“Chekka Chevvaeee nnu irukku” (she’s so bright and white skinned)! These words have haunted me for a long long time. I’ve always wondered why parents and grandparents were so obsessed with the white skin. Especially that of the girl child. Color of the child is almost the first thing that many many Indian grandparents notice when the child is first born. The birth of little A came with “of course chekka chevvaae nnu irukka, she clearly has that from her dad”. Ahem!! And it was fine when the boy was born in any shade but it was always disappointing to see the girl in any brown shade. The paler, white kinds were always preferable. I’ve been noticing this madness for the white skin has gone out of control lately. You could say Hindustan Lever has cleverly figured out how to make the most of this stupid fetish. My family’s new to IPL (for that matter new to Indian TV). And the husband’s already addicted. 10.30 – midnight everyday .. cricket’s all that goes on. If he’s over for lunch, then it’s on then as well. I can’t see the match. I can’t watch the play. I can’t move past the jampak jampak crap with all those white girls dancing. Or Sunny Leone. Or the cheerleading! Seriously. (I’m perfectly fine with the rest of the jampak campaign. It’s the shameless white skin obsession that I’m referring to here, just to clarify). This is disgusting. That we’ve stooped down so low. I don’t remember it being this bad. That we have to outsource white skin for the lack of white skin pool in the country. That we have to grow viewership both at home and around the world by flaunting white skinned young girls. That our men need to be entertained with white skin. When did this obsession get so bad?! Someone also needs to tell them that what they do in the field is not cheerleading, it’s obscene dancing. It’s practically an item number. And we had to go looking for white young girls to fill the field and the screens at home?! It’s disgusting. It’s insulting. When did it get so bad, I keep asking myself. (Pains me to realize I’ve been that clueless and oblivious to what’s been going on here).
Watching TV is so difficult because it’s everywhere. I remember watching fair n lovely ads when I was young. A few. Here and there. And then last summer when visiting India for a vacation this is all I saw on TV. Fairness creams for everyone. Every few seconds on TV. I can’t move past these ads. How misleading, messed up they are! I’ve noticed there are the male versions of these as well. Unbelievably shameless. Reinforcing the same macho crap. Use fair and handsome and you’ll be cool and macho like Shah Rukh Khan and can pick up some groupies along the way! I mean, that’s really all that women want. To be SRK’s groupies. Shame on you SRK. Shame on you. The things Bollywood will do for change in their pocket!! How come they’ve learnt absolutely nothing from their Hollywood counterparts other than stripping and love for white skin!
Then the movies. I’ve been away for a while now. Haven’t watched too many Indian movies in that time. Have noticed the rise of the Konkana Sens and Nandita Das’ of the country in mainstream Indian cinema. Maybe India was progressing I’ve thought. My love for Bollywood, Kollywood or any other Indian ‘moviewood’ faded over the years. I wasn’t allowed to watch Indian movies till I was 20 (yes beat that!) I had a brief OD-ing season or two on Indian movies when in grad school making up for the previous 20 years and pigging out on the newfound freedom. But by 25/26 I’d pretty much stopped watching most of them. 2 or 3 a year at most. And that soon faded to practically none after I had little A. Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor make me throw up. Shreya and Trisha make me feel ashamed of being Indian. Dark heroes are all the rage in Tamil Nadu now. Straight out of the slums. It’s street cred. It’s cool. The rise of the meaningful Tamil movie, some say. But reality hasn’t changed for the girls I suppose. Or as always, the reality is intentionally being emphasized in beauty. The girls still have to be 18 and glowing white. It’s disgusting. What exactly are we telling our South Indian ladies? That ‘karuppu dhaan enakku pidicha color’ (Black is the color I like, a famous Tamil song) applies only to our men? That we women should begin falling in love with our dark skinned Tamil men because there are more of them around finding it harder to date?! But we need to busy scrubbing ourselves fair in order to please our dark skinned counterparts? I puke each time I see Shreya on screen. I don’t have anything against her for being fair. The only thing I hold against her is her ‘acting’. I’ve practically stopped following Indian cinema and the jokers in it precisely for this reason. I was far away from it and was not worried for my daughter while in California. When she saw Kareena dancing to Chamak Challo on TV once she called out ‘amma, paati dance’. And ever since, she calls all Indian songs with dance numbers ‘Paati dance’. I’m not sure which paati she’s seen dance like that. Shudder!! She asks for paati dance once in a while. I’ve been extremely happy. Very very happy at my daughter’s label and choice of words. Apparently glowing white skin and thinly clad dancers don’t signify youth and energy. Paati dance it is!
Until now, that is. Between IPL, Paati dance and fairness creams on TV I know that this obsession with color will reach her ears someday soon. We don’t let her watch much TV now so this whole situation to me is like the Disney princess situation. She’ll get there when she starts school soon. Then all we can do is try and teach her what we can at home. I don’t want her using fairness creams. I don’t want her to feel like she has to be a certain color to please anyone. I don’t want her to think she needs to dress and look a certain way to be cool. There’s one line in The Beauty Myth that’s stayed with me for a long long time. The world has taught our girls that stories happen to beautiful girls. Good, bad, eventful, adventurous or anything else. A story worth telling happens only to beautiful girls. And it looks like Indian men and Hindustan Unilever have decided that the next wave of Indian beauty is to be defined by color and color alone. The lack of clothing bit has been coming for a while, so I’m not as shocked by the lack of clothing on TV. Ashamed but not shocked. But this obsession with skin color .. this is definitely new to me. The obsession itself is not entirely new … it’s the intensity that’s creeping me out. It’s everywhere. There seems to be a standard being set.
At some level I want to say what I see on TV is not what I see around me. I see confident young girls and peers around me wherever I go in Bangalore. They don’t seem the kind obsessing about their skin color. Not that I’ve had a conversation about this but one can tell a little from the confidence and attitude. Then who exactly are they selling these products to? Is it the growing middle class? My nanny for one?! She’s almost 21 and I’m paying her a happy chunk of change. She keeps talking about color and beauty. She sure has enough money to buy herself a fairness cream. If this is true, how exactly is one supposed to help her, at 21, understand beauty and that she is trying to live up to a randomly (not so random but going into patriarchy might just be too much overload of a conspiracy theory for her) defined standard of beauty. This kid, she has dreams. I teach her English in the afternoon, after I get little A down for a nap. I have promised to teach her how to use the computer soon. She has a vision of a better life for herself. How does she get there with a fairness cream in hand?! And how does one convince someone that this is not worth it? Someone barely educated to begin with.
I’m worried for my daughter. I’m worried for other kids I know. I’m worried for my nanny. Where does the fairness cream lead to next? Who’s the next standard in beauty? Cosmetic surgery has risen and fallen several times in the past 2 decades. I’m not ruling it out for India just yet, given it’s barely hit here. (Unless I’m clueless, again!) I don’t know what the changing avatars of the fairness cream will be … but I’m not sure what to do about it. All I know is that I can’t watch IPL because that cheerleading jampak jampak crap, kills some part of me each time I see it.