Brown against brown: Pakistan's fairness complex

Published July 17, 2015
A large segment of our society is still stuck with a prehistoric and disgusting beauty standard. —Photo by Maliha Rehman
A large segment of our society is still stuck with a prehistoric and disgusting beauty standard. —Photo by Maliha Rehman

People claim racism is a western phenomenon and that its roots sprouted there. However, we forget the subtle, latent racism that flies by every day in our own society. It has merely been overshadowed by Pakistan's other, bigger problems, like terrorism or corruption.

So, how does this subliminal racism show? The answer is simple and well-known; although it is sometimes evident in the attitudes of people towards one another, one key marker of it is reflected in the constant commercials advertising various 'fairness creams'. The main incentive shown in these ads for consumers is the promise of a fairer complexion, of beauty and lifelong partners. Here, the underlying takeaway message that we, Pakistani girls, keep getting bombarded with is that this product should be sitting amongst our everyday cosmetics.

See: Fairness creams have nothing fair for skin

I won't blame the makers or the salesmen. Not entirely.

I blame the mindset behind our perceptions of beauty, where, for some odd reason, despite our "brown" genes, grandmothers and other female relatives in particular struggle to understand that being "fair" is not and should not be the goal. And that being dark is not a flaw.

In a country where it is genetically common to have dark skin, the fact that people see that as a problem does not make sense. 

It is quite ridiculous to see that even now, when aunties are out hunting for potential wives for their sons, the fairer one always captures their eye because in their mind that is beautiful. It makes you almost forget what century you're living in. Our society appears to have no qualms about being stuck in the past.

Also read: Reclaiming our bodies, redefining the 'perfect bahu'

Back to the bewildering issue of genetically brown-skinned people having a problem with other brown-skinned people, where did this start from and why does this problem still exist? And most of all, why don't we criticise our society and the people around us for being party to this trend?

We could criticise the companies for creating these 'fairness creams' or blame the West all we want for introducing us to racist ideologies. We could even lambast the media for catering to and perpetuating this mindset. But a more honest effort would be to zero in on the problem where it is easier to fix – and that is ourselves.

Also read: The complexion obsession

We have let this disgusting notion run amok in our society; no one questioned this sickness or wondered out loud why we have a problem with our own skin colour. Rather, the popular use of skin-lightening products has only encouraged this unhealthy, archaic ideal. 

Why are we not helping our people understand and see that we must fight off this thinking and make them see and understand what they are promoting and how damaging it is?

As a girl brought up in this society, I can safely say that this mindset which I would call a sickness has done irreparable damage to our thought processes.

It keeps pressuring women into thinking our skin colour is eventually the key to a better life. It has taught men that it is "fair" women who are more attractive. And it has taught society that such thinking is acceptable. But, it is not.

What it has really done is create, maintain and promote a false model of what is good in life itself.


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