Discussions On India’s Obsession With Fair Skin

Do you know someone who has a darker complexion and wants to get lighter? In India, there is a whole trend, that, as most fashion trends, started out with women but spanned in the men’s style world soon after, of making your skin look brighter than… whiter.

Many Indian men are obsessed with becoming whiter.

Many Indian men are obsessed with becoming whiter.

It’s not something very new, it has been going on for a lot of time, but there is a whole debate and controversy around it: is it right, is it wrong, does it promote stereotypes that being white is better than being darker, or is it just a cosmetic than like tanning or makeup?

In India, there are millions of people doing it: from the richest to the poorest, from male to female, from young to old. It’s considered a common thing, but many people don’t agree with it.

Anjhula Singh Bais is an Indian model who was offered a lot of money to do a commercial for skin bleaching products, but turned it down because she said that she felt it was offensive to promote that to young people and children. According to her, promoting skin bleaching products conveys the message that “there’s one color better than the other”.


When you first hear about this issue, you tend to believe that these products are something that must be searched for and not extremely available or spoken of. But in fact, skin bleachers are highly advertised in the Indian media. What we also found out from doing research for this article was that in most Indian blockbusters the main characters always have fair skin, so it’s an image that is quite widespread.


Do you think the guy looks better darker or whiter?

Do you think the guy looks better darker or whiter?


Often in these advertisements, the main character is sad and unsuccessful until he or she uses a skin bleacher. After that, he gets the girl, she becomes famous and so on. Sounds familiar? It’s pretty much the same mechanics used in the West by shampoo ads. If you think about it, skin bleachers are just a cosmetic product in the end, so the companies don’t actually have to be blamed. It’s not the companies that have established that lighter skin is more beautiful.

In India, people have issues with their skin tone since birth and early childhood, when kids with darker skin tones are called names. In the dating world, (especially on-line), men always search for women with lighter skin.

Some people argue that bleaching you skin is not necessarily something bad. Just as women put on makeup to become more ‘beautiful’ or ‘desirable’, so do many people remove their skin color in order to become ‘more beautiful’. The question that remains is: “more beautiful to who?”


When noticing what is happening in India , you can’t think of people in the West who do a lot to their skin to become more attractive. Both men and women in the West tend to tan in order to become more ‘beautiful’. Some people tan so dark (in the US there is the famous term “the Jersey look”) that you can’t actually tell their original color. There’s also a debate going on in the African-American community of the US on skin bleaching, but that’s another discussion we need to have.

To go on a deeper level of this issue, we can say that being white in India has something to do with power. For a lot of Indians, white equals power. This goes back to the days of colonialism, when the white people were the ones in control.

Don’t you feel it’s interesting how some people want to be darker and like other dark-toned people, while others choose to become whiter, even if a lot of white people feel being darker is more beautiful? It’s complicated and what’s interesting is that the motto of the problem seems to be: “it doesn’t matter if you’re dark or white, you just need to be fake”.


In the end, we all want to be attractive, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is whether getting fairer skin is a form of self-racism. Modern society has a lot more ways to make us look more attractive, so why not use all these means? However, it would probably be a lot better if we could embrace our visual identity more.

What we know is that people always search for beauty; what we learn is that we find exotic elements that are different form us beautiful.

This is definitely a sensitive issue, that rises a lot of passions and interest. It’s hard to make up how the future will look on it, but until then, all we can do is discuss it and position ourselves on one side or the other. Or maybe in the middle.


Fraquoh and Franchomme






P.S. What do you think of skin bleaching? Have you seen it in your life? What are your thoughts?

25 thoughts on “Discussions On India’s Obsession With Fair Skin

  1. Hi. I live in India. You’re right; its very deeply ingrained in the Indian mind’s psyche, that ‘white’ is better. Most people are quite matter-of-fact and forthright about it. Darker people (women especially) can be considered to be beautiful too, but ‘fairer’ people are definitely noticed more.
    Although I myself am vehemently opposed to this attitude, this may be hypocritical since I am considered to be ‘quite fair’ by Indian standards. But then again, sometimes I wonder if I should be upset about this preference for lighter skin…after all, its just a preference, similar to personal preferences for slim women or straight hair etc.

    • Wow, thanks for your input! It’s great to have the opinion from someone who lives in the culture.

      May we ask you a question too, in order to expand into a field the post didn’t cover: How are white (non-Indian) people seen as? Are they perceived as better too, or is it just a scale for Indians?

  2. This is such a heavy, historical, and global issue. The root of this issue I feel still hasnt been discovered, i think is far more complex than any explanations we can offer as of now. Individuals dye their hair, away contacts, change accents, have plastic surgery, etc. But as soon as skin tone is discussed there’s an issue.

