A 24-year-old Indian girl now has Miss America attached to her name. Since Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American to win the title there have been a spate of hysterical and entirely predictable comments by randoms on Twitter, the least disturbing of which is, “OMG Miss America is a terrorist”.
The more scathing criticism is the allegation that Davuluri is too “Indian looking” to ever win a pageant
Without going into the history of our roots or the Aryan invasion, is there really one defining look for the people of India? We’re a country of over a billion, Sikkim has nothing in common with Kerala, nor does Kashmir with Tamil Nadu, not language, ancestry, or food habits. Looks-wise, Indians are both fair and dark, sallow, wheatish and olive skinned, tall and short, probably in equal number. But the perception of Indians universally as being dark and swarthy, inexplicably, still prevails. Sure, society at large seems to have a penchant for the lighter skinned, at least if you go by matrimonial ads in newspapers. But the requirement for a “fair” bride is almost always followed with the adjectives “homely” and “convent educated” as well. It makes you wonder whether people think fairer brides are more likely to be homely.
India is hardly the only country with an obsession for fair-skinned beauties; you can count on your fingertips the number of African Americans who’ve made it to mainstream Hollywood. Throughout Asia, broadly, dark skin is equated with hard labour, while fairness is associated with aristocracy. The global demand for skin lighteners is expected to reach $19.8 billion by 2018 and according to some reports, Japan, not India, represents the largest market worldwide. Meanwhile, in a classic case of the grass being greener on the other side, Americans and Europeans flock to tanning salons desperate for a bronzed colour or endure the blazing sun in Goa only to turn a bright tomato red.
We may still be the second largest consumer of fairness products in the world but India’s concept of beauty is evolving to include all skin types. Take the five leading female actors in Bollywood right now — Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, all ravishing beauties at the top of their game but Chopra and Padukone can’t be described as light skinned and that hasn’t hampered their career one bit. Fairness has begun to matter less