Saturday, March 11, 2006


This is a very common ad in India. There are ads in the newspapers, billboards on the streets, and commercials on TV with snappy jingles. This one is pitched toward men, but there are many for women. The ones that strike me the most are the ones oriented toward mothers of infants. Mothers are encouraged to lighten their child's skin as early as possible, so that the child will grow up to be fair. In Bollywood movies, the love songs often extoll the heroine's beauty, including how fair she is.

I think it's got to be a very mild bleach?

What can you do? It's not my culture, after all. And I'm sure I don't understand all the cultural reasons why this occurs here. It could be lingering cultural impacts of caste society / Brahminism or the legacy of the Aryan invasions, but it is interesting from my POV to find it in yet another culture. Interesting, and sad.


In other news, I'm going down to Chennai (aka Madras) tomorrow for two weeks. I'll report when I'm back, if not before. I'm not sure what kind of web access I'll have while I'm there (gulp), at least in terms of blogging. But I hope to take some good pictures of temples and of southern living generally. More soon!


At 12:23 PM, Blogger sterna said...


The skin-lightening thing is arresting, and it is apparently a growing industry worldwide. There's an interesting article about it here:

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

history update: there was never an aryan invasion

At 12:25 AM, Blogger WA said...

Got here via Prince Roy's blog. Welcome to Chennai, looking fwd to your posts from Chennai. Have fun

At 1:35 AM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Hey, don't discount the positive effects of Purex! I talked to a guy recently who made his living off of that good company and retired to Whidbey Island a wealthy man! Probably helped a lot of people and their faces along the way. Still....

At 3:37 AM, Blogger Editfish said...

I've found the 'fair skin' mentality to be prevalent throughout Asia. Some sociologists have linked this mentality to agricultural or pre-industrial societies (it's apparently even mentioned in the Bible). The thinking (in these societies) goes along the lines of "we work outside all day long to make ends meet; fair skin (and surprisingly, obesity) indicates a life of 'leisure', which then becomes their ideal.

In post-industrial societies (North America, Western Europe), the mindset is the opposite. We work indoors at desks, and become pale and flabby--tans and lean muscled bodies indicate a life of leisure, which becomes (in a circular sort of way) our ideal.

Of course, colonial mentality may cause that to become exaggerated in some societies, but it cannot be blamed as the primary source, as it exists in many non-colonized societies as well (ie. China).

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

According to something I found in the Calcutta Telegraph, it can be a bleach, but it can also be a "melanin blocker," just like Fair and Handsome claims on the poster.

This guy skewers India's fairness obsession....

At 12:39 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Anonymous History Invasion Person -

Thanks. Based on reading a couple of articles only just now, it sounds like it's controversial, but seems as though more and more people are leaning away from the Aryan Invasion / Migration Theory. If you want to post more about this, please do. Otherwise, I'll keep reading until I get it straight. Here's some text from Wikipedia I found interesting:

"In modern India, the discussion of Indo-Aryan migration is charged politically and religiously. Supporters of migration are faced with several accusations. The major one is that the British Raj and European Indologists from the 19th century to the present day promoted the Aryan Invasion hypothesis in support of Eurocentric notions of white supremacy. Assertions that the highly advanced proto-Hindu Vedic culture could not have had its roots in India are seen as attempts to bolster European ideas of dominance.

"After Indian independence, Socialist and Marxist accounts of history proliferated in Indian universities. Opponents of the invasion theory contend that Marxists promoted the theory because its model of invasion and subordination corresponded to Marxist concepts of class struggle and ideology. Some modern opponents of the Aryan-Vedic continuity in India, like Romila Thapar, are Marxist. Some others like the Dalit Voice are proponents of the Dalit (outcast) movement. Dalits who support the Theory allege that the Aryans were nomadic plunderers who invaded and destroyed civilizations from Europe to India, especially the Harappan civilization. Missionaries in India have utilized the Aryan Invasion Theory for their own political goals. It was thus proposed by some Christians and Muslims that "Sanskrit should be deleted from the Eight Schedule of the Constitution because it is a foreign language brought to the country by foreign invaders - the Aryans." (Elst 1999). Some Marxists, Missionaries and Dalits have questioned the legitimacy of Hinduism because of the Aryan Invasion Theory.

"In contrast, the proponents of a continuous, ancient, and sophisticated Vedic civilization are seen by some as Hindu nationalists who wish to dispense with the foreign origins of the Aryan for the sake of national pride or religious dogma. The Indian nationalist Veer Savarkar, who invented the term Hindutva, accepted the Aryan Invasion theory (Savarkar: Hindutva, Elst 1999). Another motivation may arise from the desire to eradicate the problem associated with the Indian caste system; the hypothesis that it may originally have been a means of social engineering by the Aryans to establish and maintain a superior position compared to the Dravidians in Indian society may be a source of discomfort."


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