotic' charm.

As for India, yes there is an issue, but commercials are just that - commercials, i.e., they try to peddle products any which way they can. That is not to sweep the issue under the carpet, it is very real. Also remember that unlike Africa, for example, India has a very diverse range of skin tones (contrary to what many think), so there are issues in India that may not exist in a more homogeneous population.

At the end of the day, there are hard questions: is beauty really in the eye of the beholder, or is it more absolute? Political correctness stands in the way of most people answering that, but I know what many people think.

Good luck with your work.

Nanda Kishore (M/32/India-Australia)

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Nanda Kishore said...

To emphasise my previous comment, you should ask why aren't there many more African-American or Aboriginal actresses or models, if their darker skin tones are really perceived as desirable? The odd Halle Berry or Beyonce Knowles or Will Smith may be sex symbols who transcend races, but they are more of an exception.

India is more complex than may appear. The greatest screen star India has seen, Amitabh Bachchan, is not particularly fair. Nor is his son, now a successful actor himself. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, quite a few of the biggest stars are dark skinned.


12:21 AM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Thanks for the comment nanda- I agree with you that dark skin is probably preferred in Western countries as little as it is in Asian countries- and there is a difference between wanting to be tanned and wanting to be actually dark. Its probably time I should mention that despite what I say on my original blog posting, I'm not actually researching how caucasians like tanned skin vs. indians liking fair skin. What I'm trying to do is compare the thoughts of Indians living in India and Indians living in Australia on their perception of whether being fair (in the indian sense of the word) is a prerequisite for physical beauty- and in this way trying to find out how much someones cultural context effects someones perception of physical beauty. I brought up the whole tanning thing in Australia because I want to find out if the obsession with tanning and the lack of the media pushing fairness products etc. over here might influence Indians living in Aust. to perhaps not feel that fair skin is superior to having dark skin.

So basically, what I actually need to know is whether Indians who are living in Australia still feel being fair is superior to being dark. So any of your own comments, as an Indian living in Aust, about your feelings on whether you feel fair skin is an ideal of beauty, or whether it is more physically attractive etc (and dont worry about being politically correct) would be really handy as well, so then I would be able to see whether the fair=beautiful perception is still there in Indians living overseas, and see if perhaps someones perception of beauty trancends cultural boundaries etc. and is maybe more universal than I thought.
P.S Sorry if this is really hard to understand or makes no sense
P.P.S- Thanks for the comment kris!

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


a few things to add to the mix. i think hollywood and the media in particular are responsible for the ridiculous ideals of beauty. as someone mentioned before the media and cosmetics are there to make money. if natural beauty is promoted they're not going to sell much crap so i guess it makes sense to promote tans and tanning lotions in a predominantly fair culture, the same way bleaching creams are sold in places where people naturally have darker skin.

Hollywood promotes unrealistic ideals also, and it is such a powerful force in our culture. its no secret america is globally dominating power economically but also culturally. and guess what: hollywood is full of white people. the ideals of beauty is blonde and skinny and tanned and bla bla woof woof. any black people in hollywood are usually fair black people, particularly the female actresses. Halle Berry for instance is half white.

jess had a valid point with the whole cross time period thing. remember, it used to be the in thing to be fat in victorian society. they had clinics specially to helpp ppl gain weight, now its the other way round. this also relates to kris/ point about the eating disorder thing. i think that if people are made fun of for the colour of their skin that can be psychologically damaging. and as amie said noone can change their skin colour (michael jackson excluded) and therefore it is nothing to either be ashamed or proud of. i think the skin colour thing is just another symptom of peoples insecurities and perhaps in india it is also just another convenient way that people can be separated and classed in a way that they have no say in. these insecurities have been manipulated and intsified by the media and thats why something as trivial as skin colour has been blown into a multi million dollar industry of ridiculous products. yeah thats about it from me...

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Renita said...

ur topic is something unique & interesting...though i dont have much knowledge abt this.....i will give u some views regarding ths.
indians mostly prefer to be fair.......thts y cosmetic products out here r having gud sale...i feel guys prefer their gals to b fair.......but girls rnt tht particular abt it.......ths y girls take care of their skin so much....
according to me beauty is to ve sharp features..........whether its black or..white..i thnk people do appreciate whom r dark with sharp features ..........but the thg is thy rnt easily noticable...
i consider the following as indian views
white people r noticed quicly than the dark.white is attractive....even when u check out the matrimonial list u can find people asking for fair ladies...
so white people r more in demand......white people r always considered to come from upper class family....these r all miscon ceptions...........
but i prefer to be tht any colour dress will suit me.......

