Lighten up


by Rohin
21st July, 2006 at 11:21 am    

I just returned from the Baltics and Finland, where the sun is shining as strongly as it is here. The solar worship in these countries puts even British sunbathers to shame – the girls and guys can’t get enough of it. They must have a melanoma incidence to be truly proud of.

I would hazard a guess that the whiter a country, the more a tan is valued. I’m sure some smart Alec will name an exception, but in a country like Estonia, despite only seeing one other non-white person, everyone was my colour.

Yet far from nordic blondes, in the Middle East, Africa and across Asia, women have a very different ideal of beauty. It’s something we’ve discussed a few times before on PP, but skin lightening continues to be huge business, which shows no signs of flagging – indeed, quite the opposite.

Due to the immense scale of the international demand for skin lightening products, it’s a difficult topic to approach in a humble blog post. One could examine the phenomenon area by area.

Asia

Asia, chiefly India and China, represent the biggest markets for skin lightening companies. In both countries the belief that fairness equates to beauty is rife and moreover, the number of people (women) with disposable incomes is booming. Cast your mind back to 2003. An advert on Indian TV shows a depressed father, tired of rubbing his last two pennies together. He has no son to provide for him, just a dark-skinned daughter whose meagre salary is not enough. The implication is clear. Because his daughter is dark, she has no man, a crap job and an impoverished pops.

You’ve obviously guessed the ending, but this advert for Fair & Lovely, the most popular skin lightening cream in India, rightly caused an uproar which went as far as parliament. The advert is not only openly racist, it is also sexist and re-enforces the belief that women are commodities that need to be sold or utilised in some way. It was a deeply offensive advert and was pulled from Indian TV soon afterwards.

To make matters worse, in the very same month Hindustan Lever, makers of Fair & Lovely, withdrew yet another advert for the cream. In the second commercial, two girls are having a bit of boy talk in the bedroom. One’s happy, fair and has a hunky boyfriend. The other is sad, dark and single.

But of course countless other adverts remained.

The idolisation of fair skin is not at all new. A brief wikipedia page on skin whitening suggests that in Asia, white or pale skin was traditionally associated with royalty or aristocracy. Rich women stayed indoors playing bridge (or equivalent) whilst the poor toiled under the sun. We are all familiar with the Japanese female ideal of a white-faced geisha.

I recall an interesting Radio 4 documentary which interviewed a Delhi beautician who cited the Kama Sutra as an early example where fair skin was mentioned as desirable (to be fair, what it says is the skin should be clear and blemish-free).

A year or so ago, I wrote an article for my newspaper which sought to examine how valuable an MBA and an MBBS are when looking for a bride and signed up to a matrimonial site under different guises (I signed up for the article, FOR THE ARTICLE).

It struck me that it is an odd idiosyncrasy of Asian matrimonial services that they ask you to specify your skin tone. Is this not the most clandestine form of racism? It’s worse than simply asking your race, it’s asking “how black are you?” You know, to this day, I have no idea what a ‘wheatish complexion’ is.

Women’s groups in India have been vocal in their disdain for the industry’s practices. Whilst acknowledging that a woman should be free to do as she pleases with her own face, the chief objection of activists like Brinda Karat (All India Democratic Women’s Association, who challenged the Fair & Lovely ads) is the way women are portrayed in advertising.

Manufacturers like Hindustan Lever (a subsidiary of British Unilever) are not prepared to back down easily – in fact it took a year before they listened to the AIDWA. Fair & Lovely is sold in over 40 countries and is a huge earner for the company. In India alone, skin lightening products account for about 60% of the skincare market and it is domestically valued at about $200 million p.a.. About 37% of the global skin lightening market is accounted for by the Asia-Pacific region.

Indian beauticians and cosmetics-makers are quick to point out that Bollywood, the effective yardstick of Indian beauty, is inclusive of more ‘dark’ actresses these days. Yet the names they drop, such as Bipasha Basu or Nandita Das, aren’t really THAT dark at all. And as Sunny’s previous post demonstrates, the equation of black with ugly is widespread in the Indian film industry.

Hindustan Lever have at least guaranteed that their products contain none of the commonly identified damaging constituents such as mercury or hydroquinone (banned for non-medical use in many countries – hydroquinone is effective against spots of hyperpigmentation).

But not all creams can boast the same claim, as the cheaper end of the market demonstrates. Despite Hindustan Lever’s assurances that their products contain papaya juice and tomato (those renowned whitening agents) their prices are so prohibitive that women often go for a risky alternative.

This is the second major objection to skin lightening products; that many are patently harmful. With this, we turn to Africa.

Africa

In many ways, Africa represents the situation in Asia a few years ago. Money is slowly creeping in, but many women and girls have precious little to spend on beauty products. Yet social pressure, made worse by adverts such as the ones mentioned above, coerce these women to try whatever they can afford to look ‘nicer’. The regulatory bodies in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria are slack and dangerous products are easily available.

Whilst purely anecdotal, most of the ‘horror stories’ related to skin lightening I hear are from Africa. From mild burns to life-threatening internal injuries, the adverse effects can be far more serious than just a rash. Prolonged use of hydroquinone has caused renal failure and severe scarring.

A belief common to all the countries where skin lightening products enjoy popularity is that boys prefer fair girls. As I’m sure we’ll all agree, one of the main motivational factors for anything in life is to attract the opposite sex. Hence, the clientele requesting skin-lightening treatments at beauty salons is getting younger and younger.

The Afro-Caribbean communities around the world are just as keen on fair skin as those in Africa. British black and Asian women are almost single-handedly responsible for lightening procedures being offered in a multitude of salons around the country. The black British newspaper The Voice articulately condemns the industry:

It is a big multibillion-pound sector supported by mainly poor blacks with huge self-image problems.

A casual walk through almost any black community will find bleached-faced individuals branded by creams and lotions, marking their acceptance into the world of lighter complexion and seemingly endless possibilities. [Link]

It is not hard to see parallels between black and Asian mentalities. Both communities find beauty in the lighter-skinned members of their community, be it Halle Berry and Beyoncé or Aishwariya and Priyanka Chopra. The beauty industry publications catering to both black and Asian women in the UK feature adverts for skin lightening.

The Middle East

The Middle East is not an easy region about which to generalise, but in countries like Lebanon, Dubai, Jordan and Iran, women spend serious amounts of money on their looks. From an outsider’s perspective, the skin lightening situation bears more resemblance to the current state of affairs in Africa, as opposed to Asia. Those controversial adverts (albeit now with an unhappy Arab girl) have not been banned – just like in Africa – and dangerous products are freely available on the market.

