Sailaja N. Joshi

Not Fair Enough (for the Cover of Vogue)

In Anthropology, India, Social Change, Women in Society on April 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm

This morning my good friend, Ms. Shaily Shah shared with me an article that will be appearing in the newest issue of Indian Vogue tackling the prejudices of dark skin in India. The brief discussion of the topic via New York Magazine: The Cut section goes as follows:

Indian Vogue Tackles
Prejudice Against Darker Skin

The new issue of Indian Vogue contains an editorial heralding darker skin. To wit, five bikini-clad models appear on the cover. The demand for skin-lightening creams grew 18 percent last year, and is expected to rise by 25 percent this year.

From the issue:

“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.”

British Vogue reports that fashion insiders in India are thrilled with the cover, and think the fashion industry is a good agent for a change in attitudes toward skin color.

The issue of skin color in India is very close to my heart as it is the central subject of my Master’s Thesis work.  What is striking about this little blurb from the magazine is the following, “Every generation has its share of beauty myths. Perhaps it is time to bust this one…”

Now first off Vogue India, you cannot “bust” any sort of beauty myth because it is deeply entrenched in culture and social values. The idealization of fair skin is more than just a ‘myth’ but, social capital and prestige for many minority women around the world.

For African-American and Hispanic women, much of this ideology is based on colonial oppression where social hierarchies were created through the stratification of skin colors. In other words, if you had light skin you worked in the kitchen and were one of the ‘cool’ slaves. If you had dark skin, you were out in the fields with the rest of your peps.

Now, for Indian women this is a much different case. Fair skin has ALWAYS been the ideal and pre-date colonial oppression. The idealizing of fair skin can be dated back as far as some ancient Vedic test, so fair skin is not a ‘myth’ but part of what it means to be Indian.

Beyond social capital, prestige and myth, beauty is much more than the color of your skin. When one views a societies perception of ‘ideal beauty’, one can also begin to understand the deeper social and cultural values that govern said society.

So getting back to this Vogue India piece. If Indian society is starting to accept darker skinned women as beautiful, then this reflects a shift in their cultural ideals and values. While cultures are dynamic and ever changing, I think a drastic shift from loathing dark skin to loving it will be pragmatic at best. Cultures and societies change, but they do so slowly.

At the end of the day, while the fashion might be a good agent for a change in attitudes towards skin color, this change needs to start with the people. Specifically this change needs to come from the women of India who are not models and gracing the airbrushed covers of Vogue.

And finally in closing Vogue India. If you are going to talk about changing perceptions of skin color India, it may behoove you to have some dark skinned chicks on your cover.

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