8:55 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

thanks for the comment carla! I cant think of anything really necessary to add other than...I agree

And renita- when you said that overall people prefer sharp features- I wonder if thats another reason why fair skin is preferred. I know in India at least, (or I think) fair skin more common among north and anglo indians. These two groups generally tend to have more sharper, western looking features, compared to south indians who seem to generally have broader features-maybe the fairness skin preference is because people associate it with groups that have sharper, more western looking features, that they believe to be more physically attractive, and think in a way that if they become fair they will resemble these groups??

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Singhi Kaya (India) said...

In India fair skin is certainly desirable~being patriarchal pressure is more on females. But more than anything else I think this is normal human psychology~you want what you don't with white caucasians may have ignited this desire more, if anything.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please read Frantz Fanon's treatise Black Skin, White Masks, in case you have not already.

IMO, desiring whiteness has to be viewed through power and privileges attributed to "whiteness". There are aspects (perhaps) with the idea/notion of beauty or personal predilections, but to each unto his own when it comes to the latter aspects.


4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMO, the % of people who look good are about the same in each race, there are plenty of ugly fair skinned people.

I don't neccessarily believe the ancient Chinese saying that 'Fair skin equals 3 blemishes'.

BTW: A side question, I have observed that Australians more than any other Western nation seem really racist towards Indians (and non Whites in general). I see this from reading Australian newspapers and forums on the internet. In my opinon it's because Australians may be fearful that their country of less than 20 million is dwarfed by a giant Asian continent of 3 billion + right above them, and they are afraid of losing their European roots and identity. What do you think ?


11:28 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

From talking to some people over there as well, Ive heard before of Australia having kind of this image in India of being particularly racist, and I suppose even more so with the Cronulla riots recently. Personally, I have found no problems with living as an Indian in Australia, in terms of coming across rascist attitudes etc. To me, at least in the major cities with a large migrant population, Australia seems to be a lot less racist than a lot of Western nations, especially many of the European countries. Obviously with the recent riots, there is definetely some racist views around, but these seem to be more in the white dominated beach side suburbs, and this is why I have had virtually no problem living in Australia, because I live in the inner suburbs, which are a lot more multicultural and tolerant, and go to a very multicultural school.

I was actually going to put forward your point, except but the other way around- (feel free to refute me if you disagree) but I was wondering if maybe this fair skin obsession sprung about because of a sense of internalised rascism?? Perhaps, because of all our years of British colonialism, and white domination, and globalisation now, there is this sense of cultural inferiority amongst Indians toward thier Asian culture, and this brought about the perception that fair= more beautiful and superior, even when a very small percentage of the country is actually fair? I kind of got this from hearing stories about the way some black tourists are treated over there, especially in comparison with thier white skinned counterparts- but tell me if you think I'm completely off the mark here.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Singhi Kaya (India) said...

I don't think youre completely off the mark. I think it's at least partially true ~ and some I think already have aired a similar openion. There is even a fancy term for the above in some circle~"slavish mentality".

Me personally thinks that above is true, but favouring white skin have deeper socio-psychological reasons than just 200 years of colonial rule. I think bias for the white skin in our society predates colonialism~who can tell?

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do study this phenomenon not just in Indian context, but also, say, Brazil and South Africa. Perhaps your hypothesis will get tighter along with the problem's contextualization.


11:37 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Singhi- ("I think bias for the white skin in our society predates colonialism~who can tell? ")

Thats another thing I'm trying to find out- whether this perception was actually around even before colonial rule- but from what ive heard, a lot of the goddesses and stuff were dark? And if you look at the really ancient myths etc. this perception isn't really evident at all. But then I remember reading something else about how the whole black=evil and white=purity view has always been around in most cultures, even in ancient Indian culture, so maybe the fair=superior perception was actually around even before the colonisation?

