Posted on September 12, 2018

Colour Me Right: It’s Time to End Colourism in India

Muna Beatty, Al Jazeera, September 10, 2018


My reality was simple: In India, I as a person had less value because of the colour of my skin.

A deep-rooted obsession


Indian society believes skin colour determines a person’s worth. In our culture, all virtues are associated with “fair” while anything dark has negative connotations. TV programmes, movies, billboards, advertisements, they all reinforce the idea that “fair is beautiful”.

The Advertising Standards Council of India attempted to address skin-based discrimination in 2014 by banning ads that depict people with darker skin as inferior.


Four years later, India’s media and advertisement industries are still promoting the idea that women with dark complexions should aspire to be fairer.

And most dark-skinned women are still desperately trying to look fair. Some use makeup that is meant for lighter skinned women, choosing to look “whitewashed” rather than embracing their natural skin tone. Others use bleaching products.

I know people who are at least a good 10 shades lighter than me who feel their skin colour is not good enough.

In India, everyone wants to be fairer.

I want change for my daughter

Today, I am a mother blessed with a son and a daughter. My husband and my son are lighter skinned, while my daughter has a darker complexion, like mine.


For example, when her school put on a performance, fair skinned kids were placed at the front regardless of their heights, and darker skinned children were all made to stand at the back, including my daughter. It broke my heart.

After watching that event, I realised that, until society’s perceptions change, my daughter will continue to think her worth is determined by the colour of her skin, just as I did when I was younger. So I decided to do something to facilitate change.


I’m now running a campaign called #ColourMeRight, to help give my little girl a better future. With this campaign, I want to make Indian media stop portraying people with darker complexions as inferior and make sure there are dark-skinned role models for young children like my daughter to look up to.

One may think there are bigger issues we are grappling with in India and that this campaign is dealing with a somewhat trivial issue. That may well be the case, but prejudice is prejudice, and I believe by changing the way people think about skin colour, I can make life so much better for millions of little girls just like my daughter.

As a result of the prejudice I suffered as a dark-skinned woman from a very young age, I still lack confidence. I don’t want my daughter to go through all this. I want her to grow up in a progressive society that accepts her for who she is — recognises her for her character, individuality, strengths and values.

The first petition I started via as part of the #ColourMeRight campaign was directed at a leading jewellery brand in India, named Tanishq. The brand used the tagline “Jewellery for every bride in India” in one of its advertisement campaigns. However, these ads featured only fair-skinned brides.

There is already a stigma around marrying a dark-skinned woman in India — one has to only look at the matrimonial ads seeking “fair” brides. This is why advertisement campaigns directed only at fair-skinned brides-to-be are not acceptable.

I was pleased to see many people agreed with me. And after gathering over a thousand signatures, my petition got a response from Tanishq. The company issued a statement assuring us that they will “create commercials that reflect the truly diverse nature of the country”.


Recently I started the second petition, this time against India’s cosmetics giant, Lakme.

Lakme is India’s first homegrown cosmetics brand and after over 50 years in the business, it is still the market leader. It is a well-known brand that plays a prominent role in many Indian women’s beauty routine.

However, when you look at their website, you see that their products cater only one skin colour: fair.

The theme of this year’s Lakme Fashion Week was “Celebrating beauty without bias” and “beauty beyond boundaries” — so the company is well aware that cosmetics could and should be inclusive. It has the capability and the potential to do the right thing and cater for the cosmetic needs of all Indian women — fair, dark and every shade in between.

With this petition, I’m hoping Lakme to see its mistake and take a step in the right direction. If a company as big as this one starts catering for darker shades, it may help change the Indian society’s perception of dark skin.

Ending colourism in India

We still have a long way to go to end colourism in India. #ColourMeRight is just the start of a very long and undeniably difficult journey. This campaign aims to give a voice to countless women like myself who have been made to feel invisible and forced into silence because of their skin colour. {snip}