Colonial mentality?

Whether imagined or not, the undertones to the beliefs held by the women who whiten are worrying. Is the reason that dark-skinned people consider fair skin to be attractive because they are unhappy with their race?

That wiki page clearly alleges that the reason South American and African women value fairness is to emulate their former European masters. Of course the same could be said of Indians, but China is not a former European colony.

The ethnic press in various countries believes that skin lightening is indicative of ‘race transformation’. We all know Michael Jackson altered his face to look less black and more white and some believe skin lightening is part of the same mentality.

Personally I tend to buy the rich – indoors; poor – outdoors theory that associates fair skin with social standing. But then, why would a British Asian, born and raised here, prefer a light-skinned girl? The answer may lie in our genes.

There are some tentative biological explanations, if you are interested.

Within a racial group, women are fairest (and most symmetrical) after puberty and before the first pregnancy. As women age and have babies, they get darker right up until the menopause. Fertility is also a factor. Obviously women closer to the menopause are less fertile than young women, but skin colour may reflect fertility.

Considering one racial group, the genes coding for skin colour are the same. The expression differs from person to person (an example of this is that men are darker than women in any given ethnic group – they have the same genes, but they are expressed in a different manner). One of the hormones responsible for melanocyte expression is derived from the same pre-cursor as the chemical which controls androgen production, that is, testosterone and oestrogen.

The ratio of oestrogen:testosterone is an important determinant of fecundity and hence darker skin (within one ethnic group) may represent lower fertility.

Thus, if a man selects only fair girls, he is statistically increasing his chances of finding a young and fertile mate.

Other more fanciful theories include fair skin showing the signs of ill health more readily. A prospective male would be able to see disease/parasites more easily on a fairer skinned mate and would therefore better know what genes he would be getting.

Men join the party

I clean forgot about the Fair and Handsome range when writing this piece for the first time (thanks Vikrant). Fair and Handsome was launched last year as a response to the growing number of men in India who are concerned about their appearance. Mirroring the West, where advertising for men’s grooming products has increased ten fold, Emami Industries considered the number of ‘metrosexual’ men more than sufficient to launch the male version. Now, where have we heard this before:

The advert for the male cream shows a dark-skinned college boy relegated to the back seat and ignored by the girls until he uses the product. Soon enough, his complexion lightens and girls flock to him like moths to a flame. [Link]

The cream is proving very successful, with fears that men would be too shy to buy proving unfounded.

All’s fair in love and makeup

There have been attempts at rectifying the situation. Large cosmetics companies like L’Oreal and Max Factor have been attempting to muscle in on the market for darker skin, which is also booming. Makers such as Bobbi Brown and Ruby and Millie specifically cater for darker skin and Bobbi Brown herself has voiced criticism of the skin lightening industry. Whilst there are those who insist dark skin is as beautiful as light, the message is slow to percolate down to public opinion.

Being unhappy in one’s own skin must be horrible. But worldwide, billions of men and women feel the grass is always greener. Whites want to get darker and blacks want to get lighter. It’s just not fair.

People say, yo Humpty now that your records is sellin
Ain’t it about time for you to be bailin out
Of the race and community you come from
Yo, your face has gotta change, Hump!
Ice Cube says you’re making more than Donald Trump
So yo, go on and get your nose fixed, Hump

Listen, now the black girl wants to get her lip tucked
She says Doc, I want my slim hips so I’m a slim figure
The white girl says my hips are not big enough
And yo, Doc, inject the collagen and make my lips bigger
All of these so-called celebrities
Sellin millions of records and claimin no responsibilities
A young girl sees you on a TV show
She’s only six, says “Mama, I don’t like my nose!”
Why’d you have to go and mess up the child’s head
So you can get another gold waterbed?!
You fakehaircontactwearinliposuction carnival exhibit
Listen to my rhyme, you need to hear it

[Chorus]

Uh, and you don’t stop, check it
I smell the message from the TV
Does my Humpty nose deceive me?
Smells like the blacker the wacker
Polly wants to be a cracker, if you let her
But see for me, the bigger the nose the better
They say the lighter the righter
Oh yeah?! Well, that’s tough
Sometimes I feel I’m not black enough
I’m high yellow, my nose is brown to perfection
And if I was to change it’d be further in that direction
So catch me on the beach, I’ll be gettin a tan
Make sure there’s no mistake that
Humpty-Hump is from the motherland
Layin in the sun, string bikini
Between the buns of two cuties
Still mackin, there’ll be no nose job

- Excerpt from Digital Underground’s No Nose Job


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  1. sonia — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:40 am  

    good job you highlighted the business about toiling outside and sitting inside in luxury, and your skintone reflecting whether you were a peasant or not. i think that’s definitely a key aspect. with the whole valuing a golden tan thing – it kind of does signify ‘glamour’ because people associate it with going abroad, caribbean beaches, or just being able to lie around luxuriously and soak up the sun..

    and of course this idea is still floating around in the sub-continent that the lighter you are the more likely you are to be ‘upper class’…

    You always hear people saying oh so and so was of course born fair..but then they would insist on running around without any sunblock on…so that’s why they’re now dark.

  2. Leon — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:41 am  

    Excellent piece Rohin and good choice of lyrics (used to love DU back in the day…)!

  3. sonia — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:44 am  

    hah ha the biological theories are well amusing. ( slightly dangerous of course in as much they may be used to ‘justify’ prejudice and racism ( as has happened in the past)

    if darker women are supposed to be less fertile ..well im not a scientist but im sure we can get empirical data that this is not the case – certainly in the subcontinent. take one look around the streets and anyone from mars would be forgiven if they thought poor dark and on the street meant lots of screaming poor equally dark babies, and then they went into the fancy apartments and found some rich fair women with fewer kids.. and didn’t accept this biological theory.

  4. Vikrant — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:46 am  

    Oye Hindustan Lever cant be accused of sexism… they recently launched “Fai & Handsome” for men!

  5. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:50 am  

    Well sonia it’s a kind of irrelevant argument (the biological one) because the dark women on the street you mention get darker through sun exposure, so it is hard to gauge their ‘natural’ colour anyway. And people in every country are likely to have different racial influences – that woman in the street’s genes may be quite different to the rich fair one indoors, voiding any comparison. I just thought I’d attempt to understand the mentality from an evolutionary perspective.

    And let me take this opportunity to say to all and sundry – don’t forget your suncream! Slip, slap, slop.

