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The complexion obsession

Updated May 07, 2012


One of my very dear friends, who also happens to be a PhD student at Oxford University, was very recently called to Pakistan by her parents to meet a suitor. Despite constant refusal from her side to meet ‘the man of her dreams’, she had to succumb to the immense pressure, not to forget the emotional blackmailing tactics, deployed by her mother.

However, the said eligible bachelor was later on termed as a superficial man amongst many other phrases that I am not at liberty to pen down, for rejecting my friend because she wasn’t fair skinned ‘enough’.

Regardless of how unethical this instance may sound the fact remains that it is not new to anyone of us. Perhaps the characters and locations differ but the feeling of intense disgust remains the same. It is at times like these when I am ashamed to be a part of a society in which an alabaster complexion supersedes the beauty within. It is not unwise to say that the mindset pertaining to ‘hunt’ for girls with a fair complexion is an epidemic disease which plagues our society in more ways than is fathomable.

In order to address this problem, it is essential to understand the significant causes behind it. My research brought me to the realisation of just how deep-rooted this issue is. Dating back to the time when we were a British colony, our obsession with a light skin tone stems from the fact that we were ruled by the white race which was considered supreme authority. This would explain why the stigma surrounding dark people is not only specific to Pakistanis, as Indians and Bengalis share the same obsession.

Dr Faisal Mamsa, a renowned psychiatrist shared his views on the predicaments faced by many girls and said, “The problem is no matter how educated we all are, we generally prefer to marry off our daughters and sisters before they turn 25 and once a girl turns 30 we demarcate her as a ‘lost cause’. I personally counsel brilliant girls who are not happy with the colour of their skin or eyes just because they were rejected by uneducated people who believe in superficial beauty. It is important to reassure girls that they are not a burden on their families regardless of how they look or how old they get.”

An MBA student from Karachi University, on condition of anonymity said, “I do not know how I can best put this into words but my mother prefers my sister over me because she is fairer. I might be the one who is gifted more intellectually but my sister’s coloured eyes and fair complexion overshadows any good traits I may have. I cannot begin to tell you how many families have rejected me on this basis and shared their opinions blatantly on how different I look from my younger sibling.”

Saddened by the intensity of her words, as a Pakistani woman myself I felt helpless. Women, who are generally considered no more than a herd of sheep in our society, are to be initially ‘shepherded’ by their immediate family and later by their husbands and in-laws.

Are we as a nation shallow enough to consider outward appearance as the only form of beauty? Does a fair complexion serve as a lifetime guarantee to happiness and well-being? Whatever our definition of beauty is, is it enough to raise a wise, literate generation? We all know the answers. Then, why do we continue to marginalise dark complexioned women?

Subjected under this absurd social pressure, many girls consult dermatologists to enhance their skin tone

Dr Sikandar Mahar, a dermatologist said, “Every other woman who comes to me asks how can she improve her complexion and I prescribe nothing but a good sun protection cream. Most of the creams used for lightening skin have steroids in them which can cause acne, facial hair and wipe off epidermis completely, making the skin more vulnerable to ultraviolet rays of the sun. Forget the complexion, these creams bring irreparable damage to the skin.”

Dr Mahar highlighted that the media further deteriorates the situation and said, “Every other dermatologist is invited by different TV channels to talk about improving skin tones. Most of these dermatologists can be divided into two categories namely; qualified crooks and unqualified crooks. They mint money through bogus claims; the media should stop this nonsensical campaign which is forcing our nation to think in such a petty manner, developing complexes in young people?”

Dr Mamsa also had similar views and said, “The media plays a crucial role in further sidelining these girls. A fair complexion is how we epitomise beauty. We need to address the issues that are very much psychological. Our social media should launch campaigns to create awareness about how we cannot change the way we look and should rather be contented with what God has bestowed upon us.”

Men, who tend to get away with a lot in our society, are also affected by the so-called complexion obsession. A colleague at work described the plight of her husband-to-be. “His dark skin tone made my parents think twice before saying yes,” she added.

We, as a nation, have been segmented into so many sub-sections that adding on another category appears to be quite meaningless. Perhaps refusing people on the basis of their skin tone might not be the most pressing issue that we face at the moment, however, breaking free from it, definitely is.

The writer is a Reporter at

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