And also, I wonder if the bias for white skin is a more universal trend than i thought before? Perhaps even without all the white colonial rule and Aryan rulers etc it would still be prevalent? Because the majority of cultures around the world prefer a fairer complexion as an ideal of beauty, even the ones that haven't been colonised- maybe its not just brought about by specific social factors, but is also a cause of our biology? Something to do with our genetics and what we look for in a mate? For example, I read somewhere that fairness is almost universally preffered because its associated with infant like neonatal features that are generally seen as more healthy, and therefore a better quality in a mate as they would be more likely to produce offspring.

Thats basically what Im trying to do here with comparing the two countries- see if this ideal of fair skin is only based on ones cultural context and is completely malleable, or if its more universal and fixed, and to do with human biology. Or a combination of both, which is what I think it is.

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I'm writing a paper on pigmentocracy in children of Indian immigrants to America, and I was wondering if you found any good references for your paper? I did a few interviews with Harvard students whose parents moved to the States from India, so obviously I have to deal with issues of the college-educated being more tolerant, the upper-middle class background and trajectory of all my interviewees, etc., but I'd be happy to send you my bibliography once I'm done. Most of the studies I found on the importance of color (and they all find it's very important to people, although many don't want to talk about it) are based on Caribbean residents or immigrants in America, but the theories are useful.

I didn't do enough interviews to make any claims, but the only person who didn't say that lightness/darkness of skin color is important even in the States (in society, if not to them) was a guy who other respondents said "isn't really considered Indian" because he doesn't socialize with other Indians. Also, Indians from the south of India might be more likely to be color-inclusive and divide along other lines (according to all my interviewees from the north of India, and this fit the interviews with my southern Indian respondents). Also, how involved people were with the Indian community growing up may influence whether they internalize Indian attitudes towards fairness.

One of my interviewees is a close friend (Bengali) and she was more open about how she thinks about fairness than the people I didn't know. She said she doesn't like to tan, that she doesn't think people (of any ethnicity) look better when they come back tan from a vacation), and that she thinks it's horrible, but she finds lighter people more physically attractive. Only one of my interviewees ever considered dating a black person (this person dislikes the Indian community), and one talked at length about how "lucky" all the Indian guys he knew said he was to find a really fair-skinned Indian girlfriend.

1:39 AM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

thanks for the comment sarah-
I would love to give you resources and stuff, its just that I havent really gotten into much secondary research yet so I dont know if I can help you out much. Ive got a list of resources that Im planning to use- I havent checked them out yet so I dont know if theyre any good but here you go-
two of the commenters have told me to read Franz Fanon's "Black Skin White Mask" and kpc also said I should read Stuart Hall, Jaques Derrida, Gayatri Spivak, E. Anne Kaplan so that might help you as well. Im also going to take a look at these ones if I can find them--
Karen A. Callaghan: Ideals of Feminine Beauty: Philosophical, Social and Cultural Dimensions
Peter Frost- Fair Women, Dark Men
Awakening Beauty (I dont know the author)
Nancy Etcoff: Survival of the Prettiest:The Science of Beauty
Theres also a documentary directed by Deepak Leslie called "A Darker side of Fair"

And thanks for telling me about the north indian and south indian thing- cause a problem for me is that I dont know any north indians living in India that I can contact, so its interesting to know that they would be less colour inclusive than south indians.
Also, if youre going to finish it anytime before June, would it be possible for you to email me a final copy of your paper? Cause I could probably use some of your statistics as secondary research, esp. if you have stuff on how growing up amongst the Indian community can have an affect on your attitude. And the studies you mentioned also sound really useful.
Thanks a lot! (And I'll put up/email you resources if I find any good ones)

5:06 PM  
Blogger Pratish Menon said...

Took your survey. Good luck :)

7:33 PM  
Blogger Shishir said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Shishir said...

Jus took your survey... The obsession with color is more in the Indian Middle Class coz' here looking-like-it is equivalent to being-it! Esp. in people from the northern parts of the country... Of course these are views of an Indian, who's lived in 14 cities till now...from Srinagar to Chennai!

8:35 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

thanks for taking my survey guys! And its interesting what you said about it being mostly in the middle class- I used to think it would have been more common among people from the working classes...and when you said looking like it is equivalent to being it- if you happen to come on here again, could you elaborate on that and explain it to me, cause I dont think I know what you mean, and in my head youre probably saying something completely different to what you actually want to say.
Thanks again for taking the survey- its much appreciated!