  6. sonia — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:52 am  

    anyway, its usually the mother-in-law that selects ‘fair’ brides because she wants ‘fair’ grandchildren or whatever. there have been so many situations where the son in question brings girlfriend home and family ( i.e. usually the females) cluck oh but she’s so dark…

    brings into question whether these aesthetic ideals are actually translated into who the men find ‘sexy’ and are attracted to. And again, how women are responsible for propagate social norms that are detrimental to other women. if i could bring up the anecdote about this cousin of mine – very attractive, with a skintone that all the aunties consider ‘black!’ but hey, i can’t see that’s stopped any guys from thinking her hot. hell no.

  7. sonia — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:52 am  

    :-) good point rohin!

  8. sonia — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:53 am  

    so who’s the chick in the pic?

  9. Vikrant — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:57 am  

    d’oh even on my 128 x 216 cell phone screen i can see that she is Bipasha Basu.

  10. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 12:01 pm  

    One of my friends (who shall remain nameless) provided me with detailed commentary of working out right next to Bipasha – they use the same gym. There are so many expletives I could to describe him, I don’t know which to use.

    Vikrant! I have updated the post with your point.

  11. sonia — on 21st July, 2006 at 12:03 pm  

    ho ho well i ain’t up with what goes on in Bollywood!

  12. Vikrant — on 21st July, 2006 at 12:04 pm  

    well anyways didnt the whole idea for this post come from a convo we had on ur blog last december?

  13. Sid — on 21st July, 2006 at 12:27 pm  

    Great post Rohin.

  14. David T — on 21st July, 2006 at 12:29 pm  

    How bizarre. “Attractiveness” doesn’t correlate with the concentration of melanin in your skin. Weird, weird, weird.

    Still, I’m one to talk. I’ve just had my hair “straightened”.

  15. Parv — on 21st July, 2006 at 12:29 pm  

    To me, it’s just ironic that while in the East people tend to stay away from the sun to avoid becoming “dark”, in the West, they can’t have enough of it. I have a natural olive-toned complexion, and I can’t help but mock my boyfriend everytime he goes into a tanning salon just so that he can have the same skin tone as me. It’s all laughable really.

  16. Sid — on 21st July, 2006 at 1:07 pm  

    The crucial question for me is, can I extend my penis if I use Fair & Handsome?

  17. El Cid — on 21st July, 2006 at 1:18 pm  

    I like em with big tits, good teeth, decent legs and a decent bum — could be purple for all I care. I guess I’m a bit like Capt Kirk — he would knob anything what ever planet he was on.

  18. El Cid — on 21st July, 2006 at 1:19 pm  

    Ahem.. not that I do anymore, being a married man.. but if I did…

  19. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 1:20 pm  

    Sid I think you’re after Firm and Lengthy. Or just take a look at anyone’s hotmail account.

  20. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 1:22 pm  

    El Cid, good to see you put personality first ;) j/k

  21. Bert Preast — on 21st July, 2006 at 2:02 pm  

    Is it just a problem among dark skinned people? Look at the amount of white girls that dye their hair blonde for that even whiter look – and now they’ve even started on the blue contact lenses. Are we really all closet nazis at heart?

  22. Sunny — on 21st July, 2006 at 2:11 pm  

    Great article..

  23. Queen Bee — on 21st July, 2006 at 2:29 pm  

    Well, look at how keen white women are to have a nice tanned complexion. What an irony – white women want to be brown and brown women want to be whiter.

  24. fotzepolitic — on 21st July, 2006 at 2:57 pm  

    Yeah, Bert, I dye my hair ginger to look more “white.” Otherwise someone might mistake my interest in Asian things as actually meaning that I’m brown. Hell, I got asked the other day in an Indian grocery store if “we” sold bottled water! What can a freckled, blue-eyed girl do to look more like a gora?!? What products are there for us, huh?

  25. El Cid — on 21st July, 2006 at 3:09 pm  

    What an irony – white women want to be brown and brown women want to be whiter.

    while white and brown men just want women

  26. Ravi Naik — on 21st July, 2006 at 3:20 pm  

    “Ravi, Indians ARE monumentally racist. Considering fair skin more beautiful than dark is racism and nothing more.”

    You are trivialising the word ‘racism’ in my view. As you pointed out in your article, every society and even every individual has its own view of what beauty is. In the West, big breasts and blonde hair are the norm. Men on the other hand, are desired to be ‘tall, dark and handsome’.

    But you don’t call it monumentally racist. Just as if you prefer certain types of women over others. So why should it apply to Indians just because the colour of skin is a sensitive subject in the West?

    My girlfriend – who is white – prefers to have tanned skin because she says it makes her look more healthy – is she racist as well?

    Call it racist when minorities (like blacks, chinese, etc) are discriminated and demonised at work or at public places. India does not have a good record as the west has, but as someone pointed out, it is because it is not a truly cosmpolitan place.

  27. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 3:47 pm  

    No Ravi, I don’t mean that. Finding certain things attractive is fine, but in India (not exclusively India, I’m not singling it out) people who don’t conform are discriminated against.

    Dark skinned people find it harder to land certain jobs, skin colour is used as a rudimentary measure of caste (dark = low caste) and people from different ethnic backgrounds are frequently subject to prejudice.

    As you said – black people in particular are looked upon unfavourably in India. I don’t buy any argument about it not being cosmopolitan, what piffle. India has more minorities in it than just about any country in the world. There are lots of Africans pouring in BLR these days, for example. Throughout history India has been home to communities from all over the world. And India has all the same media we’re exposed to, with black movie stars and models. Yet old prejudices towards black people remain.

    You’ve confused my point, I wasn’t very clear. Of course wanting a tan or liking someone with a tan is not racist. But discriminating against someone with dark skin is. When I said India is racist, I wasn’t referring to who’s thought of as attractive, I was referring to long-standing small-mindedness.

  28. funkg — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:01 pm  

    Brilliant post by the way rohin. As a black man and a frequent visitor to India, I have always been fascinated by this whole colour thing in India. In general I have found that although I am treated as an honoury sahib through my money and passport, the lighter you are, the higher up the social scale you seem to be. The terminology of a ‘black person’ gets turned on its head for me, especially in south India where many are a lot darker than me although I am ‘black’ and british. For me the often darker southern Indian women are some of the most beautiful on the planet, and warm and pleasant too boot unlike some of the haughty lighter skin northern ‘sisters’
    It saddens me too that anything black has negative connotations for a lot of people, and how black people the world over are seen as criminal. I once visited hong kong, and the racism I experienced from the ethnic Chinese was rotten.

