Time to change the notions of Beauty

Read__2 November 2020

The Beauty industry has been booming, influencers and makeup artists are making a living out of videos and their own product lines, thanks to Instagram and Youtube. Social media being the strongest and most popular platform, has been working towards changing the existing notions of beauty. Beauty has been defined as one’s physical appearance by the Greeks. An ideal “beautiful” face has to have clear fair skin, plump lips, a sharp jawline, a thin yet small nose and a set of big eyes – all in proportion.  

In this age of digitisation where apps like photoshopping and airbrushing are used by magazines to hide “flaws”, making people shift their ideals from natural beauty towards retouched images being the “new perfect”. This very problem gives rise to several self-esteem issues, also giving us a hard time deciphering between what is real and what is not.

As a South Asian, I grew up watching advertisements of products promoting “FAIRNESS”, for being fair meant being beautiful. These advertisements always degraded women with dusky skin or with skin problems and pushed them to use fairness creams to look attractive and acceptable. Being fair meant getting your dream job, marrying the perfect guy, and leading a beautiful life as if, all of this is impossible to achieve just by being yourself.

Being a little girl who was exposed to such stereotypes, it was hard to love my skin. People like Bollywood stars, fashion models, etc – the ones I looked up to as a kid, have been promoting such products. Matrimonial sites always push the fair-skinned forward as they appeal more and are more likely to get matches. Somehow, skin tone is considered the most important criteria when it comes to choosing a partner in India. This very discrimination within the community has been coined as “shadeism”.

Though beauty has, in some ways, moved forward to being more gender inclusive, however it’s sad to see that certain eurocentric beauty standards still remain the norm. Indians born with such beautiful brown skin, are themselves a part of this toxic promotion of fairness and put people with fair skin on a pedestal. One would say that India has a fetish with fairness. This glorification for fairness has existed in our culture for such a long time that the pressure to shift to skin-lightening products has now become such an issue that it’s now targeted towards men as well. The practice of skin bleaching, not only is coveted by women, but also men.

Hindu Goddess Kali tries Fair & Lovely (Natasha Sumant for @orientationcollective)

Natasha Sumant as Goddess Kali for @orientationcollective

This very problem seems to have been born through many possible ways, from religion playing a role in considering the light-skinned gods as civilised and control to the colonial mindset of fair skin meaning power and success. These notions grew day by day and were deeply ingrained in our culture.

As everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to learn the art of makeup and normalising it for all genders, it still feels like we’re at war when it comes to diversity. Though many up and coming makeup brands stand for diversity, it is still hard for me to find my exact shade at a store. It seems like even in the supply chain of these products, the lighter shades are produced more and are easily available in the market, especially in India. In a way, lack of access to these products subtly implies to the customer fairness is a must, forcing the whole concept and need of fairness on the darker tones due to the unavailability of diversity in shade range.

We’re all sick of hearing “this colour would make you look dark”, or “try these home remedies and you’ll have a glowing white skin in no time” by all the aunties. The obsession with skin colour is so prevalent now, no wonder a brand like Fair & Lovely has been so profitable and so popular. Although this year, Unilever stepped up and decided to re-brand this leading skin-lightening product from ‘Fair & Lovely’ to ‘Glow & Lovely’, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests around the world. The question is, will changing the brand’s name enough to end the colour discrimination within the community?

This injustice doesn’t end with cosmetics, a rise in social media, and the filters that come along with these popular platforms also promote clear, problem-free fair skin. Product giants like Garnier, Neutrogena, L’Oreal and Vaseline even launched a skin-whitening app that whitens your Facebook profile to boost your dating life. Applications like Instagram and Snapchat come with many built-in filters that smoothen out your skin, make it fairer, and modifies your facial features too, so much for “skin positivity”, right?

On the other hand, brands like Fenty beauty introduced the most diverse foundation shade range there has ever been, not-so-popular photographers like Peter DeVito have been doing an amazing job promoting diversity through his shoots and many influencers like Kali Kushner have been working towards “normalising” skin problems. 

As a whole, I would say the progress so far has been effective. Millennials and GenZ being more acceptable and striving to bring about the change. It’s about time we put an end to this discrimination we face within our community. We’re all on our journeys to accept ourselves the way we are by going against the beauty standards set by society, we still have many battles to fight because brown can be lovely too.

Written by Shruti Kotiya