Fair is Beautiful and “Dark is Beautiful” Too

By: Alexis Jung Suh


In countries around the world, skin color is often associated with success, intelligence and even personality. Mainstream Indian culture propagates the myth that skin fairness is necessary to become powerful and wealthy. Due to this absurd belief, the skin-whitening cream market is worth nearly half a billion dollars in India alone, which is more than what Indians spent on Coca-Cola in 2012. [1]


Not only is the idea that people are discriminated because of the shade of their skin ridiculous, the heavy use of these creams may be putting people’s health at risk. The lack of sunlight reaching the skin lowers Vitamin D levels, which leads to weaker bones, thus increasing the chances of osteoporosis or bone fracture.


According to said Dr. Susan Sridhar, the Dean of Media Studies at Hindustan College of Arts and Sciences, “one of the main reasons for high standards of beauty being imposed on young girls and women is pure economics.” The whitening cream industry is part of the “multi-billion dollar economy built on our insecurities about the size, shape and color of our bodies. The main idea is to make us feel insecure about ourselves and then sell a product that will assumedly make us almost perfect as the models we see on screen” says Dr. Sridhar.[2]


This is the reason Sudha Menon, a best-selling author could not bear to wear any other color besides brown and grey when she was younger, and Sreeja Raveendran was given a farewell cake at work that said “Goodbye Blacky” and many others are denied jobs due to their skin color. [3]  So many men and women suffer from low self-confidence and are denied jobs just so that certain corporations can gain profit.


Luckily, there are groups and people speaking out and trying to change this social practice. Women of Worth (WOW) is a network of women across India who aim to empower females to stand up “for justice and equality in every facet of life and society” [4] and is drawing attention to this skin color bias. They launched their “Dark is Beautiful” campaign through a gallery at British Council, Chennai, featuring paintings, poetry, short stories and photography.


Since then, award-winning Indian actress and director Nandita Das has given her full support to the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign. In a YouTube video, she shares her experiences, and she expresses the whole idea that fairness equals beauty. She reveals that she has lost roles because she refused to wear skin-lightening make-up to play upper-class characters.[5] Even before the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign, Das throughout career has consistently spoken out against skin-bias in the entertainment world.


“Dark is Beautiful” also created a Change.org petition asking Emami, a leading Indian cosmetic goods and toiletries company to take down its new and controversial commercial. The commercial advertises its skin lightening cream for men featuring Shah Rukh Khan, a leading Bollywood actor. The Change.org petition says the message of the commercial is that, “fair skin is a prerequisite for success” and in turn “propagates discrimination among men, women – and even children.” [6]


It’s not just a women’s issue as Emami’s own research showed when the Fair and Handsome brand was first introduced, 30% of the skin lightening cream users were male, which led into their launch of products designed exclusively for men. [7] This demonstrates that males are also pressured into believing they have to have a certain skin-shade to gain prestige and power.   


Everyone must come together – dark-skinned, light-skinned, men, women — and learn to see beauty beyond color and support the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign. However, as much as these groups and individuals speak out skin-color stereotypes, corporations must also work to reverse this trend. Das mentions in her YouTube video that, “even if you know intellectually [that you’re beautiful the way you are], the pressure around you, it’s too much.” Companies such as Vaseline, L’Oreal, Emami and Dove need to stop marketing that idea that fair skin should be a common goal for everyone. Color is not a basis to determine beauty.  Beauty is subjective. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and for a few to create a standard based on earning profits, is ridiculous.



[1] Vikram Sheel Kumar, “Who’s the Fairest of Them All?,” Forbes, August 19, 2010, accessed August 13, 2013, http://forbesindia.com/printcontent/16402.

[2] Durairaj, Lydia. “The Indian Whitening Cream Market Is Expanding at a Rate of Nearly 18% a Year.” The Weekend Leader. Accessed August 12, 2013. http://www.theweekendleader.com/Causes/1249/Scare-and-sell.html.

[3] “Dark is Beautiful,” Women of Worth, accessed August 12, 2013, http://darkisbeautiful.blogspot.com/.

[4] “Women of Worth,” Women of Worth, http://womenofworthindia.blogspot.com/p/about-us.html.

[5] “Nandita Das about the Dark is Beautiful Campaign.” YouTube video. 6:32. Posted by “DesiYUP,” uploaded May 17, 2013. http://youtu.be/mo3ZJymnsRw.

[6] “’Fair and Handsome’ and Shah Rukh Khan: Take Down Discriminatory Ad. Lead the Change. #disbcampaign,” Change.org, accessed August 13, 2013,  http://www.change.org/darkisbeautiful.

[7] Campaign India Team, “Emami relaunches Fair and Handsome with SRK’s promise of ‘more,’” Campaign India, July 4, 2013, accessed August 13, 2013,  http://www.campaignindia.in/Video/349007,emami-relaunches-fair-and-handsome-with-srk8217s-promise-of-8216more8217.aspx.

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