  29. Bert Preast — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:04 pm  

    Fotzepolitic wrote: Yeah, Bert, I dye my hair ginger to look more “white.” Otherwise someone might mistake my interest in Asian things as actually meaning that I’m brown. Hell, I got asked the other day in an Indian grocery store if “we” sold bottled water! What can a freckled, blue-eyed girl do to look more like a gora?!? What products are there for us, huh?

    Hey, my wife dyes her hair orange too. But frankly trying to ponder what sort of ideal image she’s after with that one is something I expect I’d really rather not have to find out about. Victory is yours.

  30. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:19 pm  

    funkg, I hate to say it but the Chinese – along with some of their neighbours – are notorious for racist attitudes as well. But I shall say no more about them as I don’t want to speak out of place.

    Tbh, it’s a much wider concept. Since you mention ‘black’ having negative connotations funkg, it’s interesting to consider how affected by subliminal conditioning we are. Even in countries with dark skinned people, black has traditionally represented evil, death or general badness. The baddies wear black, the goodie wears white – any kid can tell you this. Sure sure now things are changing with heroes dressed in black leather, but white still is understood to be virginal, pure and good and black still means scary and bad.

    I wonder if these are the views that helped shape racist attitudes when different races first met years ago – that along with fear of what’s different.

    Notable exceptions I can think of are in India and ancient Egypt. Anubis was black as the black soil of the Nile flood plain was the most fertile in Egypt. But then Anubis also represented death…so kind of back to square 1.

    Shiva and Kali are depicted as black in Hinduism, but once again both are associated with the ‘dark side’. Shit, there’s another one – the dark side!

    We are repeatedly told from the day we pop out that darkness is to be feared (perfectly understandably, artificial lights are recent developments in human history) but we probably don’t realise how much of this we carry over to our impressions of humans.

    It’s very interesting geneto-psycho-evolution.

  31. Geezer — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:20 pm  

    Rohin great thread

    By the way who is the lady in the picture?

  32. David T — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:20 pm  

    I like this guy’s tan

  33. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:25 pm  

    David, never come here again. You disgust me. On that note…I like THIS guy’s tan.

    Geez the lady up top is Bipasha Basu. My girlfriend understands, if not condones, my pathetic little boy-esque salivation.

  34. Queen Bee — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:44 pm  

    Rohin what are you doing? You linked to pictures of Aishwarya Rai when you were supposed to link to the lovely Bipasha.

  35. Queen Bee — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:46 pm  

    Well you changed that. My mistake. Sorry.

    She reminds me of Sophia Loren. Feline and curvaceous.

  36. Queen Bee — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:49 pm  

    David T

    Is that a picture of a muscular liberal?

  37. Geezer — on 21st July, 2006 at 4:49 pm  

    Geez the lady up top is Bipasha Basu. My girlfriend understands, if not condones, my pathetic little boy-esque salivation.[Rohin]

    Is it me or does she look a great deal “fairer” than usual?

  38. Paul Moloney — on 21st July, 2006 at 5:00 pm  

    ‘Er Indoors, who’s of Sinhalese extraction, was looking through some wedding magazines from home (Malaysia) for makeup tips lately and was furious that, without exception, every model pictured was either white or blinding pale skinned. When I suggested she should at least write a letter of complaint to the magazines, she said that it probably wouldn’t matter since they were only catering for what their audience wanted. I’m not sure how true that is, but it’s very sad it’s true at all.

    P.

  39. Rohin — on 21st July, 2006 at 5:08 pm  

    A friend of mine edits an Asian women’s mag and the criticism is often levied at him. I would relay what he says – and I don’t feel he is to blame – but I have to run now. A key point was that when they put a dark skinned girl on the front, they sell less – simple market research. So I can’t really blame magazine publishers for catering to their market, as your wife says Paul. One can either make as much money as they can, or attempt to challenge attitudes. Challenging attitudes is admirable, but not really why women’s mags or wedding catalogues exist.

    Have a nice evening!

  40. Ravi Naik — on 21st July, 2006 at 5:16 pm  

    “When I said India is racist, I wasn’t referring to who’s thought of as attractive”

    Well, then your statement is clearly not true: “Considering fair skin more beautiful than dark is racism and nothing more.”

    “Dark skinned people find it harder to land certain jobs, skin colour is used as a rudimentary measure of caste…

    South India is more developed and rich than the North. And the caste system is all over India, so I think you are over-generalising the issue. This is actually a Western misconception of the caste system in India: that you can figure out the caste by the colour of your skin.

    And I find it offensive that funkg thinks that the only way that he can get respect from Indians is by waving his passport and money as some sort of neo-colonial sahib.

    There is no country in the world that opens its arms to foreigners and give their daughters to marry. So to call every socieity ‘racist’ is really futile and meaningless. And trivialises what should be an unacceptable behaviour.

    I stayed in Hong Kong for an internship a few years ago, learned basic Cantonese (chinese) and loved the culture and people. There was a rude comment once, but I have no idea if it was racism or the person was being rude.

  41. Bikhair aka Taqiyyah — on 21st July, 2006 at 5:31 pm  

    “Say it loud: I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD!”

    James Brown

    Has anyone read Bluest Eye by Tono Morrison? Gotta read that book its awesome and deals with this very issue in the black American community.

  42. El Cid — on 21st July, 2006 at 6:11 pm  

    hey funkg, what about black on black racism..
    i.e light skinned vs dark skinned.. ever come across that?

  43. Ravi Naik — on 21st July, 2006 at 6:18 pm  

    Ever heard about ?

  44. Ravi Naik — on 21st July, 2006 at 6:20 pm  

    Oops. Here is a link about the paper bag test.

  45. Leon — on 21st July, 2006 at 7:29 pm  

    David T

    Is that a picture of a muscular liberal?

    ROFL!:D

  46. Roger — on 21st July, 2006 at 7:54 pm  

    It was only when getting a tan was a sign of having the wealth and leisure to lie around in the sun that it became a desirable thing in Europe. When women and men were mainly engaged in outdoor agricultural work it was desirable to women to be white-skinned and the whiter the better- see Elizabethan sonnets for example. It showed they were wealthy enough to stay indoors.

  47. Katy Newton — on 21st July, 2006 at 8:47 pm  

    Great article.

  48. nydesi — on 21st July, 2006 at 10:16 pm  

    “Shiva and Kali are depicted as black in Hinduism, but once again both are associated with the ‘dark side’. Shit, there’s another one – the dark side!”

