Earlier this month, an Indian-Australian VJ and actor posted about launching her own skincare line called “Brown Skin Beauty.” She was swiftly called out by another actor and model, popular in South India, for her allegedly untoward comments in the past and for profiting off ‘brown beauty’ when she herself is fair-skinned.
From a western lens, anyone who is any shade darker than porcelain could be classified as “brown” but it’s still a term usually used to refer to people from the South Asian community. But in a country that still has a massive colonial hangover, who passes for “brown” in India?
In a country where dark-skinned women are being burnt alive or dying by suicide, it is necessary for creators to understand that “brown skin” goes far beyond being just an Instagram aesthetic.
Could it be my relative with a doctorate who remains unmarried well into her mid-30’s (which is supposedly ultra late in India) simply because her skin tone is considered unattractive in arranged marriage circles? What about dark-skinned models who struggle to find a place in Indian advertisements and media? Or is it a myriad of actresses in Bollywood who have allegedly lightened their skin tone as they progressed through their careers in India and eventually, Hollywood?
In a country where dark-skinned women are being burnt alive or dying by suicide because of the ridicule they face, it is necessary for creators to understand that “brown skin” goes far beyond being just an Instagram aesthetic. And brands looking to be inclusive need to rise above just adding two or three shades of beige faces in their campaigns or dropping a kilo of bronzer on Katrina Kaif and calling it a day.
The body positivity movement took off from the fat acceptance movement which intended to not just promote self-love but to help people recognize the systemic oppression that fat people face. Similarly, the “black and brown beauty” movement stemmed from a comparable place where the externalization of it was to make people aware of the discrimination that dark-skinned people live with.
For years, many plus-sized creators have posted pictures of themselves, showcasing their bodies, rolls and stretch marks and received comments for being “brave and honest.” Recently, people have noticed more conventionally sized women following this trend, highlighting their cellulite and their “imperfections.”
While the body positivity movement is for everyone, some have criticized these influencers stating that the whole point of the former was to put the spotlight on people who had been deemed “unattractive and flawed” and that it was unnecessary for straight size women to be taking up space in this conversation.
In that vein, the fact that Indians and the desi community is colourist is old news. But, it cannot be denied that it is dark-skinned women who face the most ridicule and ostracization for their skin tone; so for a fair-skinned woman to attempt to capitalize on this growing platform is simply ironic.
If you’re the literal embodiment of conventional beauty standards in India, making yourself the face of a brand that celebrates brown skin is an interesting strategy but one that could perhaps do more harm than good by propagating more colourism within the space.