An advertisement offering university scholarships to students with fairer skin caused uproar among the people of Thailand. Their reaction to the skin-whitening cream by Unilever was so strong, that the company had to apologize for any "misunderstandings".
Just a couple of months ago, India started a ‘Dark is Beautiful’ Campaign.
Nandita Das, an award-winning Indian film actress and director and the face of the campaign, calls India's obsession with fair skin a curse that has driven some young women to the brink of suicide.
“Magazines, TV, cinema, everywhere being fair is synonymous with being beautiful,” she says.
Countries like India, Pakistan, some African and most of the Arab states are obsessed with lighter skin - probably a hangover from their colonial days.
Aparna Ray writes on the Global Voices, “The desire in India for lighter skin is fueled by a widespread belief that dark-skin is ugly and inferior. Not only is fair skin perceived to be a key definer of beauty, but is also seen to be an essential element of self-confidence, success, and happiness.
And brands have been quick to tap into this fervor, selling creams, lotions, soaps, cosmetics, and personal hygiene washes promising skin-bleaching. The so-called fairness industry brings in more than 400 million US dollars per year, more than the sale of Coca-Cola and tea in India, according to The Atlantic magazine. “
And it’s not just women; even men feel the need to get fairer skin, as is apparent by many an advert. Amazingly, the phenomenon is just not restricted to the common man. Megastars like Shahrukh Khan, Shahid Kapoor and John Abraham all promote these products.
Indian Actress Rani Mukherjee in reality vs a magazine cover
One would imagine that big stars would not have to deal with skin color issues, but that has not been the case with famous Indian actresses. Rani Mukherjee is a brilliant actress, but dark with non-traditional looks. She has faced numerous problems and has been the victim of stereotyping more than once in her career. Even now and then, one sees her caked up in layers of whitening makeup and bathed in light on shoots. It was only after a long struggle that she was able to make a mark for herself.
Nandita Das also faced similar problems.
The situation is similar in neighboring Pakistan, where the media is swamped with commercials for skin whitening products.
Almost all of them show girls with dark skin looking disheartened, unable to get jobs, make friends or find husbands until they are introduced to a fairness cream and viola, their lives turn around miraculously, They are suddenly the most popular girls at college, get jobs by just walking in to an interview and flashing a smile and tie the knot with prince charming.
Many African and Arab countries seem to follow the same stereotype for beauty, which leaves a big chunk of the population with low self esteem.
Nana Adae-Amoakoh writes in Think Africa Press, “Business is booming for the many pharmaceutical companies invested in the science of skin-whitening. As millions of Africans buy into the wealth, culture and, increasingly, the skin colour of Western society, is Africa in the midst of an identity crisis? The growing preference for white skin is not merely one of choice or aesthetics, but seems to grow from self-doubt and the lingering confusions of post-colonial identity.”
Many of the fairness creams contain mercury which lightens the skin, but also exposes it further to UV rays by thinning it, resulting in several health issues including skin cancer, muscle weakness, osteoporosis and even organ failure.