    So what about Lord Krishna, he’s described as being black complexioned. I don’t think he’s described anywhere as being unattractive.

  49. El Cid — on 21st July, 2006 at 10:56 pm  

    Blimey, I didn’t appreciate the scale of it.
    I only asked because I seeing some show — it could have been Jerry, Jerry, Jerry or Trisha, hey I dunno, I must have been ill at home or something — and some dark skinned black women complaining about black men going for lighter-skinned black wome, or soemthing like that. I also remember how particularly perturbed a dark-skinned mate of mine was at the degree to which Shawn Wright Phillips got the monkey chants from Spanish fans in THAT game (*look at shoes*) relative to, say, Ashley Cole or Rio Ferdinand. It just struck me that that should bother him so much.

  50. El Cid — on 21st July, 2006 at 10:57 pm  

    That last post was to Ravi

  51. El Cid — on 21st July, 2006 at 10:59 pm  

    CORRECTION: should be “I remember seeing”

  52. xyz — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:20 pm  

    [Shiva and Kali are depicted as black in Hinduism, but once again both are associated with the ‘dark side’. Shit, there’s another one - the dark side!]

    Shiva associated with the dark side? Are you speaking of him as Rudra? I think the use of the word dark side is very misleading when talking about deities such as Shiva and Kali.

  53. Sunny — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:29 pm  

    I’m sure Lord Krishna was blue rather than being dark-skinned.

  54. Katy Newton — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:40 pm  

    Are we talking navy or royal blue, or more sort of sky blue or aqua?

  55. xyz — on 21st July, 2006 at 11:50 pm  

    Lord Krishna has been portrayed having blue, dark green, brown and black skin. More of a royal or darker blue. Lord Rama is also sometimes portrayed with blue skin.

  56. DR1001 — on 22nd July, 2006 at 12:02 am  

    light vs dark skin is also preferred in the South American community eg I have a colombian friend and she tells me Colombian light skinned girls are far more desirable than dark one as dark skin = indeginous people, rather than considered Spanish hence European

  57. Desi Italiana — on 22nd July, 2006 at 12:36 am  

    “In many ways, Africa represents the situation in Asia a few years ago. Money is slowly creeping in, but many women and girls have precious little to spend on beauty products. Yet social pressure, made worse by adverts such as the ones mentioned above, coerce these women to try whatever they can afford to look ‘nicer’. The regulatory bodies in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria are slack and dangerous products are easily available.”

    Depends which part of Africa you are talking about. It’s a continent with a huge variety of peoples, you know. I don’t have any direct experience with Africa below Sahara, but in Morocco I saw an incredible mix of people– people who looked like “Black” Africans, people who looked of European background, and of Arab ancestry. And most of the population looks in between-clearly, there has been some major mixing going on: some with blue/green eyes, cafe latte skin color and kinky hair. And I saw couples where one partner– both male or female- was more “blacker” than the other. So I am not so sure about the generalization posited above.

    “What an irony – white women want to be brown and brown women want to be whiter.”

    Maybe I’m going off the mark, but I think this is inaccurate. Living in Italy, it amazed me that Italians would spend three consecutive months on the beach 24/7 to get as tan as possible. But they sure as hell wouldn’t want to be the “brown” that other ethnicities are, such as South Asians and Africans. Even here in America, white girls will go to unbelievable lengths to get a tan, like the surfer blond girls I grew up with, but then I also got looks and snide remarks about ME, a person who is a SOUTH ASIAN BROWN. They want to be the “brown” that white people attain when they tan– ie they’re aiming for the TANNED WHITE look.

    Conversely, when South Asians say that “fair” is beautiful, they don’t mean the European white, despite ghazals that sing of “gori hatho” (Hans Raj Hans). They mean the “fair”/ “gori” that South Asians can possibly get. The “fair” that South Asians get is not the same as a European white, no matter how fair they are. Look at Persians, some of them are fair as hell, but very few can be mistaken to be, say, Irish. There are some Arabs who can pass for whites (like some I knew who in Italy were mistaken for being Italian; but then there were Italians who looked Magrebhini [North African] but were for all intent and purposes, Italian).

    Lastly, I don’t buy the scientific theory on why men prefer fair women over the others. “Fair” can be found in almost any ethnicity (not all) in terms of the color/shade spectrum, but “white” (ie European ancestry) doesn’t go across all ethnicities. So as a Desi female, I have a question: how come many South Asian men go for white (European ancestry) women? I’ve noticed this quite often. Out of all the South Asian men I know (specifically Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) an overwhelming majority are either dating or are married to white women. Only a very few that I know actually PREFER South Asian women.

    How come?

  58. Desi Italiana — on 22nd July, 2006 at 1:09 am  

    “Only a very few that I know actually PREFER South Asian women”

    I meant, very few South Asian men I know are actually attracted to South Asian women.

    So, how come?

    (Hope I’m not jacking the thread).

  59. Don — on 22nd July, 2006 at 1:34 am  

    Desi Italiana,

    ‘ie they’re aiming for the TANNED WHITE look.’

    Otherwise known as skin damage.

    Just based on my own observations, but aren’t we seeing a move away from tan = status? A deep mediterranean tan is readily available to the meanest prole and the middle classes are starting get a bit sniffy about the health risks and the possibility of being mistaken for someone who uses a tanning salon. It could go the way of smoking, and peaches&cream return.

    Actually, I’ve just returned from the heaving maelstrom of tanned flesh which is Newcastle Quayside on a hot Friday night. End of term. Forty-six days without deranged adolescents to deal with. Tangoed till I was sore.

    Weekend thread, Katy?

  60. Bikhair aka Taqiyyah — on 22nd July, 2006 at 1:46 am  

    El Cid,

    “hey funkg, what about black on black racism..
    i.e light skinned vs dark skinned.. ever come across that?”

    I’ve come across it before. As a child I had a best friend who was dark skinned and we made fun of her all the time. My brother had a best friend who was light skinned- white mother and black father, and we made fun of him all the time.

    I know as children you are often abused because of your skin color but it almost disappeared when I got into high school. Obviously there is still a preference for light skinned women but dark skinned men get all the love. Sometimes light skinned men are viewed as not being very masculine. Its strange.

  61. Desi Italiana — on 22nd July, 2006 at 4:14 am  

    Don:

    “Just based on my own observations, but aren’t we seeing a move away from tan = status? A deep mediterranean tan is readily available to the meanest prole and the middle classes are starting get a bit sniffy about the health risks and the possibility of being mistaken for someone who uses a tanning salon. It could go the way of smoking, and peaches&cream return.”

