I have been here 24 hours and the number of advertisements on TV for fairness creams and soaps are simply mind-boggling. Every second commercial propagates the magical properties of a cream that can give you clearer skin and milky white fairness. Bordering on the ridiculous is one where a model, extremely fair, by Indian standards, is worried about her darkening complexion and proceeds to use a cream and become even fairer. The even fairer effect was achieved in the ad by way of adding copious amounts of powder to said model’s face.
Why does this bug me, you as ask? Because these ads are targeted towards women like me. I am part of the millions that are dark-complexioned and have skin that can be used in the before picture for most acne ads – red, pockmarked and outright difficult to deal with most of the time. I have way too much hair fall (very soon I will be able to model for hair plugs, move over Salman Khan) and I already qualify for the before picture on hair color ads as well. Why have Sonam Kapoor talk about gray coverage when there’s nary a gray strand to be found on her pretty head.
In the initial 2 decades of my life, my appearance did not bother me much. Maybe it was the confidence of youth or the fact that we had one TV channel – good old Doordarshan with more ads for pressure cookers than beauty creams or that we were brought up on old-fashioned Indian values where inner beauty mattered more than external beauty. We weren’t constantly bombarded by long-legged, svelte beauties with size zero figures and perfect skin all day long. When haldi chandan ka ubtan was the height of our beauty regimen and if you were born with curly hair, taming it with nariyal ka tel and braiding it tightly was the only option available to you.
There were one or 2 girls in college whose fragrance lingered in the air after they had walked past since they were privileged enough to obtain perfumes and make up from abroad. The rest of us aam janta were content with our nariyal ka tel, and ponds cold cream.
In the last 10 years, though I have become aware of a revolution that wants us all looking like clones – straight-haired, fair-complexioned, clear skinned and with a size zero figure to boot. So that is now our concept of beauty. We have no more room for irregularity in our features, no more appreciation for uniqueness. By the standards the current beauty industry is setting, me with my gray, curly, unruly hair, my pockmarked face and my less than enviable figure have no right to be called beautiful.
It would be one thing if the products being advertised did 1/10 of all that’s touted on-screen. I haven’t yet come across a hair color that withstands 6 shampoos without exposing your roots or a fairness cream that makes you fairer. I haven’t tried any of the age defying or wrinkle reducing creams (I’m vainly telling myself that I have laugh lines and not wrinkles) so I can’t comment on them, yet.
Don’t even get me started on infomercials that sell tea that can cause you to get a shapely figure or a belly reducing belt. Now those should just be declared criminal and done away with.
What irks me is we’re selling an image to the masses that cannot be achieved unless there’s dedicated effort towards dieting and work out and some plastic surgery and airbrushing thrown in as well. An entire generation of girls will grow up thinking that they need to have skin the color of peaches and cream and hair that’s stick straight. The ones genetically blessed will rule the roost, the ones able to buy their way will enjoy similar status while the majority of the population will spend hard-earned money chasing an impossible dream and deal with self-esteem issues.
Why are we so afraid to celebrate the diversity in appearance? Gray hair is a sign of experience and wisdom, wrinkles indicate I have people in my life that I worry about and I laugh with. My curly, unruly hair is a representation of my independent spirit and my dark skin tells you I have been out soaking the sun and living it up.
Some of the softest hands I have seen have not had manicures. They’re hands that have willingly worked to ensure the comfort of others. The most beautiful eyes I have seen are not kohl and mascara lined but those that have shed tears of joy and sadness, that have seen pain and endured it, that still smile in the face of adversity. If we all looked alike the world would get pretty boring. It is our differences that cause people to take a second look.
We need to send a message out to beauty companies letting them know this ideal of beauty is unacceptable. Please make fairness creams but the least you can do is use an everyday model, a girl/woman who struggles with making herself a wee bit more attractive on the day of the all important job interview or when meeting the love of her life. Please make ads for anti wrinkle creams, but feel free to use moms and grandmoms who will forever stay young at heart and all they need is to knock a few years off their age. They do not want to compete with 25-year-olds.
This is all the more important for our coming generations. I would hate to see smart, well-educated women tie their self-worth to how fair and thin they are. We are a world where the last frontiers are being conquered by women. Imagine how much more we would achieve if we did not spend time wondering if the cellulite cream we bought will get rid of our dimpled thighs.