10:10 PM  
Blogger Adarsh A. Varghese said...

I have done the survey for you. Generally speaking being fair is certainly considered to be more beautiful/handsome in the country. The reasons are mainly sociological and I find that many people have already commented on them, so I do not want to repeat. I am currently doing law school and I would be most interested in the results of your survey. Kindly do be in touch.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Nidhi Narayan said...

hi, have just filled in your questionnaire.....
you see looking fair is no longer the craze in india, especially amongst the urban educated population, the rest are still fighting a loosing battle, but they will also soon realize that one is happier the way one is naturally ....u can take a look at any of the cosmetic ads of india, the looking fair ads are drying off quickly and now its more like "mujhe lagna hai mujh jaisa" (i want to look like myself), this is the punch line of one of the biggest cosmetic brands in india.

2:56 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Hey guys- thanks heaps for commenting and answering my surveys
adarsh- i'll definetely put up a link for the results once ive got all my answers in
Nidhi- its interesting what you said about the "I want to look like myself" you happen to know the name of the brand by any chance? Cause id be interested to look into it.

Also, if any of you (who are Indians from either India or Australia) would like to be part of an in-depth interview, then it would be awesome if you could email me or leave a comment, so I can email you back the interview questions for you to fill out.

Thanks again guys

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Abhijeet Singh said...

Vatsyayana's Kamasutra cautions against mating with anyone who is excessively fair OR dark skinned - instead pointing to an ivory complexion as the ideal! Since this text predates the arrival of Europeans in India (by several centuries) it would be logical to conclude that this (equation of fairness with beauty) has little to do with the fact that we (Indians) were ruled for 2 centuries by the British. Also, note that he is cautioning against the extreme at BOTH ends of the skin complexion spectrum!

Every culture seems to have its own ideas of what constitutes beauty. So while some things do remain constant (for e.g. scientists have proven that humans (everywhere) find more symmetrical faces to be more attractive), many things differ – some cultures prefer body art (body scarring, tattoos etc.) in others this may be limited to fringe groups/ cults, some prefer fuller figures in others slimness is worshiped etc.

I personally think that the problem is hardly to do with which physical aspects a culture labels as attractive, it's more to do with the fact that some percentage of the population will always suffer from low self esteem and this is going to fuel sales of fairness creams, weight loss pills, etc. – in perpetuity!

Real beauty comes from within, and one hardly needs to conform to anyone's standards of prettiness to be an attractive person. Date an extremely pretty girl who has a lousy personality for a few weeks – and you are likely to stop finding her attractive very very soon! On the other hand even a so called "plain Jane" will extremely attractive if she is a great person....

My 2 cents worth... :)

6:09 PM  
Blogger amrit said...

I don't know if it's useful but had posted a blog sometime ago which is quite related to the stuff you are dealing with..
Will surely fill your survey thing as and when I get free.. hope I have time

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Krishna said...

hi eliza,
thx for visiting my photoblog. I did took the survey. and you have got some reply comments in my blog too there.. check out. bye

9:05 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Amrit- I went to your blog site and I realised that I'd already been there before and saved it to my favorites cause it helped me out with what I was doing! So thanks for that
And thanks for answering the survey Krishna

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Surya said...

I filled in your qustionnair and I think it is wonderful area to work on! Are you doing this for a particular reason?

In India, in case you haven't already figured it out, the importance given to fairness is so much that it is not in the least bit funny.

I heard from a professor (he was doing a study on the impact of advertisements on the public) that the 'Fair and Lovely' tubes are most sought after in villages(by malleable adolescent girls). Not clothes, not other basic amenities, but the 'fair and lovely' creams. (The story of Mama said so, Papa said so and the adverts. say so!!)

The industry has now begun to gnaw on the men as well now!

9:15 PM  
Blogger ElizaG said...

Thanks for answering my survey Surya! Ive read about similar stories like the one you said as well- like about maids spending their whole weeks wages on a tube of 'Fair and Lovely' cream. Its so crazy! I suppose there is a bit of a tanning obsession in the west but it definetely doesnt seem to be as big an issue as the fairness thing in India and all those other South Asian countries. Ive yet to hear of a homeless person over here spending all their money on a bottle of tanning lotion

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Husky (India) said...