    Not where I’m from and where I’ve been. Even here in Chicago, I see people laid out on one of the “beaches” along Lake Michigan that are furiously determined to get tanned.

    Maybe in the UK that’s the trend. But not in the US and southern Europe.

    And actually, it’s the middle/upper middle classes who can afford to go away to beach resorts for three months and sit out there and bake their buns off to achieve that orangey-brown look.

  62. Desi Italiana — on 22nd July, 2006 at 4:16 am  

    “Obviously there is still a preference for light skinned women but dark skinned men get all the love. Sometimes light skinned men are viewed as not being very masculine. Its strange.”

    Har har, ain’t that the truth. Personally, I am totally not attracted to light skinned guys. I like my mens dark and rough.

  63. Desi Italiana — on 22nd July, 2006 at 4:19 am  

    “Har har, ain’t that the truth. Personally, I am totally not attracted to light skinned guys. I like my mens dark and rough.”

    Not that I’m trying to hurt a light skinned man’s feelings or make them feel unmasculine. Just stating my own personal preference.

  64. Roger — on 22nd July, 2006 at 8:12 am  

    “I meant, very few South Asian men I know are actually attracted to South Asian women.”
    Well, how many South Asian men do you know? Presumably, like you, most of them chose to leave South Asia for whatever reason and have adapted to local tastes. The ones who lead more-or-less normal South Asian lives probably retain the local tastes.

    “Sometimes light skinned men are viewed as not being very masculine. Its strange. ”
    Especially when the infamously masculine vikings were light-skinned and blond.

    It’s hard to say, but going by London and my family and acquantances there is probably less actual interest in particular “types” of people. certainly my children and their friends seem to be very eclectic in their choice of partners.

  65. contrarymary — on 22nd July, 2006 at 11:17 am  

    Rohin post 27//
    I really don’t agree that India is a cosmopolitan society when it comes to black people. Just because there are black people in BLR and Mumbai does not mean the whole of India is familiar with black people. Like most racism, it’s ignorance, and fear of the unknown and a continuation of racist ideaology of Victorian Empire.

    To say India has had access to the same media as us is nonsense. that might be true since 2000 – particularly TV – but that means that the vast majority of Indians are not familiar with black people on TV. Take for example hip hop – most people in India wouldn’t know what you were talking about before 2000, and now there’s some awareness of it amongst metropolitan India and Bollywood – with songs like bluffmaster.

    It’s hardly a scientific study, but having been to India some 15 times – largely in cosmpolitan cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and tourist areas such as Kerala – why have I only seen black people in India in Mumbai in 2005 and never before? and I will admit I was surprised – pleasantly.

  66. El Cid — on 22nd July, 2006 at 1:21 pm  

    Desi,
    You’re just playing hard to get.
    Once you have white, you won’t go… um….err… tight?

  67. Chris Stiles — on 22nd July, 2006 at 2:23 pm  


    Only a very few that I know actually PREFER South Asian women

    Home come?


    Har har, ain’t that the truth. Personally, I am totally not attracted to light skinned guys. I like my mens dark and rough.

    Heh – there you go – personal preference will get you every time. Perhaps – like you – some men associate ‘dark’ with ‘rough’ and hence don’t go for ‘rough’ women.

    Though as Rohin alludes to above – I think your sample is probably a bit skewed.

  68. Chris Stiles — on 22nd July, 2006 at 2:28 pm  


    Though as Rohin alludes to above – I think your sample is probably a bit skewed.

    Gah – I’m still half asleep. It’s Roger who alludes to it.

    All my mistakes are my own.

  69. BollywoodScum — on 22nd July, 2006 at 4:32 pm  

    Re: “Indian beauticians and cosmetics-makers are quick to point out that Bollywood, the effective yardstick of Indian beauty, is inclusive of more ‘dark’ actresses these days. Yet the names they drop, such as Bipasha Basu or Nandita Das…”

    Oh please don’t try and hold up La Basu as an example of how ‘non-wheatish’ women can break the color bar in india.

    She’s merely the sultry flipside of the Fair and Lovely simpering of Aishwarya Rai.

    Message reinforced: Dark = exotic and licentious, cue loads more bullshit about darker women being ‘full of eastern promise’ and essentially there for the taking, whilst the fairer skinned women are infinitely more… *wholesome*, something that African and darker skinned women across South East Asia have had to put up with for years.

  70. BollywoodScum — on 22nd July, 2006 at 4:34 pm  

    I see that Google ads has thoughtfully included two ads for skin lighteners at the top of the comments page of this thread too.

  71. Ravi Naik — on 22nd July, 2006 at 7:08 pm  

    Let’s forget about personality for a moment, shall we? (I am being ironic)

    Here is the thing. Physically, men and women are either gorgeous, beautiful, average or ugly. Add more scale levels if you feel it’s not enough. And here is the interesting bit: beauty appears in all races and shapes, and the colour of skin has little to do with beauty. I am not being oh so progressive and liberal. Add more shades of darkness to Bipasha Basu and she continues to be gorgeous. And more beautiful than Rimi Sen in my view (sorry, racism, arrogance and ignorance are just a complete turn-off).

    There is little we can do to upgrade our beauty status. We can of course exercise and maintain a good figure, do plastic surgery (but there is little you can do here without damaging your body), and of course cultivate a personal… ah, sorry, what am I thinking?

    But Indian society is telling you that light skin is beautiful. Just like the West tells you that model-skinny is what men like. And that’s why women – and men – go through all the trouble to make themselves beautiful. That is a futile exercise with some harmful consequences.

    Bollywood is incredibly lame. They use the same formula for decades, there is little creativity and courage to change things. So why would they start with the way they select their cast?

  72. BollywoodScum — on 22nd July, 2006 at 7:34 pm  

    Re: “Here is the thing. Physically, men and women are either gorgeous, beautiful, average or ugly..”

    A statement which ignores the processes by which notions of beauty are set.

    For instance: Compare the heroes and heroines of films of the 70′s even up to the 90′s with those now. Or better still, compare the film stars of Bangladesh or Pakistan with those of India. I expect you’d say no contest as those in Bollywood are more beautiful. Well, the majority in Mumbai are now ex-models (male and female) rather than people who started their career in acting.

