The desire to be fair-skinned is mostly evident among females. But to what extent they should have this desire remains a question. Often, with many fairness creams and other beauty products being highlighted in the media, users, particularly girls, believe they actually do wonders to their complexion. Taking this desire to an entirely new level, fair-skinned actors and actresses, artistes, models and other characters are highlighted in the fashion and glam scene. Whether this promotes racism or not is yet to be known but thus far, focusing cameras on fair-skinned individuals on screen has seen its adverse effects. Is fair skin beautiful? Or is it yet another social phenomenon? The Daily Mirror consulted the opinions of some experts in varied fields of interest.
Speaking on its psychological perspective, Dr. Ramani Ratnaweera, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, said there was a widely-held belief that dark complexion was inferior.
“People are obsessed with fair skin, thereby making dark-skinned people regret being in their colour and this is mostly evident in young girls. Many teenage girls visit me saying they have problems about body image. This is also a matter of prejudice mainly because many families give prominence to fair-skinned children. Take matrimonial advertisements for instance – we see fair-skin has become a non-negotiable characteristic. Another fact is that many fair-skinned models are in high demand, but at present, we could see a slight change in this trend which I believe is positive.
As a result of this obsession, girls tend to buy more expensive products to maintain or improve their complexion. We have also seen that complexion has become a barrier for girls to reach their full capacity. Therefore, they don’t mark their presence in social gatherings, public speaking contests and other events. By considering dark-skinned people as inferior, we are going back to the dark ages again. We shouldn’t be encouraging discrimination at this point of time. The younger generation shouldn’t depend on their skin tone. They should aspire to achieve greater goals than just being fair-skinned at the end of the day. There are instances when girls develop conditions such as anorexia, anxiety and depression due to a darker complexion. The media too play a vital role in changing the mindsets of the people and they shouldn’t be portraying the fact that fair-skin is beauty.”
Dr. K. Karunathilake, Professor of Sociology and senior lecturer at the Kelaniya University, said giving prominence to white-skinned or rather fair-skinned individuals dates back to prehistoric times.
“Back in the day, fair-skinned women used to get various privileges from those in the upper positions of the social hierarchy. These privileges allowed them to gain fame and maintain their standards of living. Even in Sri Lankan history, we observe that our kings used to have what is called the ‘anthappuraya’ that represented the much-preferred girls of the king. From the drawings and various depictions, we have seen that they too have been fair-skinned. As such, fair skin has been identified as a ‘symbolic capital’ thereby naturally giving special consideration to such individuals. Based on the research findings in America, it has been concluded that fair skin positively correlates to jobs, education, income and marital status. Therefore, modern societies also consider fair skin as a critical factor. Dominant characters in society prefer to work with fair-skinned women and people believe it is quite easy to draw their attention. On the other hand, dark-skinned individuals have been stigmatised from back then.”
Speaking further, Dr. Karunathilake said people play different roles in society.
“Dark-skinned people are of the view that they should be fair in order to get the attention of others and this begins from their childhood. There is a natural tendency for people to give more preference to fair-skinned babies and even the media utilise fair-skinned models to promote their businesses. This has become a major issue in India that various TV commercials were highly criticised for utilising fair-skinned individuals for promoting harmful beauty products. Therefore, society has used the symbolic capital in such a way to promote expensive beauty products which in other words mean that it would cost a fortune for one to be fair-skinned.
Fair-skinned individuals have dominated cinema and other industries and people are naturally driven towards choosing fair-skinned people to represent higher positions in society. This is quite evident in events such as beauty pageants where the majority of contestants are fair-skinned. ‘Hegemonic whiteness’ is another term we use to define this dominance. They believe they are more attractive than the rest, which is why there is a stigma revolving around dark-skinned individuals. On the other hand, the ‘looking glass self’ theory also speaks about how a person’s self grows out with interpersonal interactions of the society and the perception of others. We could see that other people too give them various opportunities since they too feel that fair-skinned people are dominant icons in society. As such, hegemonic whiteness has become a very attractive feeling. Males particularly do not have this characteristic mainly because they want to be the dominant sex but this is clearly evident in women.”
In her comments, Consultant Dermatologist Dr. Nayani Madarasinghe said people should ideally focus on getting a clear skin.
“Even children have been encouraged to get fair and they end up purchasing various beauty products. We all have an inborn colour and it could only be changed for a brief period of time. People also don’t consider much about the safety of these products and there could be various side effects. Some people become fair as a result of the use of steroids and also due to heavy metals such as mercury being added to certain products. Such heavy metals could even lead to skin cancer. We live in a tropical country where our bodies need a considerable amount of melanin which is directly obtained from sunlight; it protects the skin. Intravenous injections are another method people use to become fair, but this is illegal in most countries including Sri Lanka. But there are certain unqualified individuals who attempt to sell these products and earn a thumping sum.”
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