About before when you were asking about the goddesses-
Goddesses and Gods come in all colours, at least they do in Hinduism (and possibly in many other pre-Christian religions)
What's more is that the same Goddesses and Gods come in different shades. Predictably, Christian schools in India teach their trusting charges that Hinduism has white Gods (Devas) and black demons (Asuras). Of course they tie this back into their pet Aryan Invasion Theory. In two ways this is wrong:

(1) Our Gods come in all colours: literal black and white (neither of which are the colours of any real human), blue (neelam) or shyam (blackish blue - names of MahaVishnu, Krishna and Rama and Shyama for Devi), green, pink and gold for different incarnations of the Godesses, purple/violet for the usual state of Shiva (but in other forms he can be other colours).

(2) Asuras are among the good Deities of the ancient Iranians, Devas are among the good Deities of the Indians. Asuras and Devas were meant to be the same colours, which span the whole spectrum as is common with the rest of the Hindu Gods. Even when Christian schools wrongly teach that Devas were white and Asuras are black, they show their ignorance in this field (as they do regularly in others): Iranians are whiter than Indians in general. Then why are they imagined as having worshipped exclusively black Gods? (In all likeliness, the Iranians didn't, based on the Hindu version of Asuras, the Iranians would have worshipped Gods of all colours and colourlessness like us - which included black.).

9:26 PM  
Blogger Naresh V said...

you can see this fairness/darkness thing in ancient epics too. take for example "the ramayana", all the evil creatures are dark-skinned. lanka (present day sri lanka) was where ravan the demon was, and the inhabitants are described as dark-skinned and ugly. this is more of a racist text (indo-aryan(fair-skinned race) vs. proto-dravidian(dark-skinned race)).
in modern-day school-textbooks you see illustrations where all humans are fair-skinned, those nursery rhymes involve praises of things like "fair skin", "hazel blue eyes", "chubby cheeks", etc. it all begins at an early age of an individual.

when you see races that are isolated you don't find such obsession, example in africa, you don't find fair-skin obsession among people who haven't had contact with the whites!
and obsession with the characteristics of a different race starts when that race is more powerful.

talking about western cultures... it's there almost everywhere... take the lord of the rings itself! the elves (and others, eagles, hobbits) are the fairest and the evil-ones (orcs, crows, nazguls for example) are dark and ugly :P

9:54 PM  
Anonymous elizag said...

haha yeah youre so right about the textbooks- I remember when I was younger and lived in India all our picture books would be full of white skinned people with perhaps a bindhi or a sari on to show that they are meant to be indian...and even when we used to colour in pictures and stuff, i remember that we would always call the whitish peachy one 'skin colour' rather than the brown one- which would make more sense. And I never thought about how wierd that was until I a few years of living in Australia- and then i realised how wrong it was that our perception of 'skin colour' over there is completely the opposite to reality

And thanks for telling me about the Ramayana- I was trying to think of the name of that before- so I could look into it but i couldnt get myself to remember

5:31 PM  
Anonymous elizag said...

Hey guys! In case people are still visitng this site- I just thought I would put up a copy of my interview questions, and if any of you would be able to answer them, it would be really great if you could just email the answers back to me at
(All your answers will be completely confidential.)

1. Do you think fair skin is more physically attractive than dark skin? Why or why not?
2. How do you think your experience of living in India/Australia has shaped this perception?
3. Do you think Indians are pressured to live up to the ideal of 'Fair and Lovely'? Why or why not?
4. Do you think there is more pressure for either males or females to conform to the ideal of a fair complexion? If so, in what ways? Do you have any examples of this?
5. In your opinion, what is the role of the media in influencing the perception of 'fair and lovely'?
6. What is the role of skin colour/complexion when it comes to choosing a partner/getting married?
7. How has your skin colour shaped your perception of your own attractiveness/unattractiveness?
8. Do you think the caste system in India has, or did have, a bearing on the perception that fair skin is more physically attractive? If so, why?
9. Do you have any other comments on the issue of fair skin in India/Australia?

