Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why are Asians obsessed with fairness? - The 'Snow-white complex' vs Tanorexia

This is absolutely hilarious especially after you watch the original below

 This video is beyond words- I reserve my comments

From Korea to Japan to Thailand, dark skinned people are looked down upon . That being said, this issue is not just unique to South Asia, whitening creams are sold by Olay, Ponds and many other favourite brands profit off these ideas in Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and even East/South East Asia. At first glance this seems to be the flipside to the “Western” afflication of Tanorexia.  Bleaching vs. Melanotan

Indian VOGUE’s issue is tackling colour prejudice within the country, with a cover promoting darker skinned models. Under the headline “The Dawn of Dusk” five bikini-clad models aim to dispel the prevailing belief in the sub-continent that pale skin equals beauty. Just using the word Dusky has with it negative connotations.

"Every generation has its share of beauty myths. Perhaps it is time to bust this one," the editorial says. "Time to say that as a magazine we love, and always have loved, the gorgeous colour of Indian skin...dark, dusky, bronze, golden - whatever you call it, we love it."
 The appearance  of light-skinned Bollywood stars and models, the demand for skin-whitening creams - from big-gun brands like L'Oreal and Unilever - grew 18 per cent in 2010 and is set to increase by a predicted 25 per cent in 2011.

There’s a creation story in Thailand. In the beginning god created man. At first, he cooked the people too much (dark skinned people). Then he cooked them too little (pasty westerners). Finally, he cooked them just right (light skinned Asians).

In countries where “whiteness” is preferred, you’d think there would be racial tensions but there aren’t. In Asia, there are no race riots, no KKK, no nationalist parties, and no race based organizations.

Historically, dark skin was associated with people who worked in the fields (also known as the poor). The upper class stayed indoors and in the shade. Asian countries look down on dark skin not because of racism but because they don’t want to be perceived as poor.

In Asia, it’s good to be white. TV stars are white. Models are white. Everyone is airbrushed until they look like gauzy, ghostly versions of themselves.

"Looking for a slim, homely and fair girl for our son" - that is usually how most matrimonial ads read, the stress being on the word "fair". Many say it is proof of our obsession with a person's skin colour.

Anup Dhir, senior cosmetic surgeon at New Delhi's Apollo Hospital, says obsession with fair skin has something to do with the British colonial era.

"Indians are usually obsessed with fair skin as they acquired this legacy from the British era. As our rulers were fair skinned, we also run after fair complexion," Dhir said.

According to experts, a fair skinned person is considered attractive regardless of whether that person has a symmetrical face or a healthy figure.

The desire to be lighter-skinned, according to Indian anthropologists, is ancient, carved into the culture by waves of light-skinned invaders, and is also linked to India’s complex social hierarchy, or caste system. Those higher up the scale generally tend to have paler skins than people on the bottom rung. Perhaps this "snow-white complex " is related to the so-called "Aryan Invasion Theory"  with regards to India.

Some Indian women are so concerned about pigmentation that during pregnancy they eat saffron, powdered gold and green grapes, and drink lots of milk, in the belief that this will make their babies lighter-skinned.

Recently, spice shops and newly opened Indian and Pakistani beauty parlours in South Africa have been doing brisk business with “fairness” creams.

Former beauty queen Sorisha Naidoo claims her products have sold out since pictures of her “new fair self” appeared in newspapers. 
Naidoo, whose Pure Perfect skin-lightening creams are proving so profitable, said she’d decided to lighten her own skin because she was insecure about her colour.

“A photo shoot in a bikini for FHM brought out my insecurities ( I remember this issue and she looked really nice!). I really wanted to have beautiful skin and colour and began researching skin-lightening. I have no qualms about the fact that I lighten my skin, because I was unhappy with my original colour,” she said.

