Unfair and Not Lovely

By Riya Gopal

My earliest memory that I can recall is trying to figure out why the terms “dark” and “beautiful” were inversely related. During frequent trips to India with my family, posters of light-skinned women littered each billboard, advertising a brand called Fair and Lovely. I remember feeling confused, noticing a disconnect between the porcelain models on the poster and my own darker complexion. Why were there no models with my skin color on the billboards? I asked my mother what Fair and Lovely was, and she explained to me that it was a bleaching product that whitens skin. Having grown up in the US with its white-washed media, this revolting product somehow made sense to me.

Since then, I felt incredibly insecure in my darker skin, believing that beauty was only achievable through being light. My aunt would chide my mom for letting me play in the sun, as it made me tanner. Boys at school started telling me I was “pretty for an Indian.” I would watch Bollywood movies that seemed to only cast actors based on how white they looked. I had the audacity to believe that fairness of skin tone equated to how lovely you were, and I let it consume me for years.

The Fair and Lovely epidemic is not specific to India. According to a recent study published by World Health Organization, 77% of Nigerian women have admitted to using skin lightening products. Why is this product so prevalent? The colorism connoted in the ads for these products portrays lighter skinned people as more desired and successful. The psychological implications of this are serious, with young women facing low self-confidence that negatively impacts their personal and professional successes. Such beauty standards can essentially direct the course of someone’s life, making them feel too worthless to pursue certain goals.

The bottom line: change needs to be made in the societal perception of beauty and product marketing. I think a lot about how I want the prevalence of colorism to change for the next generation. I think a lot about my future children, and it is scary to consider how this standard of beauty will make them feel in their own skin. I am terrified that whiter people will persistently dominate the workplace, and that the dark-skinned children of future generation will be too scared to pursue their dreams. As women of color, we have the right to sovereignty over our bodies, and the right to unapologetically embrace our melanin. Dark is lovely.