Friday, June 01, 2007

The Bald and the Beautiful - General musings

As I was aimlessly browsing through a number of arbit websites and blogs, I came across a mention of this lady.

Miss Tanzania 2007


She is Miss Tanzania 2007, and was in the top 15 at Miss Universe 2007. And, as you can clearly see, she's bald. It takes one hell of a lot of guts to turn up at Miss Universe with a part of the body that is usually unshaven shaved. It flies in the face of stereotypes about beauty, where the hair is an integral and essential part of any of the I-want-world-peace/ I-love-Mother-Teresa brand of beauty pageants. And Miss Universe is most definitely one such pageant.

I'll readily admit to sharing the stereotype... I consider a woman's hair a very vital part of her overall physical beauty, one that I would never compromise on. There's something phenomenally sensuous about a woman's hair, and the manner in which it can, if treated well, frame the face in such a manner as to make even a relatively plain woman look really special. That said, however, Miss Tanzania sure is stunning.

But this led me to think of another common stereotype, one that definitely holds in India - that of fairness. The market for fairness creams in India is worth Rs 9.5 billion today. [Source] And it's not just the ladies; fairness creams for men have done roaring business over the last couple of years.

The whole fairness cream marketing scenario is painfully self-reinforcing. Indians have always been partial towards lighter skin. A quick perusal of the Matrimonial section in the local newspaper provides ample proof, where boys are uncompromisingly looking for fair girls and girls are advertising themselves as quite clearly fair or, if not exactly fair but unwilling to admit it as such, euphemistically describe themselves to be of wheatish complexion. I've often come across situations when guests at a marriage praise the couple as being lovely or sooo beautiful/handsome to the hosts but then commenting behind their backs "colour poradhu", which loosely translates to "the colour isn't good enough", which is a commentary on the fact that the subject of the discussion isn't fair enough. Heroines in movies are always fair. If they're dark, they're made up to look fair. (The villains are often dark.) Models are uniformly fair or fashionably 'dusky' - dark models just don't appeal to the common eye. The stereotype is thus built, and is ripe for exploitation by the unstoppable juggernaut of commerce. Now, the companies making the cosmetics would claim they aren't seeking to reinforce a stereotype, but merely catering to a very real need perceived in the market for such products. True, very true. In the process, they are further standardizing the stereotype, etching it deeper and more indelibly into public social conscience. Fair vs Dark. White vs Black. Good vs Evil.

I HATE this sort of divide. Being dark is looked on as bad, undesirable. I've actually found a number of my relatively fair, North Indian friends involuntarily going "ugh" when they come across a typical dark South Indian ("How can you think he's cute - he's so dark!") I've actually been told I am pleasantly non-South Indian in my looks, because I'm not as dark
as they expected a typical Madrasi - another term I hate for it's racial stereotypical connotations - to be.

What I hate more - and it took me a while to admit this to myself - is that I have been touched by this stereotype to some extent. At some level, mentally, I have also begun to assign some importance to the fairness of a person in the context of beauty. And I hate that this has happened to me. Life (and the media!) makes hypocrites out of us all.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agree with you on this. Our obsession with color is completely unhealthy and it's not Fair!! We as a society tend to equate beauty to color, when in fact they are mutually exclusive.

I've also been privy to the rants of Northies on the color of south indians. I too am not as dark as a typical south indian but I am clearly on the Madrasi side of the argument. We don't go nitpicking on the hygiene issues of Northies when they continually lace us with such stigmas. Fuck the nan and butterchicken, I'd take dosa and sambar any day!

Anonymous said...

Come on, admit it... this post was just an excuse to put up a hot picture, wasn't it? :)

Atul

AC said...

And the paneer! I just don't get the North Indian obsession (I've seen it most among Punjabis) with paneer...

@ Atul: Hey, that's actually her official photo on the Ms Universe website! :)

Anjana said...

You're back in Chennai!

Archana said...

my first comment on your blog...don't really have anything to say, but felt like leaving a comment for this post.

Sheks said...

The tagline of the recent Fair and Handsome ad featuring Surya goes "Ethayum moodi maraikkaatha aanukku"(For the man who is open!).I'm wondering what this is trying to convey.Any explanations?

AC said...

@ Anjana: Yup! :) Leaving soon, though...

@ Archana: Thanks :) I'm looking forward to more comments!

AC said...

Interesting, Sheks... I think the ad is trying to tackle the stereotype that men need to be strong and macho, and that if a man cares about his looks, it isn't a manly trait and therefore one that must be hidden!