At R1 000 for a basic cream and R3 000 for a 113g jar, Naidoo’s products are, however, not guaranteed. "I have clients who put their children on the product — some as young as nine years old, with a reference from dermatologists, so that they are not the slightly darker child in school or in the class picture," says Sorisha 

Matrimonial adverts in India, the UK and South Africa all read the same. Besides the quirks of “girl prefers boys with turbans” , or “preferably vegetarian” you get the inevitable “ prefers fair girl”. I am still trying to figure out what a wheatish complexion means , I suppose it is a colour in limbo between “fair” and “dusky”.

Psychologist Sriddha Lutchman said Indian women’s perception of how dark or fair they were affected their confidence. Lutchman conducted a study in which she asked participants to rate their likelihood of finding a marriage partner, given their skin tone. She found that the lighter the skin tone, or perceived skin tone, of the person, the higher their self-esteem and belief in their eligibility.

“This sense of being better because you are light-skinned has been ingrained from generation to generation. This does not bode well for a large sector of our population, as those who are darker begin to feel inferior. They feel that they are not worthy and that they cannot be beautiful

As an Indian I can unfortunately say that these statements are completely true. What's more is, it's not really comparable to the tan-mania in the West which is purely a beauty thing, whereas the fair skin obsession in South Asia has to do with beauty, social status, self-esteem and affluence. The most successful actresses in Bollywood Katrina Kaif and  Aishwarya Rai, are depicted as lily- white and light-eyed (Rai)and therefore considered the epitome of beauty. Other naturally-dark actresses such as Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone are miraculously lighter in their make-up ads compared to reality.

A good read that points to this is Michael Korda's book "Queenie" I’ve read it and  have  watched the  2-part  mini-series/movie. Korda’s book is structured on the life of his aunt and Hollywood legend Merle Oberon, who is widely considered to have been Anglo-Indian.

Lakshmi Menon - Supermodel

Dr Shalini Kapoor - transformed herself
into a Beverly Hills Barbie.

Dr Kapoor Again

Sorisha - Parfait Pale!

Sorisha before "the Lightening"

Priyanka Chopra

Beyonce too?

Sorisha Naidoo again

 No comment


That Vogue cover



  1. It's really tragic how the mentality that promotes 'whiteness' above all else is the majority view. It speaks volumes of our unwillingness to throw off the shackles of our colonised minds. Worst of all are the substandard creams and bleaches that permanently scar and cause skin cancers...hopefuly one day we will toy with the idea that perhaps white is not always right?


    The same reason Westerners are obsessed with tanning... lighten up with your doom and gloom comment, desert! Everything does not have to be traced back to colonialism!

    How do you rationalize skin tanning which is 3 times a larger industry than skin bleaching?

  3. Hi Anonymous I had no idea that the tanning industry was 3 times larger. Most of my patients like the tanned looked and none of my Asian or Black patients really want to look lighter but want a more even toned skin as with my White patients - they desire an even toned skin but of course don't want to look pale. Radiant is what they are going for.

    Also being Indian I know first hand about the whole desire have fair skin - I'm not entirely convinced that it stems from colonialism.

  4. @Anonymous, one of the reasons tanning is larger industry is because it costs more than skin bleaching and a lot of the pale skinned have the opportunity to travel more to see other skin tones. The darker people of the world are usually entrenched in poverty and aren't traveled enough to be able to easily identify another skin tone that they would prefer. In a country like India where there's various skin tones and a large marketing of fair skin, the majority of the population opt for beauty products with a skin lightening agent. These products aren't expensive. In fact, the imported products in South Africa retail for about R20.

    Whilst colonialism may not be entirely to blame, today we're faced with a different type of colonialism; the takeover of a global advertising which is constantly telling darker skinned people that they aren't pretty enough and pale individuals that they are not tanned enough. But as history has seen changing trends of preferred skin tone, perhaps the lightly tanned look (which is still considered fair skin btw) may fade away and let a different skin tone become popular.

