Sunday, July 22, 2012

Women's Cosmetic Ads on Indian Television

Being American, we listen mostly to English-language programs. The ads are either in English or Hindi. A large percentage of them are ads selling lighter skin to the women of India. I find them extremely offensive.

Having lived in India for four years, I have adjusted to many cultural differences, including how women are perceived and therefore live their lives. I am almost 70 years old and Caucasian, born and raised in the United States. My life journey has taken me through the American cultural revolution of the 60’s/70’s, including the women’s movement of that period. These cultural upheavals in the U.S. made all of us look more closely at how we were living and thinking, what assumptions we were making. Everything was up for examination. Feminism and racism were the most challenging for me.

As women, we were all looking at new possibilities and expectations. Why were all jobs not open to women, no matter how competent we were? Even if we were doing some of those jobs, why were we paid less? At the same time, we began to really look at ourselves. Why did we believe we had to enhance our appearance in order to be acceptable? Why were we shaving our legs and underarms? Why were we wearing crippling high heeled shoes?

One of the hardest parts of this journey was learning to accept my body the way it was created, body hair and all. It’s very difficult for most of us to see our own beauty when we think others are finding fault with how we look.

As a teenager and young woman, darker skin was preferable. I was born with very light skin that did not tan. I just burned in the sun. So I was unable to look appropriately ‘healthy.’ My mother, a registered nurse, sent me to get hemoglobin tests every summer because she thought I was anemic. Imagine having blonde eyelashes and eyebrows. What was considered beautiful then were tanned, dark (not too dark!) women whose skin enhanced the colors of their clothing. There was a healthy vibrancy about them I could not match.

Layer in the discriminatory attitudes about people of color, particularly African Americans. We looked deeply within our hearts, trying to be brutally honest with ourselves, and sure enough, the prejudice was there, I believe, in all of us.

When I just wrote ‘in all of us,’ I remembered that African Americans also disliked how they looked, never able to fit in and always being looked down upon.

That brings me to the subject I wanted to talk about. On television here in India, I see ads by Olay, Ponds, Nivea, all of whom are selling skin lightening creams, very happy to capitalize on the insecurities of Indian women and gladly making those insecurities so much worse. Children are watching these ads! I think it’s Ponds who uses the wording ‘removing the impurities’ that, if you remove them, the skin will be whiter. That clearly says being brown is dirty. Last night Nivea’s ad said that Nivea repairs damaged skin so you can have the natural skin you were meant to have. Hello!! Racist! My 9-year-old friend here wants to be lighter!  How could she not?

Indian women to me are beautiful in all their many shades. They certainly must not think so. That saddens me. I remember the wasted years of not appreciating my own beauty.

There is obviously something underneath this prejudice about dark skin which I don’t understand. Maybe none of us really understand it. Whatever it is, let’s send it back where it came from. We don’t need it!

1 comment:

slowtalker said...

Right on Carolyn! Speak your truth - you have lived it and earned it.!!