This is a guest post by Eshaan Akbar
Oft-repeated family stories tend to have a mythical characteristic to them – particularly when they relate to many generations past. But one story has an altogether different type of tale in our family that continues to amaze those who hear it.
My great grandmother had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy family of landowners who branched out into businesses ranging from tea gardens to garments. The day she was to eventually get married, the groom-in-waiting turned up with his family who offered his hand in marriage. Everything was fine until they saw the complexion of my great grandmother – slightly darker than wheatish. Sensing the reluctance of the groom’s family, her father summoned some weighing scales, sat her on one of the scales and piled gold jewellery on the other until the value of the gold equalled the value of his daughter. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sexist? Yes. Archaic? A little. Consigned to the past? No. As part of every Bangladeshi wedding, the most important ceremony is the ‘Gaye Holud’ (turmeric on the body), not least because this is where all the singing and dancing happens. But, most importantly, it is where turmeric paste is applied to the body of the bride a few days before the wedding to ensure her complexion is the fairest it can be on the big day.
A fairer than fair Aishwariya Rai on the cover of Elle magazine shouldn’t surprise anyone. Kareena Kapoor, already quite fair by Bollywood standards, looked pasty when she graced the cover of Elle whilst Katrina Kaif, half-Indian and half-English, could have been called Karen Keats and no one would have batted an eyelid.
But all this merely reflects the inherent existence of fair skin being a pre-requisite to beauty which, naturally, filters its way up to psyche of the media. The images they then portray, enter the mindsets of those who are new to the ‘game of beauty’ and they go on to accept this as the universally accepted vision of beauty.
It’s not just South Asians who are at this. Europeans seem to go the opposite way with the likes of Cheryl Cole and Eva Longoria being doused in make up and have special lighting effects that make them seem more tanned.
This will not change overnight. Cultural influences over hundreds of years have led to our vision of beauty being as it is. If we are to change this, people of darker skin colours need to exert greater influence in popular culture through books, films and the arts. We’ve even let blue people create the highest grossing film of all time.
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Filed in: Culture,South Asia