  3. I guess it’s not ony india but several other asian countries.
    In the 1800′s and early 1900′s fine ladies were supposed to have white skin, too, since sun tan was for the “working class”.
    As a north european, I have always wanted to be more tanned.. 😛
    People tend to want exactly the thing that they do not have

    • Yes, you have a point: we see as “good and exotic” the opposite of what we have, the way we live and who we are. Maybe it’s just human nature or more, what do you think?

  4. I find this to be a really interesting topic and remember reading an article it which compared the trend to how many Caucasian people aspire to have darker, more tanned skin. That would suggest that everyone is effectively striving to achieve the same skintone which is midway between light and dark. I liked reading your take on the issue, it gave me lots of food for thought and you handled it well!

    • Hy Alys,

      Thank you for your appreciation! We’re happy to see that you liked it and that it was thought-provoking!



  5. Thank you for writing about this complicated topic. Skin bleaching in the United States is, as you briefly mentioned, also largely practiced in some communities. I do think it goes back to colonialism–indeed in many colonial societies certain beauty ideals and standards derived from the white, patriarchal and colonial powers. I don’t necessarily see this as a form of self-racism but rather the vestiges of a complicated power structure in which certain physiognomic traits were considered to “belong” to the oppressors and therefore were desirable as a form of upward mobility for those being oppressed. The legacy of colonialism is far from erased and as such those communities and people who were subjected to this oppression have come to associate those more “desirable” traits as beautiful.


    • Hy Rachel,

      Indeed, it’s strange how these things are still here, even though there has been so much time that’s passed! Thank you for your comment!

  6. Being Indian and living in a country with dominantly people of fairer skin, I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. I have had people call my skin wheatish, tan & fair. Whereas, I have also had people say things like, “you should be fine in the sun, unlike me.” I guess its all perspective. I come from a culture where skin is considered more important than education-hence people aspire to have fair wives/husbands & children. So, this is common in India. And like you mentioned, it is considered exotic & people stare and gawk if there is someone fairer than them. Skin bleaching is pretty common, I have done it myself and especially after one long summer when I was out in the field for a project. It didnt make me ‘white’ I was bleached(like how one would do to their clothes), that’s all. I had my own skin color nothing more or less. It was years ago & I would rather live life dark or fair for longer than poison my body with chemicals. I watch people lie in the sun or use tanning salons to feel less ‘pale’. It will fade and your skin is not thanking you.

    In the end, people see others and see something beautiful. It would be nice to stop with that. However, people often see other and see something beautiful and then compare & contrast.

    • Thank you Rachel for your input, it’s so welcome, we’re sure many will find an echo in it! Thank you very much for sharing!

  7. Hi Guys! Love your site!!! It’s so refreshing to see a place where fashion, history and discourse like this is taking place. I always think that there is a context to how we present ourselves to the world around us which us something I’m also trying to explore on my blog.

    Fashion is fun, a form of self-expression, but I also think our ‘style’ is a reflection of our ‘identity,’ and the culture that we’re from in many ways. It’s possible to buy fashion, but style is inherent, sometimes unconscious, a manifestation of our how we see the world, and conversely projecting how we want the world to see us.

    Regarding the topic on skin bleaching, I’m of Chinese descent, and my mother always commented on how lucky I was (as a child) to have ‘fair’ skin and that I didn’t have ‘typical’ Chinese features. I think that many cultures look to a Western ideal of beauty, and it is problematic. Even in China, fairer skin is seen as being more desirable i.e. the wealthy have fair skin because they don’t work in rice fields for instance. I have to admit that I always longed to be white/European as a kid, although that changed as I got older. In fact, I wish that I had more almond eyes and more defined Asian features!!

    BTW I see you have an article on Colour and how it reflects your personality. We must be on the same wave length! I wrote a post about it here:http://slyonthewall.com/2013/10/13/fade-to-black/

    Keep up the good work guys!


    • Hello!

      Thank you for your comment! It’s great to receive such positive feedback!

      Also, we’re happy you enjoy your Asian features now! That’s really good!

      We hope to see you more on our site! Thanks for sharing your post with us and our readers! We’re sure a lot of people can find their inspiration in it!

      Best wishes!

  8. This phenomenon doesn’t exclusively happen in India. It actually expands through Asia. White skin is considered more attractive, including in my country, Indonesia. The way i see it, Indonesians have a very western-centered beauty standard for some reason. The most celebrated celebs and models here are those with half-caucasian blood.


    • It’s not 100% the same, as the motivations behind bleaching / becoming darker are different – for them it’s to make them look more Caucasian, as Caucasians are perceived to be rich and powerful and for Europeans and Americans it’s because being tanned is an indicator of having a lot of free time to spend in the sun and not needing to work – the reverse of why in the Renaissance being tanned was seen as a bad thing. During that time, only the people who worked outside were tanned – the rich people stood inside. Now, a tan is an indicator of being on holiday and of enjoying leisure.

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