We like ’em lighter! Hoopla around Ms. America 2013

Credit: Salon, thinkprogress.org
Credit: Salon, thinkprogress.org

An outpouring of nationalistic sentiment, on twitter-feed on September 16th morning, read something like this:

Courtesy: www.buzzfeed.com
Courtesy: http://www.buzzfeed.com
Courtesy: www.buzzfeed.com
Courtesy: http://www.buzzfeed.com
Courtesy: www.buzzfeed.com
Courtesy: http://www.buzzfeed.com

Clearly, there was some confusion about Ms. Nina Davuluri’s heritage, some called her Arab, some called her Al Qaeda, some called her an Indian and some a terrorist. We weren’t quite sure how the same person could be confused for an Arabian (from Saudi Arabia), an Indian, a 7-11 owner and a terrorist. We soon found the rage had nothing to do with her country of origin, but merely her skin color!

Courtesy: Huffington Post
Courtesy: Huffington Post

Ms. Nina Davuluri was selected Ms. America 2013 after beating Ms. Kansas and others – who were all captioned as “perfect Ms. America” candidates owning to their lovely blond hair, glistening fair skin and rocking abs!  Nina on the other hand was clearly brown-skinned, even though being born in New Jersey to American parents made her eligible for the “Miss America” pageant. Clearly her gorgeous face, bright smile, talent and intellect won her the title fair and square!

Not all was lost! A larger majority – liberal, educated and sensible Americans showed their support requesting bigots to:

  1. Attend world geography lessons (Saudi Arabia and India have an entire India ocean dividing them)
  2. Appreciate the melting pot America is becoming as an homage to “all” our “immigrant” forefathers and foremothers
  3. Acknowledge that beauty didn’t belong to a particular race, color, class or creed
  4. Understand that not all brown toned people were terrorists

Having experienced and heard racist incidents first hand in America and other parts of the West, none of these bigoted and shameful reactions surprised us. In fact discussions around racism were common – last major rounds of mudslinging happened during Obama’s election. What shocked us were the Indian brethren’s disappointing comments, “If Nina had participated in Miss India beauty pageant, she could not have won because she’s too dark.” The bitter fact is they were possibly…not wrong.

Try examining the mainstream Indian media superficially. Switch on the TV and you will be reminded that only fair skinned girls are truly happy. For instance, take a look at this You Tube add – a dark skinned girl enters a building with her father. Because she is dark, she is shown to wear plain Saree, with hair soaked with oil and a dull sullen looking face (insinuating – dark skinned women have no fashion sense).  Then her father finds the cure – “Fair and Lovely” crème. She applies it and becomes fair overnight! With fairness, she regains her lost confidence and smile, and gains a brand new wardrobe and a stunning hair to match! She enters the same building as before and a certain CEO makes her the model of his company – and DANG! There she is – the successful “fair” supermodel.  Never mind the fact that the ad is clearly sexist, but the content was demeaning to dark skinned women in every imaginable way!


“Tall, dark and handsome” is the thing of the past, because “Fair and Handsome” is the new mantra for men. Take a look at the ad below. The ad features a dark skinned sad and dull looking fellow, who is revived by our fair looking Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan (in reality, Shahrukh has an ultra-brown complexion). Shahrukh gives him the magical “FAIR AND HANDSOME” crème. The guy uses it, he becomes fair, and then he becomes an overnight success with women flocking around.

Oh it gets worse…take a look at this ad. The protagonist is a stuntman BUT he is dark. He is shown to do all the hard work in the movies but another fair skinned actor takes all the credit for his work. The stuntman is so dark that people are turned off by his face! After applying “FAIR AND HANDSOME” however, he becomes the superstar with the whole world lining up around him.

We have often wondered about the implications of such ads on kids who are born with the regular tanned (somewhere between brown and dark brown) Indian complexion. I was always tanned skinned girl, though I remember seeing these fairness crème ads and feeling extremely sad for not being so “fair”. We think it is high time we raise concerns about such ads that are run day and night in the TV.  We applaud Nandita Das’s campaign – “Dark is Beautiful”, where she openly talks about the unhealthy national obsession with being fair; she privately discusses struggles of many Bollywood actress who were forced to lighten their skin colors for meatier roles in movies.

As a society we must stop and take note of the social impact of such discrimination, especially on little girls. We end this blog with a personal story of my neighbor’s young and brilliant daughter from my childhood. Unfortunately, given the national obsession with fair skin, her dark complexion didn’t attract any suitors for an arranged marriage. She could have explored greener pastures in life by venturing on her own, probably finding her man on her own. But everyone around her kept reminding how her dark skin ruined her chances of finding a husband. Gradually this eroded her self-esteem and today she is clinically depressed reminding us of the harsh social impacts of such systematic discrimination.

Despite these issues, most Indian women seemed to have taken their complexion in stride. Many recognize the lasting damage fairness crèmes can have on skins and self-esteem. Thanks to likes of Frieda Pinto, tanned Indian skin and stunning Indian features have found international renown. Lastly, we want to add that a smile defines the beauty of a woman, whether she is be dark skinned or light skinned. So ladies keep your smile on, and detractors off!

Header - Dark is Beautiful

(Note: If you wanna be a part of the change, take action today and please sign the Change.org petition against the fairness crèmes ads – http://www.change.org/darkisbeautiful).

4 thoughts on “We like ’em lighter! Hoopla around Ms. America 2013

  1. Thanks for putting the spotlight on this. I know folks in the ad industry in India who refuse to do ‘fairness’ ads on principle as they perpetuate the absurd notion that lighter is somehow better! Alas it is the prevailing sentiment… Sigh…

    1. Many thanks for your comment. And you are absolutely right about this prevailing sentiment. Hopefully campaigns such as “Dark is Beautiful” will bring about change. Glad that social media can be effectively used to bring about some change!

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