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Eliza,

I hope everything is going well with your research (and in case you have finished it, that it went well and was rewarding for you). Personally I cannot help but feel that the colonial experience was of great importance for the 'complexion thing'. I notice the same with my Caribean friends. There it is somewhat different, because (descendents of) slaves mingled with the white colonizers. In a country like Haiti the whole powerstructure is based on the fairness of ones skin. At the end of the 18th century a system came in use to determine this whiteness, a person could be totally black (128 parts black) or totally white (128 parts black blood) and in between there were numerous nuances. However strange this system may seem to us, the effect is as strong as ever in the Caribean. I think the way black people all over the world are preoccupied with their hair can be compared to the Indian ideals about skin complexion. Natural African hair is considered ugly, literally called 'bad hair', straight, soft European hair is the ideal.

I think in India (and even the Indian diaspora) the 'fairness ideal' is as strong as ever, and it is being fed with the filmstars and beauty pageants. For example, I live in Europe but with every 'Miss' contest that is organised a fair girl wins.

1:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the preference for fair skin in South Asia is different from the preference for tanned skin in what are called Western cultures, in that while people like the tanned look, it's not something they are trying to change about their appearance day after day. It's an indication that one is healthy and outdoorsy in the summer, but not something people strive for in the winter. The fair skin preference is much more strong in Asian culture, it has far more of an impact - from marriage prospects to upward socioeconomic mobility - and the major reason for that is the unfortunate colonial hangover of the association of white skin with power, not to mention the compounding effect of the correlation between lower socioeconomic class and caste with browned skin. There is definitely shame about brown skin color - something not seen among very fair skinned people in "Western" cultures. However, the shame is not cultural so much as individual - because it's more the correlation of individual power and status with white skin than underlies the preference for white skin than its correlation with societal standing.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I must add that in my experience this preference for white skin is pronounced in upper caste, elite circles, who were the most desirous of bridging the power gap between themselves and a colonial elite - and of distancing themselves from people of lower class and caste status with physical signs of status. I do indeed think one's ideals of beauty are shaped by society's power structure - which also shapes societal values.

I'm a 23 year old Indian girl, Tamil Brahmin in origin - a group that is nearly obsessed with white skin ... non Brahm Tams are much better about this.

Kaveri Rajaraman

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey im from the uae which is in the middle east however i go to a school which is almost entirely filled with indians. if there are white people they are treated like royalty. theres a female called rebecca who is averagely attractive but is still courted by many guys who choose to ignore tanned indian girls. Girls like rebecca who are australian british or whatever always get more attention not because thyre funny or intelligent but because they are white. I may sound hostile but beacuse of the ovewhelming attention these girls recieve they are so snobby. when they go back to their respective home towns theyre gonna be treated as equals and get a dose of reality.i mean there are tons of girls that are tanned and are just as attractive if not more so. Its so pathetic the way these guys place the snobs on a pedestal

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, my parents are Indian, but I grew up in Europe. My mum is light, dad is dark, and I turned out dark. My whole life my mother has been telling me how ugly my skin colour is and how I should stay out of the sun. I am now almost 40 years old, and still get these comments. i hate her for it, because I still have such a hard time accepting and liking my skin colour. Thinking about it rationally, i know it is nonsense, but it hurts.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous elizag said...

Hi everyone!
My major work is completely finished! So, I just thought Id post and give you all a huge thankyou, in case any of you still visit, for such a huge response that I got. Even though I couldnt quote all of you because of my super limited word count, it was really interesting reading all your opinions/experiences etc, so thanks heaps for that.

So thanks a lot for everything, and seeing as I somehow still find it really interesting despite working on it for almost the entire year, feel completely free to continue this discussion if you want :)

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Eliza,

I do not think this fairness obsession has anything to do with culture, it is completely a consequence of the colonization of the mind. The British ruled India for about 3 centuries, now that is a long time in terms of the human life span. Let me post a quotation by a British explorer,

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen
in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very
backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for IF the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

Macaulay, British Parliament,1835

So you see the very basic foundation of British Imperialism was to make the Indians self-conscious and feel inferior. And thus came the whole myth of the Aryan invasion. Enough scientific evidence has now been furnished against this Aryan Myth. I mean how could the British show the Indians to be inferior if the matter of fact was that all European languages have been derived from Sanskrit. The only way to counter it is to come up with the theory of an older Aryan language from which both Sanskrit and the European languages are derived.

