Ahhh the tug of war begins between the lure of fair or tanned skin. Do we prefer dark or light skin? Black or white? Creamy or brown complexion? Does the color of your skin make you pretty, attractive, seductive, exotic, erotic, ugly or even repulsive? Is the deciphering of one’s skin color a form of racism? Is the international perception of beauty in keeping with the “western” skin color and hence the aspiration for fair skin? The debate has continued from times immemorial and will continue to be a subject of contention.

The history of fair skin goes back many centuries to when fair skin was a sign of noble lineage, a sign of belonging to the “upper” class or nobility. The reason being that the “upper” class led such a luxurious and decadent life that they never had to weather the harsh rays of the Sun. They were shielded from the harsh UVA/UVB rays by their expensive hats or a multitude of servants carrying umbrellas to shield the milky white skin of the “fair” ladies from the unforgiving rays of the brutal Sun.

In contrast, the “working” class had no option but to toil and expose their skin to the harsh elements of nature, thereby “imperiling” their skin to the rays of the Sun.

The quest for light or dark skin is also marked by cultural and continental demarcations. For example in the Western world a tanned complexion is a sign of a lady of luxury. One can picture a lady languoring and basking in the glory of the Sun to such a point where her skin color is akin to a shade of shiny liquid gold. You can imagine such a lady with a glass of martini between her long manicured fingers, in the most expensive lycra bikini, shades of gold in her hair, exorbitantly priced sunglasses perched on the bridge of her nose….in a nutshell the “Gucci girl.”

By contrast in the Asian world, specifically in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, a woman’s beauty is defined by the fairness of her skin. A possible reason is that Western women have been considered the epitome of beauty for centuries, with their fair skin, blue eyes and “golden” hair, just as in the fairy tale “Goldilocks.”

That is why you will often note Asian women driving with white gloves in the heat of summer as they do not want the rays of the Sun to tint their creamy complexion.

In most of the countries in Asia the aisles of the beauty stores—and even grocery stores—are stacked with an array of skin lightening products, including lotions, potions, bleaching creams, etc., all derived to enhance the fairness of the skin by a shade or two.

In India, before the marriage ceremony, a turmeric concoction is rubbed on the entire body of the woman to make her fairer for the big day in order to lure her husband. In fact, there is a popular brand of creams and lotions produced by a major company called “Fair and Lovely,” specifically to bring out the “white” of the skin.

Surprisingly, even men have jumped on the band wagon and the top Bollywood heroes are brand ambassadors for fairness creams.

Crack open any Asian paper, especially from the sub-continent of India, and you will not be able to escape a matrimonial ad wanting a “young bride, highly educated with fair skin, for a handsome fair skinned boy….” Alright, so much fairness makes me get up and dowse myself in a tub of cream!

What is the reason for the lure of a particular skin color? Aren’t we born with a color that nature has bestowed upon us, best suited for our facial features? In my opinion it is a primitive thought process holding on to antiquated pre-conceived notions. Fair skinned girls are associated with innocence, fragility and submissiveness (just like the princesses or fairy tale characters such as Snowhite), which works well in societies dominated by men. Yes, such societies can find dark skinned women attractive, but often in an erotic, exotic way, mostly to derive sexual gratification rather than entering into a long-term meaningful relationship.

I remember a famous ad-maker once said that he looks for fair skinned girls to cast in wholesome family ads as they portray a picture of stability. On the other hand, if he is making an ad for a condom or a lubricating cream, he will look for dark skinned girls as they are associated with eroticism, fun, and sexuality, but not wholesome goodness.

In my opinion, the color of one’s skin is a façade, a mask, a shield. We cannot determine a person’s goodness, value system, sexual preferences, or biases by their skin. We need to dig deeper for that!!! So, let’s raise our glasses to both “my fair and my dark ladies”!


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