Fair Or Unfair: Colourism In India

​Our obession with fair skin is not new. It is so deeply embedded in our psyche since childhood that we do not recognise it. From tv ads to tagline of brands. Even urban India is not above these farcical beliefs. If you don’t believe that discrimination on the basis of colour (known as colourism or shadism) doesn’t exist then take a look at the matrimonial ads in newspapers or even religion. They rip away any illusions we might have about it.

History To Present 

Indo-Aryanism has something to do with it as there are more tolerant traditions in south with darker hues and Dravidian heritage. Some point out Aryans preference for fair or light shade of skin.

It can also be traced back to the caste system where the dalits or the untouchables had darker skin tone while the elite had fairer complexion. It had more to do with the kind of work they did but the rigidity in the caste system later enforced the false belief that fairer skin meant higher caste this widening the gap between castes.
Some of it can be accredited to the colonial discourse which the advent of British rule in India. While they didn’t introduce it, they certainly enforced the concept. White supremecy was at its peak in India during that time. Colonists had to build a firm foundation of distinction what better than physical features to differentiate betrween us and them. It affected us so deeply that even now we believe fairer the better.

Even in comics fairer skin is used to show virtues, valour, courage while the villains have darker skin, showing vices, cowardice, bestiality, etc imbibing the oppositional concepts through fair and dark skin tones. Eg: Amar Chitra Katha comics. 

In religion Gods are shown to have fairer skin while Asurs are shown to have darker skin thus enforcing the belief that fair is better. Eg: Calender Art of Hindu Deities.

Author unknown

Fashion magazines usually portray women of fair skin as beautiful. The most recent example is of Vogue India which had Kendall Jenner on the cover of its 10th anniversary issue which sparked the debate of Colourism in India for multiple reasons. Kendall Jenner has nothing to do with India. They could have used that opportunity to show a different idea of beauty but they didn’t.

10th issue cover


There is an inherant belief that is nurtured since childhood that being fair makes you better than others. A lot of emphasis is put on complexion especially in kids and they grab this accepted and endorsed form of beauty. 

As for kids with darker complexion they have low self-esteem and confidence.

According to the study by World Psychiatry, the journal of World Psychiatric Association, by agreeing to stereotypes and internalising self-stigma, “People are dissuaded from pursuing the kind of opportunities that are fundamental to achieving life goals because of diminished self-esteem and self-efficacy. People may also avoid accessing and using evidence-based practices that help achieve these goals.” (The Logical Indian)

Science Of Melanin

Skin tone is not by choice. Skin colour is determined by a pigment called melanin (size and number of melanin particles) . It is present in different ratios and forms. There are two forms of melain – eumelanin( dark skin)  and phenomelanin (white or pale skin). It is produced in special cells called melanocytes. Melanin functions as a shield against harmful UV rays. So people living near equator produce more melanin to protect themsleves from harsh rays of sun, where sunlight is abundant throughout the year. To know more about thus visit this site.

Contributions Of Advertisment in Enforcing This Belief

The cosmetics companies are cashing our obession with fair skin as skin whitening creams are very popular in our country. Fair and Lovely is a popular household name along with other white tone creams and powders like wow fairness creams, fairness therapies etc. Even ads of such creams show fulfilment of all goals by merely getting fairer. They usually show a girl or a guy who is unsuccessful in workplace or personal life because of their skin tone and as soon as they use the product and become fairer within 4 or 5 weeks. They become successful at workplace, they get promotions, become popular with friends and desirable enough to get married. It in turn attaches a negative stigma with darker complexion.

Fair and lovely kind of misleading advertisement

Consequences Of Such Belief 

Obession with fair skin puts an unhealthy presure on people especially kids, teenagers and young adults to be fair to gain easy acceptance in society. If they fall short they are ridiculed, mocked and bullied, often called derogatory names.

Appearances make a differnce. Tough fairness creams for tough guys is an indicator how desirable fair skin is even for men.


As of april 2017 men fairness creams account for Rs 400 crore in sales. In 2015, according to data from research firm Euromonitor International.

Emami fair and handsome had 40% market share.

Fair and lovely mens had 9.9% market share.

Garnier men power light moisturiser had 9.7 market share

Nivea for men whitening moisturizer had 3.5 market share.

One of the leading brands of fairness creams

Love your melanin.

Rising Above

Awareness campaigns like Dark Is Beautiful by Nandita Das is breaking barriers and instilling new idea of beauty among people. It seeks to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin colour bias and also celebrates the beauty and diversity of all skin tones.

Launched in 2009 by Women of Worth, the campaign challenges the belief that the value and beauty of people (in India and worldwide), is determined by the fairness of their skin. This belief, shaped by societal attitudes and reinforced by media messages, is corroding the self-worth of countless people, young and old.

Dark Is Beautiful

We have been conditioned to believe that fair is beautiful. It is time to change that old belief that has done nothing for us except erode away self-worth of countless people everytime they are rejected only because the colour of their skin or when they are told various cosmetics products or homemade remedies for getting fairer skin. Beauty is a social construct just like virginity  (a topic for another day). In a country as diverse as India we can not have just one idea of beauty. We need to have 1.3 billion ideas of beauty. Complexion is just like ice cream flavours you can not have just one to please eveyone. Each to its own. Gradually people are realising that companies are exploiting their insecurities. All skin tones are beautiful. Every person created in His likeness is beautiful. It is your values, virtues, flaws and empathy that counts.

In a society that benefits from your self-doubt liking yourself is a rebellious act.

Quote author unknown

Pic Credits to their respective artists.


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