Again, the world is angry. Yet another actress has endorsed a fairness cream. Twitter vented its rage against the fair-is-beautiful concept by targeting a woman who has joined its list of mercenaries – Yami Gautam.
I spent a fascinating five minutes looking through the hilarious advertisements the Vicky Donor actress has starred in – one has her semi-flirting with a skin doctor, another has her holding up a colour palette to her face, and a third has her (unconvincingly) explain what seems to be a speech defect. As if her ghost-like glow and the risible dialogue were not punishment enough, the poor woman had to endure a day of Twitterati-gone-wild, at her expense.
Last year, Nandita Das starred in a campaign to endorse dark skin, and was lavishly praised for it. Routinely, actresses with dusky skin have done well for themselves in Bollywood – Sushmita Sen, Bipasha Basu, Rani Mukherji, Priyanka Chopra – and so have actresses with light skin.
If we’re going to get angry with them for endorsing the products they do, or even use personally, we might just as well campaign against their using makeup and expensive personal trainers.
The people we should be angry with are not the stars endorsing the products, the companies spotting gaps in the market, or even the idiots lining up to buy these purported shortcuts to beauty.
It is not quite a women-versus-men issue, because men have been targeted by the fairness cream industry too, endorsed by no less an icon than Shah Rukh Khan.
Balding men have never been more insecure than they have in the last decade or so, with everyone from Salman Khan to Harsha Bhogle growing younger over the years.
It’s easy to campaign against everything that fosters unrealistic expectations with regard to physical appearance. You could point angrily at airbrushed and photoshopped images of supermodels and actresses. You could rage against hair dye, and the fact that people would rather expose their scalps to chemicals than embrace the grey.
However, the fact is, all our lives would be drastically different if we stopped using anything that makes us look, feel, or smell different.
The absurdity of the human condition is that hardly anyone is entirely satisfied with how they look, or how other people look. Our lives are built around aspiring for what we can’t have. And so, while half the world goes on holiday to tropical climes – or makes an appointment with a sunbed – to acquire a tan, the other half experiments with peels and unguents to acquire a lighter shade.
I’ve never walked into a salon without being asked whether I would like to straighten my hair. I’ve never gone to a party without being told my curls are gorgeous, or being asked where I got my perm.
The fact is, there is a prosperous industry out there, hoping to exploit what they hope are our insecurities. If you have straight hair, you will be told a perm will suit you. If you have curly hair, you will be told straight hair will suit you. If you’re white, you’re told you need a tan. If you’re dark, you’re told you need fair skin. Everything from your genitals to your nipples is the wrong colour. And every time you listen, someone makes money.
To me, the idea of rubbing a cream on your face and hoping to go from Shade Nandita Das to Shade Kareena Kapoor is as absurd as burying yourself up to the neck in sand to cure a deformity. But, clearly, there are people who do both. And thereby feed a lucrative industry.
Thankfully, they also foster a spoof industry, whose latest hit is this not-suitable-for-work video.
If we’re going to take issue with the idea of aspiring to perfection, it’s silly to hate on the actors who are playing a part. It is we who are turning them into role models. It’s silly to blame the fairness cream industry. It is we who are giving it an increasing share in the markets. It is silly to blame Vogue and Hollywood. It is we who want to see pretty things on pretty people.
And if there are some among us who plan to stand in for floodlights at the World T20, we aren’t picking up the catalyst because of Yami Gautam. We are picking it up because of the value we place on ourselves.
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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on www.nandinikrishnan.com