Natasha Kesh and Ananya Majumdar
Actors are all over the small screen and hoardings endorsing everything from shampoos and creams to cement. From Shah Ruhk Khan and John Abraham to Kareena Kapoor everyone is endorsing one of the fastest moving commodities in the market — fairness creams. But Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who is the brand ambassador of an international brand, declined to promote a fairness crèam of the same brand. Thankfully here is one person who is conscious of the fact that such advertisements are demeaning as they equate fairness with beauty.
Nevertheless, business enterprises are capitalising extensively on this fascination for fair skin and flooding the markets with fairness products. Every major brand has some kind of fairness product in its kitty. Name any Indian company that makes beauty products, and you have it. Foreign brands, which are banned from launching such products in their own land, are also making inroads with such products cashing in on the Indian obsession for fairness. They tempt consumers with promises of getting rid of the high melanin content responsible for darker skin within 15 days, 14 days, 7 days and some even claim results in only 5 days. Not only soaps and creams, a talcum powder is now playing on the psyche with a promise of ‘instant glow’ that is suggestive of fairer complexion.
No matter how tall their claims are, all these products have a market which only proves the craze to be fair. Do customers actually believe it’s possible to change skintone? Dr Shobha Sehgal, head of beauty, VLCC Health Care Limited said of the clients who come to VLCC for skin care treatments, almost 60 per cent want skin lightening treatments, which also includes tan removal, skin radiance treatments or the perfect skin whitening treatment. Those coming in for pre- bridal packages, almost 80 per cent want skin lightening treatments in the package. “It’s not just girls who want to become fair. There has been an increase in the number of men who come to the center demanding skin lightening treatments. We have to counsel our clients to focus on their holistic wellness so that they don’t just look good but also feel great,” said Shobha.
The figures show many put blind faith in such creams. Paromita Nandi, a TV presenter in Kolkata swears by such products.
“I am obsessed with fairness and prefer to use anything to give my skin a lighter tint. I did turn a few heads once I started using Fair and Lovely consistently and I am happy with the results. After my programmes I get as many emails from people saying they love my skin colour.”
She is not alone. Gargi Choudhary, a 25-year-old college student says, “I’d like to have a glowing skin and therefore keep trying various products in the market. Though I don’t like to discuss it with friends. I feel shy.”
Not everybody shares the prejudice as Ria Saha, an Economics student from Goenka College says, “I don’t have a hangover for fairness, but I know some people do. I’d rather have glowing skin to having a fairer skin.”
Do we still turn a blind eye to the harmful after-effects of creams packaged in glossy tubes? As Rituparna Gupta, a microbiologist exclaims, “It is our right as consumers to know what is going into these creams. It’s time they stopped touting these creams as having no side-effects.” Dr Subrata Majumdar, a scientist who has dealt extensively with skin-related issues said most fairness creams have a high percentage of hydroquinone, which blocks melanin secretion. Mercury and a new derivative of Vitamin C, Kogic Acid are used too, which even peel the skin. The harmful after-effects, opines Dr Majumdar, are skin cancer and kidney problems.
Over the past few decade feminists have scoffed at the propaganda of ‘fair is beautiful and successful.’ A feminist activist in Delhi, Sabeira Pereira is surprised to know how much of an impact a cream can have on the psyche of people. “Brands such as Fair and Lovely are running campaigns to say they fulfill a social need. They say 90 per cent of the women use creams to lighten their skin tone because it is aspirational in a way. A fairer skin is like an educational and social step up. I suppose everybody likes to believe that success is easy to get using this commodity.”
A dark-skinned pride movement has been growing in recent years. Women across the web have been writing about their heartfelt acceptance of their skin colour, just as it were, including Ruchira Sengupta, who has written a doctoral thesis on the topic. “My mornings used to involve at least an hour of skin routines, just to see if I could look a bit fairer. But now no more,” she says.
But it’s a long way to go before the fairness bubble is busted.