I cannot tell you even today how many of the north Indian people take pride in announcing that they are progenies of the Aryan civilization and are superior to the Dravidians, when in fact according to the most famous historians there is no evidence whatsoever to distinguish the people of the Indian sub-continent in any manner. The differences that exist in terms of the physical appearance across India are exactly the same sort of differences you would see if you moved from say the Scandinavian countries down to Italy and Spain. Now does that mean they are different races ?

Anyways, so the British inculcated and reinforced over 3 centuries the idea that everything foriegn and white was superior to whatever the natives had. And it has been only 59 years since India got her independence so I feel it will still be some time before we will see the efefcts of the colonization of the mind wear off. And until then people would always subconsciously feel inferior or self-conscious in the company of fairer counterparts.

1:31 AM  
Anonymous handsome said...

I've seen the advertisement of fair and handsome. The song is interesting ...hi hansome....hi handsome:). Now in India men are also getting interested in fairness cream. Actually common people have a weakness on fairness. Only few days ago the idea of fairness was mainly concerned with women. But now men are also getting beauty conscious. They're also visiting beauty parlours. But as per my idea is concerned, I think personality is the main thing. So whatever you look like is not so important, getting physically and mentally strong can only help a men to be handsome.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an African American, I have never been able to understand this particular dynamic with Indians. While I was attending high school, I became very close friends with a young lady of Hindu background. Because we almost had identical skin tones, she seemed to very self conscious when people would mistake her for a mixed person or comment that we looked very similiar. In my eyes she was very beautiful and natural. In most peoples eyes, esp. Caucasians, she was very exotic and alluring. Because she was so different from Whites, she was placed into this exotic category. However, she admittedly felt more accepted and closer to white than I!
My point is why is this dynamic happening amongst Indian people. True, African-Americans have had our struggles. But our struggles are a little more direct. We have a history of rapes and interracial relations from Caucasion slavery in the Western culture. Therefore, some of our "blood" forefathers were actually white. This is why African-Americans looks are so diverse. We have had to deal with this particular division amongst our people.
For Indians, it seems that your culture has been more connected and you do not have the ancestral divisions as blacks. Though your country might have dealt with colonialism and other influences, why is it necessary for you to attempt to conform or win favor from Whites. What I find appalling is the fact that, though Indian complexions run the gamut, Indians are still people of color. No matter how fair an Asian or Indian may be on the spectrum, he or she will never be perceived or accepted in the same manner as a Caucasian Aryan within the white culture. So therefore, why take pride a "theory" of skin color that is oppressive?
Remember, if you are Asian,Indian, or Latino, you will never be fully apart of the Aryan culture, no matter how fair and delicate your complexion may be.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may well be that the skin tone implies a certain status.

About a century ago, an American economist named Thorstein Veblen published a very signiticant argument, THE THEORY OF THE LEISURE CLASS, in which he explained that whatever is fashionable is what suggests wealth or aristocracy. For example, the (old Imperial) Chinese fad for very very long fingernails was aspired to because the fingernails implied "I am so rich that I don't use my hands for anything, even to wipe myself, because I have slaves and servants do it all." The European walking stick, the military swagger stick, and even the royal scepter proclaimed something similar: "I am so rich and important that I am always carrying this useless trinket to make it clear that my hands are never available for anything resembling work."

In the Third World, including Asia, a white skin may imply "I get to stay indoors all day long. I don't work in the field." It may also imply descent from some aristocratic ethnic group. The English expression about "blue bloods" - as a synonym for the wealthy and aristocratic - comes from the fact that the wealthy stayed indoors with the result that the blue veins in their wrists could be seen through their pale skin.

In America, a good overall suntan announces "I am prosperous enough that during the day, when lesser people are working, I simply lie out in the sun and do nothing more than roll over to even out this tan." A very intense or uneven tan, on the other hand, has a negative connotation, "I am so poor that I have to work out of doors every day." I am not sure if Third World racial types show a tan the same way that European races do, and that may also make a difference.

4:15 AM  
Blogger cyrusreject said...

