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This month’s edition of Indian Vogue addresses the issue of India’s skin color bias with the headline: The Dawn of Dusk: Vogue India Celebrates the Skin Tone the World Covets. But is it the skin tone that India covets? Unfortunately, the country’s $432 million skin lightening industry says otherwise. Cosmetic brands like Pond’s, Olay, and L’Oreal are cashing in on the color complex with whitening products called Fair and Lovely, White Beauty and Flawless White, all endorsed by leading Bollywood stars. The advertisements for these products also clearly imply that women with lighter skin have better marriage prospects, job opportunities and “fairer” lives in general. Furthermore, the prevalence of light skinned actresses and models over dark skinned ones in movies, magazines, and city billboards reinforce the idea that fair equals beautiful. The issue is pervasive and its cultural roots run deep, intertwined with notions about caste, status, wealth and its relationship to the color of one’s skin.
Vogue India is certainly taking a step in the right direction by addressing this issue, at least with the demographic that reads the magazine. However, if Vogue India is going to act as an agent of change then it must make it a policy to not include advertisements for skin lightening creams in the magazine, which it currently does. By doing so, it remains complicit in perpetuating the stigma against darker skin. Furthermore, the message should not be about highlighting one skin tone over another, whether dark or light, but about simply loving the skin you were born with.
Below is episode one of a multi-episode advertisement for Pond’s White Beauty featuring actress Priyanka Chopra as a woman who wins back her lost love after lightening her skin.