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[flagged] India Debates Skin-Tone Bias as Beauty Companies Alter Ads (nytimes.com)
40 points by pseudolus 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

> It is partly a product of colonial prejudices, and it has been exacerbated by caste, regional differences and Bollywood, the nation’s film industry, which has long promoted lighter-skinned heroes.

How weasely of the NYT. Colorism exists all over the world and pre-dates British colonialism in India. (Although the British certainly leveraged that phenomenon in dividing and conquering the continent, just as it leveraged preexisting linguistic and religious differences.)

> exacerbated by caste, regional differences and Bollywood

Dissenting from the cliche of 'caste-cow-curry' as the 'core' culture of India, here's some inconvenient counterfactuals.

- Skin tone often varies more b/w North-South than within particular locations.

- Even within particular geographies, the large-scale migrations in light of the millennia of plunder of India, has resulted in admixtures of North-India population in the South. Kashmiri Hindus in particular are found in large numbers on the coast/north of Karnataka (the first president of Planned Parenthood for instance); there are other such groups in TN as well.

- Large numbers of Brahmins in South India are actually, shock, horror, both poor, and dark-skinned.

- The only 'fair' looking ones I've seen are within certain sub-groups within sub-groups of Tamil Brahmins who have explicit histories of migrations from N. India. Ditto with the 'Seths' and other migrant communities who've settled down in the south for many centuries.

- North-East India who populations have both E.Asian features (which in current zeitgeist is in greatly higher standing), and vastly lighter skin-tone, are neither rich, nor have 'elite' status considering their rather isolated histories.

Yup. It's likely that colourism dates back to the Indo-Aryan invasion/migration of/to India around 4000 years ago. More recent invaders include the Persians, Mughals, British, etc..., all of whom are typically lighter in complexion than the indigenous peoples of India.

This is such a wildly unsubstantiated theory, that should simply be immediately disqualified from any serious consideration by the fact that countries like Thailand, China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea all share exactly the same obsession with skin whitening. The western obsession with tanning has exactly the same characteristics, but I don't see people presuming that some oppression narrative is the only possible way to explain it.

Sure it does. I suppose the Geisha of Japan also put on white paint because they're descended from an alien source planet of pure white Asiatic races.

P.S: Japanese is far more similar to Indian languages than any of their supposedly 'close' Indo-European cousins.


> In Japan the preference for skin that is white and free of blemishes has been documented since at least the Heian period (794–1185), as in books like The Pillow Book and The Tale of Genji.[1] There is an old proverb "white skin covers the seven flaws" (色の白いは七難隠す, iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu) which refers to a white-skinned woman being beautiful even if her features are not attractive.

I have no clue what you're trying to say with your first paragraph, and your second paragraph is a massive [citation needed]. I've never even heard anyone say Japanese has a close Indo-European cousin. I've never heard anyone say Japanese has any cousin. Only strictly the opposite.

I wonder if that’s why they said partly.

Why is that weaselly? The Hindi word for white/Caucasian is gora, "fair-skinned", and to this day many markers of high class/status in India are inherited directly from their erstwhile British rulers: speaking "proper" English, dressing in formal Western clothing, etc. Why would skin color not be one?

For clarity, I'm not claiming the British created colorism, my point is just that a century of rule by them will certainly have reinforced the link between light skin and high class.

> The Hindi word for white/Caucasian is gora, "fair-skinned"

Doesn't that suggest that the concept of distinguishing fair-skinned people?

> many markers of high class/status in India are inherited directly from their erstwhile British rulers: speaking "proper" English, dressing in formal Western clothing, etc. Why would skin color not be one?

Colorism existed all over the ancient world: https://quillette.com/2019/02/13/the-origins-of-colourism.

> Ancient Aztec codices in Central America revealed the use of cosmetics by women to attain a lighter skin, and paintings from ancient Egypt depicted women with lighter skin than males. In the Arab world, more broadly, one early traveller noted, “The highest praise is perhaps ‘She is white as snow.’” In North America, one Hopi chief commented, “We say that a woman with a dark skin may be half man.”

The precise origins of colorism in India aren't known (some sources document colorism as early as 1500 BCE), but it would be very odd if it wasn't introduced to India until European contact in the 1500s CE, given that it existed in myriad other places in antiquity.

I'm not saying colorism was created by the British, I'm just noting that British rule reinforced it. Do you disagree?

And I'm still unclear on what, exactly, about that article was "weaselly".

I don't disagree. But this is the article's text:

> It is partly a product of colonial prejudices, and it has been exacerbated by caste, regional differences and Bollywood, the nation’s film industry, which has long promoted lighter-skinned heroes.

The article mentions "colonial prejudices" as the cause. It uses the caveat "partly" but doesn't mention any other origin, leaving the impression that colonialism created the prejudice, rather than reinforcing existing prejudices.

It's "weasely" because it whitewashes the history of racism in India, making it seem like something that is "the product" of colonial rule.