    I highly doubt thought that the dark skin tones of Sri Lanka will ever be considered globally beautiful or the large tanning industry would already be going darker. Instead tanners stop at a point where they are sun-kissed - that's still quite light.

    1. The tanning industry is larger because there are many more people tanning their skin than there are, lightening their skin. Just like skin lightening products, there are tanning products which are quite cheap; if you go to BOOTS, you'll be spoilt for choice! Conversely, there are also loads of bleaching creams/treatments which are profoundly expensive - it's neither here nor there...

      On your statement 'the darker peoples of the world you speak of are not 'usually' entrenched in poverty' - I'm tempted to state that it seems like self indictment, and that every country in the world has 'poverty pockets here and there. Suffice it to say, many people who are poor still have access to television [this is illustrated during the world cup, and by their knowledge of top tier footballers]... and they watch movies. You do not have to travel to see the different peoples of the world and their varying complexions. Indeed, quite a lot of things I know about India and also Sri Lanka, I saw on films.

      On different types of colonialism, it is my opinion that what aggressive global advertising does is to seduce people into easily doing what it is that appealed to them ever so slightly, before seeing the advert/ or bring their attention to what could appeal to them. [I speak on the average individual, and not those who would obey the wind if asked]! Reasonable people do not usually do what they do not believe in because it's everywhere... No, the fact that the advertisement is aggressive is rather a source of irritation to them, than it is a convincing tool.

      On the dark skin tone of the Sri Lanka woman, personally, I think their women are some of the most stunningly beautiful women in the world, and their unique skin colour has quite a lot to do with that. Besides, one must not be so impressionable to have to wait on another to define beauty on their behalf*

      This topic is very very interesting to me because the White people that tan want to depart from having pale skin to having a dark hue; while the dark people who lighten their skin want to achieve a light skin.

      According to survey, a lot of white ladies who tan want to achieve Jennifer Lopez/Gisele/Nicole scherzinger complexion; while the Black people who want achieve the Beyoncé-like/ Halle Berry complexion.
      I haven't heard a white person say they want the Wesley Snipes complexion; and I also haven't heard of a black person who want to look like Cate Blanchett.
      The tanners and lighteners on the white and black sides want to meet half way!

      Like I said in my October 28th comment, the skin tanning industry is 3x the skin bleaching industry.


      This paper reports:
      "Whiteness has always been valued ... but now we're moving towards a globalised model. It's not about pushing whiteness any more, it's actually about MIXEDNESS... A Time magazine cover recently showed a composite photograph of lots of people to create what they called 'the most beautiful woman in the world', AND OF COURSE, SHE HAD BROWN SKIN. Today in Britain, while it's not about wanting to be black, mixedness is considered beautiful – olive skin signifies cosmopolitanism and values of globalisation."

      see link @

      Enough said.

  5. Firstly I love that the beauty doc has blogged about this again..I'm Indian.. for me personally I can honestly say it has nothing to do with colonialism. I think for many people it comes down to personal preference and has a lot to do with perception. Someone once said that as individuals when we look in the mirror we perceive ourselves to be 10 times better looking than we really are.

    Whilst I would not want to be super dark.. I would rather prefer having a healthy skin.. no marks, scars, holes, pigmentation, large pores etc instead of being "white" or "light". And if I had to choose, I would want an olive radiant skin because that's what appeals to me as beautiful. I also think that having an olive skin tone compliments any colour of clothing or eye/hair colour that you have.

    I've actually seen the fair and handsome cream (the exact same one in post above) at the China Mall.

    Whilst at campus many of my friends also tried staying out the sun and carrying umbrella's as they did not want to get sunburnt aka "dark"

    I still believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I would be interested to know is if gender plays a role in all of this? Do guys also want to be lighter? One of my male friends currently uses a male fairness cream.. lol

    I definitely think that this has brought a new meaning to being "comfortable in your own skin"


Love to hear your thoughts!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...