colorism in South Asia : the problem with ‘fair and lovely’

by Areej Khan

During a time of social uproar , protests and petitions have sparked rejection and

reexamination of how racial discrimination affects all aspect of life , including the

mainstream beauty industry.

South Asia is no stranger to colorism. For decades, the incessant promotion of

whitening products has brought to life a generation of insecurity , lack of

empowerment and innate prejudice. The marketing campaigns [1] that

emphasize light skin as a positive quality, feeds into the inherent stereotypes of

millions of Indians - equating fair skin with beauty and black with ugly.

Clinical psychologist Radhika Bapat says “the concept of fair skin is ingrained at a

very young age along with sexualization of identities”. Whether it be potential spouses or

partners, skin color is a factor seen by many as ‘a personal preference’. The real question

here is not if they should think this way but why they deem the color of one's skin a

deciding factor in who they love and want to be with. These ingrained preconceptions

have given major importance to how you look , that sites such as [2] have

made it an option to choose what race you prefer. When an option is given to the mass

demographic of South Asians looking for marriage, they see it as a moral and defining

part of the process to find the ‘one’. Albeit, both the organizations and the users can be

blamed. However, in a progressive time such as now, issues must be solved starting

within mega corporations that feed off of both stereotypes and prejudice.

The most powerful contribution to this relentless prejudice is the usage of mass media

,especially content that is popularized amongst young and impressionable children. Kids

as young as four years old are taught about the inferiority of dark skin and superiority of

white ‘fair’ complexions. These teachings are internalized by the youth and only become

ingrained deeper into your psyche.

Kabyashree Dasgupta, 23, an author and student of advertising and marketing

communication, at Xavier’s Institute of Communication, Mumbai, says [1] “The concept

of fairness was introduced to me by Fair & Lovely. I remember I was seven or eight years

old and those TV advertisements mesmerized me. I was so fascinated by the colour and

ended up feeling bad about my own. My mother is very fair and my father has a

brownish-whiteish complexion, and I took after my father.”

Additionally, children in South Asia lack role models that promote body positivity and

empowerment for minorities. Celebrities in India- the same ones that advocate against

colorism and for black lives- endorse these fairness creams. Proclaimed activists and

A-list stars like Priyanka Chopra , Sonam Kapoor , and Disha Patani did not hold back in

expressing their outrage and support to the BLM movement. These efforts were seen as

completely hypocritical when the millions of Indians that look up to them and use the

creams that they advertise , just to be ‘fair’ like them. It's ironic that when it comes to

western outrage , they are publicly advocating for the lives lost because of racism but

will be willingly ignorant of the industries based on colorism , for their own benefit and

income. This is a double standard that is often overlooked when it comes to South

Asians who are mocked for our skin color , accents and stereotypical preconceived

notions. Colorism isn't just central to the modern west. It is deeply embedded into the

minds of millions as a result of events under British colonial rule, where British

officials consistently degraded dark-skinned Indians and favored light-skinned Indians

for jobs.

What we need is empowerment and the necessary initiative to reverse the

emotional and mental damage that TV Advertisements ,based on pure colorism,

has implemented on young asians. It is very common to disregard issues

regarding South Asia in a time where the media is so centralized on America and

Europe. You cannot support Black Lives while actively neglecting the issues in the

South that is undoubtedly fueled by racism.



[1] Rekha Balakrishnan, Nirandhi Gowthaman & Tenzin Norzom, 2nd July 2020, Not

fair, but still lovely – is India actually changing its ‘fairness’ narrative? Retrieved from


[2] Melissa Mahtani, CNN ,June 24, 2020 , removes skin tone filter.

Retrieved from



about the author:

Areej Khan

Areej Khan is the Asian Hispanic Empowerment Organization country representative of both Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Based in Dubai, she is passionate about seeking social justice for all and a way she expresses her passion is through art and writing. In this article, she talks about colorism in South Asia and its detrimental effects on the people through increased racism.