Has Skin Whitening in India Gone Too Far?

Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News, June 5, 2012

It all began with a YouTube video a friend sent me. You need to see this, she said, trying to contain her shock and laughter. And so I pressed play.

It was an advert. A couple sits on a sofa. The husband reads a paper ignoring his beautiful wife: her face, a picture of rejection.

What could this be selling? I wondered, as I watched.

Moments later, this scene of spurned love turned soapy when the leading lady was seen taking a shower.

But – she wasn’t using any ordinary shower gel. No, she was using a skin lightening wash, which, as the graphic which then popped up on screen informed the viewer, would lighten her genitals.

After an application of said fairness cream, rose petals appear on the screen, and just like the ending of a good old Bollywood film, the couple are seen happily embracing.

The moral of this story – true love will conquer if your nether regions are a few tones fairer.

That a skin lightening product should exist for such a private area has attracted criticism, shock, and disgust from some quarters of the media.

The desire for lighter skin is nothing new in India. For centuries women in South Asia have been raised with the belief that a fairer complexion equates to beauty.

But this latest development in a new area has reopened the age-old fairness debate.

Should such products be on sale? Is applying bleach to your skin healthy, and what are the psychological effects on girls who are told they’re only pretty if they’re paler?

It even reached the highest level with one government minister writing to the advertising standards body calling for the product to be withdrawn.

But, despite repeated concerns, the lightening industry is booming, and diversifying. One market research firm even reported that more skin lightening creams are sold in India than Coca Cola.

The market, which initially focused on beauty conscious women, is now pitching to men too.

“The first fairness cream that fights sweat” read the large white letters on a bus stop billboard I passed.

It was accompanied by a photo of one of Bollywood’s actors of the moment, John Abraham, his chiselled face promising fragrant fairness to all who buy the product.

If those variants weren’t considered enough, you can also find deodorants for fairer underarms and talcum powders for whiter skin.

Advertisers specialising in this field, must spend hours devising new campaigns for their products.

“Do you think twice before wearing certain clothes because they don’t seem to suit your body’s uneven skin tone?” asked one half-page advert in a respected newspaper.

“Notice how the colour of your hands is different to the colour of your face?” asked another.

It seems illogical that such prejudices should continue to exist in modern day India, but they do.

One wannabe actress told me she failed to get parts in films because directors bluntly told her she was too black.

You only have to look at posters and ads in India to see glamorous Bollywood stars who, thanks to a bit of graphics software, have dramatically lighter skin tones – with others going the whole hog and endorsing the products.

These are the stars who are worshipped by so many in India, and if many of them are complicit too, then it’s fair to assume that this industry will only continue to grow.

Topics: , ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • Only in a country of 800 million – where half of those even starve –  can The Wealthy worry about such things and afford such products.

    • Francis Galton

       Not to nitpick, but you’re off by about 400 million:


      • thanks for contributing to the topic

        and yes i didnt use caps punctuation and periods
        thanks again mom

      • Good job getting my reply to you censored.

        Have fun fisking.

      • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

         FP is almost always off in his statements because he thinks understanding the details of a story or history is petty.  He also displays a tendency towards wild exaggerations.

    • loyalwhitebriton

      Wow! You’ve made a perfectly sensible socio-economic argument, despite the fact that your somewhat snotty reply to Francis Galton was (quite rightly) removed by the Mod.
      I have hope for you yet lad! 

  • In a nation with more cell phones than Toilets, women whiten their private parts as the men dont bother looking at their faces.
    “she was using a skin lightening wash, which, as the graphic which then popped up on screen informed the viewer, would lighten her genitals.”

  • anmpr1

    I know several Indian professionals.  They are obsessed with skin color.  Example: I was speaking to one Indian woman pharmacist about meeting an Indian doctor’s wife.  She knew the doctor, but had never met his wife.  The first thing the woman asked me was, “How light was her skin?”

    Another Indian doctor, in casual conversation, started telling me how the skin color in different parts of India differs, and how lighter is always preferred.

  • They might want to replace us,
    but they will never BE us.

    Sucks to be them. (/gloat)

  • crystal evans

    It is not just South Asian Indians that have an issue with skin color but East Asian women will carry umbrellas with them to avoid sunlight. Light skin is also prized among Filipinos. You will never see a dark skinned Miss Philippines.  The same thing with Mexicans. Actors and actresses in Mexican tv and movies are light skinned and green eyed. Not the dark skinned Indians or Mexicans that we see in the US.

    • WhiteGuyInJapan

       A lot of that has to do with socio-economic status.  Lighter-skinned people obviously did not work in the sun and were of the higher strata of society.  Thus, lighter skin denoted status and wealth.  Among white office workers, having a tan can be a status symbol, as it means you weren’t in the office. 

      You mentioned East Asians.  I see the women carrying parasols as soon as spring comes to Japan.  Reminds me of the Victorian-era ladies.  Rather charming, in its own way.

      Actually, South and Southeast Asians express some surprise that some East Asian women use skin-lightening products.  “But they’re so pale naturally?”

