Our society continues to maintain a ridiculous narrative of beauty which favors fairer skin tones and mocks darker skin tones. Unfortunately, the idea of having fair skin is often linked to personal and professional success in Pakistan.
Also, we’ve all heard the disturbing stories about darker skinned women and men alike being rejected for rishtas, which is honestly all kinds of fucked up.
After eight years away from the motherland, I had arrived in Lahore to attend my cousin’s shaadi. You see, having grown up in London, I’d never had the pleasure of being a part of a wedding in Pakistan. I was super excited to be involved in all the rasms, get dolled up and looking Bollywood ready.
What I hadn’t realized, though, was that the obsession with looking “gori chitti” had become a normal rhetoric in Pakistani society.
The day of the mehndi had arrived and I was taken to a parlor (standard, obvs) to have my hair and makeup done to perfection. Here’s where things got a little strange for me. Before I could discuss the shade that was to be plastered all over my skin, the makeup wali smeared my face with a pale colored foundation and an even lighter powder. I have oily skin. Don’t judge please.
As I looked to the women on my right and left – also getting shaadi-ready- I realized that we had all been painted with the same incredibly light colored product to make our skin appear fairer.
I know what you’re thinking. “FFS, another MangoBaaz article about the gora complex.” But, firstly, this is such a huge, on-going issue that I don’t think we should ever stop drawing attention to it. Secondly, I guess I was looking at this from my own personal experience of growing up in the UK where white people spent insane amounts on tanning products, sun beds and spray tans to look darker.
Further, we’re living in a time where mainstream Western artists such as Miley Cyrus, Gwen Stefani and Ariana Grande have been accused of blackfishing – an act commonly perpetrated by white women to appear of African or Arab ancestry.
I find it disturbing how these celebrities are actively trying to look like us but perhaps don’t want to bear the reality of racial discrimination. On the other hand, we are trying to look like them in order to adhere to society’s expectations and a historically problematic notion of beauty. My experience at the parlor was pretty frustrating as it only confirmed that this whitewashing of beauty is still the norm.
It was upsetting to witness how happy it made other women in the salon to look obviously lighter than their original skin color.
What’s more is, when I challenged why my skin tone hadn’t been color-matched to a foundation properly, it was clear that I’d almost offended the makeup artist and broken the most important superficial rule of our time.
“Yeh mein kyu karoon?” she replied, casually. “Yahan peh toh aise hee hai.” How could I possibly think otherwise?
During the rest of my time in Lahore during that trip, I began to notice how the media in Pakistan promotes this hegemonic view of beauty.
Not only are billboards and the TV flooded with skin whitening ads, but it’s pretty clear that the majority of our own actors, actresses and musicians are fair-skinned (come on, you know it’s true).
We should remember that discussions around representation in the media center around absence as well as presence.
It is, therefore, important to acknowledge that darker skin tones are completely under-represented in our own entertainment industry. So, it’s pretty fair to say that the mainstream media cannot be trusted to represent the true and beautiful diversity that exists in Pakistan. If fair is all we SEE on screens, how do we ever expect to stop our social fabric from promoting this damaging ideology?
Such thoughts prompted me to look into the dogma that underpin the brands cashing in on colonial ideas and heightened racial inequality.
One of the most successful whitening cream brands marketed across India, Pakistan and the Middle East is (yep, you guessed it!), Fair and Lovely.
I was disturbed to read a report that stated their target consumers are “unmarried girls” because “there is a major part of the female population which considers marriage to be the end all and be all of life.” The report further states that “the advertising of Fair and Lovely mainly focuses on a girl having a dark complexion. This creates a hindrance in her dream of marriage to a handsome prince. Here comes Fair and lovely with its dual purpose of sunscreen and fairness cream. Continuous use of Fair and Lovely for only 6 weeks creates miracles for the girl. So in order to get married many females want to look good and looking good automatically translates into getting fairer.”
The report evidently highlights the deep-rooted links between color and self-esteem in our society.
It’s also downright scary that Fair and Lovely’s main focus is the apparent fulfillment of a dream of marriage because, yeah, sure, that’s all women dream about, right?
Coming back to my point, though, it seems as if it is safe to assume that these companies capitalize on the socially constructed idea that ‘white is right.’ Brands such as Fair and Lovely market themselves as the hero to the rescue – a cure for the alleged ailment that is dark skin. There’s a part of me that feels helpless. Maybe we’re so far gone that we feel as if the social benefits of being fair outweigh anything else.
But there is a bigger part of me that wants to continue to scream at the top of my keyboard to those who feel ugly, marginalized and socially disadvantaged because of their skin color. Don’t frown at your brown skin – embrace it and be proud. Don’t think of yourself as less than – we see you. Don’t all swarm to the parlor to look your fairest – work on feeling your best. Don’t consume yourself with self-hate – push back.
Got any skin-lightening parlor experiences to share? Let us know in the comments below so that we can continue to spread awareness about this.
Cover image via picturtisiq.com