    The difference being that the Bollywood trash now on screen bear less and less resemblance to the majority of their audience. This is not (yet) the case in Pakistan or Bangladesh, in part due to more restrictive cultures preventing escapees from the international beauty industry from finding their way on screen. Looks aren’t enough there. Note I said international beauty industry aswell, since it is the big money advertisers (still dominated by the west) that pick the faces that sell us products. This requires bland looks that converge on a standardised norm, ones that won’ shock too many people in country A, even though it is average in country B:

    Ethnic but not too ethnic, opal eyed but not round faced, dusky but not dark, etc

  73. Ravi Naik — on 22nd July, 2006 at 7:56 pm  

    “A statement which ignores the processes by which notions of beauty are set.”

    Well, if people follow what Bollywood dictates to be beautiful, intelligent or real, well then perhaps it should be ignored.

  74. Desi Italiana — on 22nd July, 2006 at 8:11 pm  

    Roger:
    “Well, how many South Asian men do you know? Presumably, like you, most of them chose to leave South Asia for whatever reason and have adapted to local tastes.”

    No,I also mean South Asian first generation immigrants that I know. I have met South Asian men who come here for grad school, for example, and date and marry white women, though there is no shortage of South Asian women. Of course my “sample” is limited– and obviously I cannot claim to have met all 1 billion Indians in India, let alone the millions in South Asia, and then the entire South Asian diaspora flung all over the globe! I am just speaking from personal experiences. Maybe I should have stated that though I thought that should be obvious ;)

    Chris Stiles:
    “Heh – there you go – personal preference will get you every time. Perhaps – like you – some men associate ‘dark’ with ‘rough’ and hence don’t go for ‘rough’ women.”

    Yup, personal preferences certainly do get you everytime :) Nobody is consistent with preferences.

    But if men might associate dark women with “rough”, as you suggest, they are woefully wrong. Us brown women are “brown and beautiful” or “brown and lovely” :)

    El Cid:
    “Desi,You’re just playing hard to get.”

    No hon. As I stated, I like dark, tall, handsome men :) Even a half naked “masculine viking” as Roger puts it wouldn’t do anything for me.

    Goodbye, and enjoy the heat!!

  75. Chris Stiles — on 23rd July, 2006 at 2:12 am  


    But if men might associate dark women with “rough”, as you suggest, they are woefully wrong. Us brown women are “brown and beautiful” or “brown and lovely”

    I wasn’t suggesting it at all – beyond thinking it would be rather amusing if you only ever kept running into men who adopted the male equivalent of your attitude and thereby came to an equally unhappy conclusion.

  76. Desi Italiana — on 23rd July, 2006 at 4:26 am  

    “if you only ever kept running into men who adopted the male equivalent of your attitude and thereby came to an equally unhappy conclusion.”

    Hey, Chris, relax. My comments are meant to be lighthearted, since someone said, “Sometimes light skinned men are viewed as not being very masculine. Its strange”. And since I am attracted to dark men, I made the comment “I like my mens dark and rough”. In the spirit of the discussion. No need to take swipes at “my attitude” which are my preferences ;)

    BTW, I already stated that I don’t want to offend those of a lighter hue. So I hope you’re not.

  77. El Cid — on 23rd July, 2006 at 8:26 am  

    Yes, yes, but do you prefer mediterranean white, say, and rough or brown and pussy?
    And what if dark and rough was ugly and white was Adonis? and what if he could make you a film star or had a big fancy car and tickets to the Bulls? ;) Not that you’re shallow or anything… :)

  78. El Cid — on 23rd July, 2006 at 8:33 am  

    .. not that I am, of course (even if #17 is my alter ego)

  79. Desi Italiana — on 23rd July, 2006 at 9:02 am  

    El Cid:

    “and what if he could make you a film star or had a big fancy car and tickets to the Bulls? Not that you’re shallow or anything… ”

    As J Lo eloquently puts it: “Love don’t cost a thing”.

    I am not so cheap so as to be bought.

    Unless he brings me Indian sweetmeats and makes me chai. That is different.

  80. Chris Stiles — on 23rd July, 2006 at 2:49 pm  


    In the spirit of the discussion. No need to take swipes at “my attitude” which are my preferences.

    Heh – isn’t swiping what this place is all about .. ‘dear’ ;-) It wouldn’t have been amusing if not for the question at the end of your first post. Besides, sniping and swiping rather relaxes me.


    I already stated that I don’t want to offend those of a lighter hue. So I hope you’re not.

    Given that I’m a similiar hue as the average Mexican I would hardly likely to be.

    As for chai – these days I prefer a really strong Assam brewed with a few open cardomam pods.

  81. Desi Italiana — on 23rd July, 2006 at 4:59 pm  

    Chris:

    “As for chai – these days I prefer a really strong Assam brewed with a few open cardomam pods.”

    Hmmmm….. that could work….

    Do you know how to make sweetmeats from scratch?

    Are you a good cook?

    Do you take orders well without feeling like this reflects and/or stunts your manhood?

    And, last requirement:

    “Given that I’m a similiar hue as the average Mexican I would hardly likely to be.”

    The “average Mexican”? I grew up around Mexicans in a sea of Anglo Saxons. Mexicans are a variety of shades.

    So how brown are you? ;)

  82. Chris Stiles — on 23rd July, 2006 at 9:21 pm  


    Do you know how to make sweetmeats from scratch?

    Yes .. I can cook too – when I have the time and inclination. As for orders, I neither take nor give them except in jest, I don’t powerplay either – perhaps an answer to a previous question there[*]


    The “average Mexican”? I grew up around Mexicans in a sea of Anglo Saxons. Mexicans are a variety of shades.

    So how brown are you?

    Heh – it seemed an apt comparison as I kept being mistaken for a ‘wetback’ in Georgia. Suffice to say that in shade I’m somewhere between Carlos Gardel and Bola Sete. Present Stonkina could give you a more precise answer, maybe even without taking offence – ah .. the advantages of a woman with military service.

    [*] Seriously, what gives with the prevalence – in certain cultures – of women who think it ‘sweet’ to play the child and babytalk with their boyfriends? [Note, I'm NOT saying you do this].

  83. Rohin — on 23rd July, 2006 at 9:31 pm  

    All my posts have a no flirting policy.

  84. Katy Newton — on 23rd July, 2006 at 9:37 pm  

    Why am I bothering with the internet dating when I could ensnare the man of my dreams right here on Pickled Politics?

    I went out looking for a place to call home… and it was right in front of me all the time…

    *falls into misty-eyed reverie*

  85. El Cocinero — on 23rd July, 2006 at 10:19 pm  

    Who’s Present Stonkina?