      Ahh, the vanity of women.  I’m a healthy heterosexual male, not entirely complaining.

      • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

         I lived in Southeast Europe for a few years.  The television broadcasts are revealing.  Blondes are almost always featured in commercials and programs; women that is.  They also love to pair the whitest women they can find with the darkest local ethnic type they can find.  I am talking about Italian tv broadcasts too.  The most interesting were the French newscasters who when female, always  made full use of their embouchure in speech, providing the most titillating of news reporting style.

  • WhitesRdumb

    “But – she wasn’t using any ordinary shower gel. No, she was using a skin lightening wash, which, as the graphic which then popped up on screen informed the viewer, would lighten her genitals.”

    If my genitalia got any whiter they would be transparent.

    • Rocky Bass

       Some things are best kept to ones self. Then again I am a blabbermouth too.

      • Spartan24708

        Yes there is a thing called “too much information” and this seems to be a very big example of it. 

  • BJDeller

    When I lived in South Africa in the days of Apartheid when it was much safer, we would often see black women with mottled skin on their faces due to using skin lightening products.  It became such a problem that for a while they were banned. Has the fact that many black men prefer white (blonde?) women got anything to do with the problem?

  • KenelmDigby

    ‘Everyone’ except the US government, in fact, – which privileges darkies over White by grants of cash, the best jobs etc.

  • WhiteGuyInJapan

     You might be on to something there.  With most of the Asian societies, the preference for lighter skin came before contact with the West.  Hey, let’s not bother with facts at this point.  😉

    Someone should write a book arguing that “White racism” caused Asians to hate themselves and develop a fetish for paler skin. India and Malaysia are great examples.  Pump it real good in the media, etc.  And then give the proceeds to groups like AR.

    Hmm, I should stop talking now. 

  • white people try to get tans

    • Sherman_McCoy

      Add smoking to that and you get 30 year old women who look 50.

    • Spartan24708

      It is as bad an idea for Whites to tan as for anyone else to use skin lightening creams. I was a committed sun worshiper as a young person and at 40 have blotchy sun damaged skin on my arms, upper chest and to a lesser extent on my face. I now slather my children in sun screen, especially my son who has very blond hair and delicate fair skin. 

  • Sherman_McCoy

    Probably a Christian.

  • mikejones91

    F*** that. He said “pale”. That actually DOES offend me. Pale skin is sickly looking, not healthy. However, fair skin can be VERY LIGHT, but still look/be healthy. IT’S all about diet and exercise .

    • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

       Pale has not always meant sickly.  In fact, the medical word for a sickly appearance is “pallor.”  But in Victorian times, the pale look was considered desirable.

      • mikejones91

        Yeah, what I am saying is PALE is sickly. Creamy white is healthy. Pale, and creamy different things. Trust me, I love red heads.

        • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

           One of the problems today is that people are concocting meanings for words that are not accurate.  It extends to historical interpretations and other vital issues that often leads to a culture of misinformation and a loss of self knowledge.

          • mikejones91

            That’s just me. When I hear pale, it ALWAYS derogatory. I met this red head and I told her how much I loved her creamy skin. I told her if she ever went to a tanning booth, a warrant would be put out for her arrest. Creamy/Pale///

          • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

             If you step back and think about it, many words are given derogatory colloquial meaning through repeated use in a negative context.  This is the principle of Critical Theory as first outlined by  the Frankfurt School and used by many leftist groups from Civil Rights Movement to the Feminist Movement and beyond.  It is the operating principle in establishing PC Newspeak; Orwellian through and through.  They are counting on us becoming more and more disassociated with everything that defines us, including using our own language properly.

             You may have a difficult time seeing it at first, but it is a simple mechanism.  That is why I always look to the technically correct meanings of words;  because if enough words are modified this way the overall meanings of larger issues changes.  This has been done to modify the focus and meaning of our history, for example.   So when we are vigilant about how language is applied we not only defend our cultural and native tongue, but also protect ourselves from our language being used against us.

            Other than that, your statement here seems a bit bombastic.  How could you ever think you could arrest someone for using a tanning booth just because they are a redhead with “pale” or creamy white skin?  I think I know that you are saying that it is wrong to tan beautiful white skin, but this is not an effective way to dissuade anyone from the practice.  Better to point out how often tanning booths are shown to produce overdoses of UV and contribute to cancer formation in light skinned people.  Of course, the other item is that the same principle that makes the redhead ashamed of her red hair and pale skin is the same one that drives redheads so often to marry and reproduce with dark skinned males.  As a man who had a couple long term relationships with stunning redheads and  have been married to one for 12 years now, I think I can speak on this with some veracity.

            Just some things to think about.

          • mikejones91

            Yeah, when you say it that way I see what you mean. You realize I was joking about the “arrest warrant” right? Cmon now. I was being sarcastic. Joking/Flirting with this girl. Telling her she would be arrested if she were to tan , as to compliment her wonderful skin tone. I thought that was pretty clear.

          • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

             Okay.  While I and many others can always be accused of not having a sense of humor, I have noticed that people who intend their posts to be humorous or sarcastic usually indicate it by some sort of signature 😉 or expression.

            Many of us often assume that everyone will get what we mean, but do not spell out our meaning clearly.  In such a serious forum where ridiculous things are so often portrayed as serious propositions,  I guess I would say that first, I am glad we can get clear on what was going on here, but second that everyone ought to be sure their posts are jokes or meant as sarcasm.

            I also think that such conversations as this are valuable, because details really are valuable and Amren posts ought to be more than where each individual just spurts out a two line comment as some sort of therapy or demonstration of how witty they think they are.  Anyway, I have noticed you making some very good comments along the way.  Keep it up.

  • .

    Indians would be better off concerning themselves with character and morality. I’m not suggesting Hindus are deficient in this area because I don’t think they are. I’m just saying that’s more important than outward appearance. Besides, there is nothing wrong with the way they look.

    • mikejones91

      White girls (the trashy one) wish to be tanner, and the Indians wish to be whiter. Pretty backwards. I love a white girl with natural creamy skin. Then in the summertime, that “sun kissed” look. I’ll admit, Indian women can be very beautiful. They need to be grateful for their skin tone, just like whites.

      •  Are you serious?  Indians worship White skin.  Worship. 

        Marriage proposals always want the fair skin.  As white as possible.

        You will never be able to convince Indians not to love White skin.

        • mikejones91

          I wish ALL white women thought like that too!

    • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

       Hindus actually do have a problem with ethics.  They arrive in the U.S. and get into many fraudulent activities, assuming as some other groups do, that our opened society means that we are too stupid to catch them at it.  They also have a problem with the assumption of “high caste,” wherever they go.  In the U.S. many seem to think that they are better than whites and that whites are always going to be dumb compared to them.  The conceit I am seeing is incredible.  Most of them are not attractive people and they don’t just love white skin, they covet it and sometimes seek to dominate what they can’t have personally, not all that dissimilar to blacks.

  • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

     You may know, but perhaps not, as others that many Germans settled in Veracruz and Mexico City in the late 19th, early 20th century.  On a thought, we can recall how places like Brazil and Argentina have had inflows of Europeans, including Germans from the beginning.  The seat of the Portuguese Empire was relocated to Brazil for some time. 

  • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

     Unless you are white in America and not rich.

  • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

     It’s simply that non-whites covet the position they place whites in because of their looks.  When that coveting is combined with envy, ideas that whites have an unfair advantage were taken up by the emerging race hustling industry, who play the angle to the hilt.

    Other than that, it is natural that the people who are the originators and ethnic owners of a culture would have the greatest advantage at home. 

  • crystal evans

     I agree with you because I saw one of those telenovelas with Cuban Jazz singer Celia Cruz. She played a maid in the show and you could tell that she was treated differently by the people she worked for.

  •  You idiot. then why do Indians chase white girls? Why not black girls?

    Why do Racist Indians avoid Black girls like Plague? 

    Indians are the biggest racists in this world?

  • Spartan24708

    Most of those and I will admit- very good looking- men probably have more than a little Anglo blood due to the long rule of India by the British.

  • Spartan24708

    I used to go to tanning salons until a black woman I worked with said that the beds looked like coffins. She was right and I never wanted to go back to one after that! 

  • Spartan24708

    Based on his Wikipedia article he is of Parsi and Dravidian heritage. 

  • CourtneyfromAlabama

    Most people who harrass me about my white skin are white males on the beach. I am sick of it. It is hard for me to figure out which gender in our race is more brainwashed. White women are emotionally naive while their men are failing to set good examples.

  • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

     I’m surprised at you.  If you need convincing of what BJDellar said, I recommend that you find a copy of Eldrige Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice,” and read the way he exposes the black male obsession with the white female as a racial sex object, and then go out onto the net and search keywords like “black on blonde” and you will fine the worst samplings of porn imaginable (not really imaginable at all) that will illustrate all too well that black males have a very sick and obsessive attraction to white women.

  • Mainlander

    These are your own personal opinions and preferences. Reality would state otherwise.

  • Grow up

    Actually the insane person here is you- you think that just because they people are applying skin creams to get rid of uneven skin tone and to make themselves appear a few shades lighter to achieve an olive complexion prevalent in North India and NOT present among any “White” European without artificial tanning, they are self hating. You are DEAD wrong to think that just because these people are dissatisfied with their skin tone, they are somehow worshipping or pedestalizing European people. The best looking Indian women are MUCH better looking than ANY hollywood actress on Earth or any white women for that matter. European features cannot compare in beauty to East Indian features. Do Europeans want to be Middle Eastern or Indian because they tan? Beauty ideals are different in every country. Do not make the mistake of judging people for it. Keep festering in your delusions of white supremacy. East Asians have already bested you guys in IQ, Africans in athletics, and East Indians in IT and pretty much every field that is professional.