At first glance, the skin-whitening creams themselves are seemingly no different than any other beauty product. After all, what is the difference between Indians wanting lighter skin and white Americans wanting more tanned skin?

The problem is that the skin color issues in India go much deeper. It is a form of racism that is overt and deeply held throughout their society. The level that skin color is focused on in India would shock the average westerner. From very young age, dark kids (specifically girls) are made fun of for their dark skin color but told of their beauty if they have light skin.

It's rare in the arranged marriage process that a man marries a girl of darker skin.

(Besides affirmative action programs) Nothing in the US is near as race focused as what I've seen and heard from Indians.

Not that we don't have our own widely held discrimination... maybe the most similar concept in the west is height (girls don't marry shorter guys, from young ages short guys are made fun of while tall are admired, big income boost for extra height, leaders tend to be tall, etc).

A girlfriend of mine went to the Philippines for three months for something school related (her family was originally from there). At the completion of the classes, they took graduation photos for each student. When she received the photos, they had transformed her appearance by intentionally lightening her skin tone (dramatically so) in the photos to make her look more white (her skin tone is such that she naturally looks like she always has a dark brown tan). They didn't ask her before they did that, they just assumed it would be desirable. She then informed me of the incredible popularity of whitening in some Asian nations (she said that in the Philippines being whiter might indicate you don't work outside as a farmer or laborer, implying higher social status).

It's the same for Caucasian people. There's a big market of tanning products and people generally tanning as some people believe a tan makes you look more healthy / shows you have wealth as able to travel somewhere hot and sit in the sun, not working indoors in some factory.

Likewise, in poorer SE Asian countries, having a tan means you have likely been working in a field all day, a lot of SE Asian people believe a tan makes you look poor.

They are both the same thing. People don't want to look poor and want to look higher up on the class system.

Definitely true, having a Filipino father-in-law and traveled there for a couple weeks.

No word on film industry (Bollywood et al)? They have been hugely complicit with casting heavily favored towards lighter skinned actresses and a lot of established stars endorsing skin whitening products. They are nowhere to be seen taking a stance on this issue.

The article has a number of words on Bollywood:

>Colorism, the bias against people of darker skin tones, has vexed India for a long time. It is partly a product of colonial prejudices, and it has been exacerbated by caste, regional differences and Bollywood, the nation’s film industry, which has long promoted lighter-skinned heroes.

>Ms. Narayan, who recently published a book on how women are treated in India, said Bollywood had contributed to these prejudices.

>"Every heroine and now heroes, too, are whitewashed," she said. “And the villains are dark.”

Here's a good discussion of this in the Tamil film industry, where this is even more obvious because South Indians are usually darker-skinned:


For context, the actor in question (Rajinikanth) is the largest star in Tamil cinema and the movie (Shivaji) was a mainstream blockbuster.

Part of the colorism bias is also technical. It is much harder to light and color correct a darker skinned model or actor for a screen or print, leading the industry to prefer lighter skin tones.

Similar bias exists with height in film. A short actor like Tom Cruise can fill an aspect ratio for film better than an awkward 6 foot something actor, and it is easy to make a short actor taller with an apple crate for certain shots, but the reverse isn’t quite so.

This doesn’t make sense. Technical ability to correct light and color didn’t fall from the sky. It was created by people who probably didn’t think as much as they did about one direction as they did about another. The origin is a lack of diversity or close minded thinking where the preferences started one way and became established as technical limitations.

As for the height of actors, good directors and cinematographers know how to deal with them through the right kind of shots and angles, even without any assistance from CGI. The ones who struggle likely don’t have as much creativity or ability as we might tend to assume.

Some people say that this is not racism, but there are various undertones that imply that dark skinned people are inferior. Just the skin tone is enough in many instances to help people use stereotypes (leading to both positive and negative conclusions, and both imagined) and depend on prejudice to guide their actions. It results in a huge trust deficit and also an internalization over a long time where dark skinned people consider themselves as inferior or unworthy.

The movie industry aptly needs to take a big portion of the blame here by continuing to reinforce these stereotypes since a lot of Indians are attached to movies and tend to adapt what’s shown in movies into their own lives. But the governments over successive decades haven’t done anything on this, even though there are others laws against discrimination (against similar prejudices against certain sections of people who tend to have darker skin tones).

It's funny how industries whose entire basis lies in the racialized colonization of the global south become reconstituted in a way that maintains their existence, but further obscures their origin. Perhaps true justice would mean the complete abolition of this industry (and the economic/political structures that brought it about). But instead we now force it to put on more and more masks to justify its continued existence, and in so doing, make the system harder to understand. In my mind this is how liberalism, i.e. the attempt at making capitalism more progressive, can be a double-edged sword.

Past the rebranding, the system is fundamentally the same. We still live under racial capitalism (in which, as many a Marxist have noted, uneven development is a feature, not a bug), and the underlying conditions that cause people to go buy skin lightening creams remain unchanged.

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