There is a more modern theory in indian studies that states that indians get their fascination with fair skin as an effect of British anglo-centric take on Indian History. By promoting the idea that hindu and indian culture was developed by "aryan" invaders, and promoting a superior view of the white-aryan culture, a hatred of dark skin developed in indian society. They took the evidence presented to them and distorted it to fit their views that the white race was superior. The Indian culture has suffered because of it. This is not much different to what the european nations have also done to the Africans. I suspect that this probably also plays a role in the rest of southeast asia, as much of southeast asia was also conquered by the Europeans. As if being subjugated isn't depressing enough, they brainwash you with ideas of inferiority. It's full time asian people stand up and rid themselves of this self-loathing. We are not weak or inferior to any based on culture or colour.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an indian grad student and let me chip in my two cents to help you out here.

Beauty might indeed be in the eye of the beholder. But what the eye sees and the brain perceives as beautiful is influenced by a lot of factors.

In india, beauty is invariably associated with being light skinned. This is ingrained into the psyche to the point that people tend to be racist and discriminatory even without knowing that they are being racist.

A relevant question obviously is the reason for this blind preference for light skin.

Honestly I dont know the exact answer and I doubt anyone does.

Two primary factors could be natural or environmental. Natural meaning that it is likely that the brain might indeed prefer light skin. Why the brain would prefer light skin will need a lot of research into brain function to be answered.

The second factor be environmental. The british rule in india, the inherent assumptions that whites are superior given the western affluence, hollywood, the role indian of media in further fueling this opinion etc.

To give an example of the latter, I will give you my own experiences. Growing up in india I have also been guilty of perceiving light skin as being more beautiful. After coming to the US of A and actually seeing pale white women I'm not attracted to the pale white any more and prefer a brownish to white tone. But did I change my opinion because of what I saw or am I just changing my opinion because the media here is constantly espousing the tanned look? It could be both.

Whatever the natural preference might be, the environmental factors could be more important.

You might actually find quite a lot of scientific literature on role of environmental (social, culture and climatic) factors in determining what is perceived as beautiful.

The natural factors might be more complicated and I doubt that there is much scientific literature on the these.

I would not at all be surprised if one day we find that that the reasons are all environmental (learned over the years) and nothing natural (i.e by birth)

use scientific databases such as and see if you can find any literature.

Good luck

6:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The preference for fair skin in Asia -- especially in India, China, Japan and Korea is unrelated to European views. Fair skin has always been associated with beauty because of class (and caste.)

Fair skin is associated with the wealthy class which do not have to work in the sun. This has been going on for thousands of years. You go to sun-drenched Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and the Chinese girls there are palid because they stay out of the sun at all cost. If they were into Western the idea of beauty, they would be tanning themselves and working out.

Instead we get lots of ghastly white and flabby bellies at the night clubs. Yuck. This is the exactly opposite of the tanned and taut bodis you see in Oz and American night clubs.

Work out and have at least some color when you decide to wear bare-midriffs, China girls!

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Work out and have at least some color when you decide to wear bare-midriffs, China girls!

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you r just jealous of the China girls, dark skin loser! how does anyone else's preferable skin color have anything to do with you?? who r u to judge them??

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

hai,i am girl of 24yrs.when i came into the market of marriage proposal i too suffered with complexion problem.most of my proposals got cancelled due to my dark complexion.none of think abt girls character,smartness,intellegence ,education and so on .allguys perfer fair parents will have big trouble to marry their dull girls.a proverb says black has seven colors ,but it will not valid in these days.

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Hi Eliza,
I am also doing a survey on perceptions of fairness and beauty in India, and found your blog through google. Would it be possible for you to share some of your findings? pls let me know at qasim dot zaidi at iimlnc dot ac dot in


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Anonymous Sahar Khan said...

I'm North Indian girl (from Kashmir originally...tend to be fairer) and I have actually noticed that as you get higher up the social strata in India, the obsession with fair skin lessens. For example, most of the Indian models these days tend to be what Indian fashion journalists coin as "dusky beauties". So, what I think is that as Indians become prouder of their identity and their position in the world, they become less wary or paranoid about their skin color. This is because richer Indians no longer see themselves as subordinate to White people and thus, they no longer desire to be fair-skinned. India is a developing nation and a prospective superpower so, when their financial status will change Indians will feel much more comfortable in their skin!

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