  86. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 1:00 am  

    Chris:

    “I’m somewhere between Carlos Gardel and Bola Sete”

    You know Carlos Gardel?! That is a rarity.No one else ever knows who I’m talking about when I speak of “Carlos Gardel”.

    Who’s Bola Sete?

    When I said “Do you take orders well without feeling like this reflects and/or stunts your manhood?” I had in mind household chores. Men need to do their share of work at home, I’m not someone’s mommy who cooks, cleans, and does laundry for a full grown man who is lazy or refuses to do his part. I’ve found that this is usually achieved by me giving stern orders to clean the bathroom, do the dishes tonight, or to do this weekend’s laundry, in the manner of a lieutenant.

    “Seriously, what gives with the prevalence – in certain cultures – of women who think it ’sweet’ to play the child and babytalk with their boyfriends?”

    This is lame. And gross.

    “Who’s Present Stonkina?”

    Yeah, who’s that?

  87. Chris Stiles — on 24th July, 2006 at 1:02 am  


    Who’s Present Stonkina?

    A reference to the Mary Whitehouse experience. If you remember – one of the characters was an eastern european/russian magician with heavily accented and bad english who would introduce his lovely assistant as Token Stonkina.

  88. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 1:08 am  

    “eastern european/russian magician with heavily accented and bad english”

    Rasputin?

    Houdini?

  89. Ravi Naik — on 24th July, 2006 at 1:38 am  

    “I’m not someone’s mommy… usually achieved by me giving stern orders to clean the bathroom, do the dishes tonight, or to do this weekend’s laundry, in the manner of a lieutenant.”

    Aren’t you behaving like a mommy when you order your men to do their chores like 13-year old kids?

  90. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 3:02 am  

    “Aren’t you behaving like a mommy when you order YOUR MEN to do their chores like 13-year old kids?”

    “My men”…! Ha ha.

    It’s not “their” chores as if they were 13 year olds, but OUR chores as adults, and they should be split 50/50. This is what I meant in my comment: because they are not 13 year olds and I wasn’t put on this earth to cook, clean, and baby a grown man, they should partake in adult responsibility. I have never understood this on the part of SOME men (not all): what’s the problem? Help clean the house. Participate in washing the dishes. Do the laundry ever other week. Help prepare dinner. If you live under this roof, take half the responsibility!! (unless physical conditions present challenges, ie “It’s too difficult for me to bend down to scrub the toilet due to my broken spinal cord, honey”, or “Sweetie, my broken arm won’t permit me to do the dishes”).

    The trick is to select someone who is generally tidy, organized, and clean so as to avoid future squabbles pertaining to the laundry, housecleaning, dishes,toilet, etc (but have also discovered that the -once- upon- a- time Mr. Clean quickly slides into Mr. Not So Clean Anymore once both move in together).

    Are you guys taking all of my comments on this thread seriously, intellectually analyzing and dissecting them? I’m starting to feel very self conscious ;)

  91. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 3:10 am  

    Back to the topic.

    Back in college when I was taking an anthro course, I remember my prof stating a theory that dark gives the impression of maturity, whereas fair/light exudes youthfullness. An argument along the same lines as the one Rohin mentioned. So, according to my prof:

    1. Men choose women who are fair/light (his example had been blondes)because it connotes youthfulness and hence fertility

    2. Women choose dark men because this signifies maturity, and as such, someone who will be around to take care of both the Mrs. and the offspring.

    My prof said he wasn’t so sure about this theory. Neither was I. But there you go: one possibile explaination amongst many.

  92. sleepy — on 24th July, 2006 at 7:57 am  

    Speaking of men being “made to do housework,” one of the theories I’ve heard (in anthro class as well, strange) is that fairer women are perceived to be more docile and yielding in their opinions and demands from relationships than women who are not as fair.
    There were a lot of gaps in this when I first heard about it and plenty of women pointed out in class that they were living examples of it not being true, but some anthropologist out there had collected some data that sort of showed a trend.

  93. sonia — on 24th July, 2006 at 11:12 am  

    ha you can always get data to show a trend. but in any case, with either of these theories, the trend only reveals what people believe about race/colour..and then if they have a particular belief, it’s not suprising they go out and act according to that belief is it. it’s certainly interesting to see how/people believe in certain things and then act on them…boy are there lots of examples of that in history

  94. Chris Stiles — on 24th July, 2006 at 11:15 am  


    one of the theories I’ve heard (in anthro class as well, strange) is that fairer women are perceived to be more docile and yielding in their opinions and demands from relationships than women who are not as fair.

    The problem I have with explanations like this is that there are so many layers of culturally and genetically accreated ‘beliefs’ on top of and under anything anthropological.

    From this years silly season alone; do brits like blonde/brunette women because they are more/less Germanic/Breton – which submissive/dominant buttons are being pressed? Or is it because they all lived in caves and therefore preferred women they could see?

    .. and I know a few evolutionary psychologists who would explain it by .. you get the idea.

  95. sonia — on 24th July, 2006 at 11:19 am  

    “The problem I have with explanations like this is that there are so many layers of culturally and genetically accreated ‘beliefs’ on top of and under anything anthropological.”

    bingo. in any case, anything can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. what’s clear is that people are generally dumb and will believe whatever you tell them ;-)

  96. Chris Stiles — on 24th July, 2006 at 1:03 pm  


    bingo. in any case, anything can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. what’s clear is that people are generally dumb and will believe whatever you tell them

    Or at any rate – if you tell them what their ‘underlying motivations really are’ – they’ll extrapolate and backfit all past and future behaviour in that light.

  97. rdrr — on 24th July, 2006 at 1:40 pm  

    i havent bothered to read through all of this so my apologies if im repeating any comments already made:

    quick question in countries where there are whites tans are a must for the summer, actually most times of the year hence sunbeds, holidays, over exposure in the sun, chemical tanners, airbrushing using gravy. So why when asiana, africans etc etc wish to lighten their skin is there an outcry?

    fairer people want to tan to look more sexy (and more fertile? in doing so? i mean thats the point right to attract a mate?) so why is the opposite wrong and has to be labelled as harking abck to collonial days yadda yadda yadda.

    it is what it is today and these attitudes will be very difficult to change no matter how many bipashas and rimis or giselles or laetia castas there are – i think people should concentrate on the health issues of tanning and skin lightening more than anything else.

  98. Ravi Naik — on 24th July, 2006 at 4:22 pm  

    “The trick is to select someone who is generally tidy, organized, and clean so as to avoid future squabbles pertaining to the laundry, housecleaning, dishes,toilet”

    Or you can try finding a guy you can reason with. Any male from this day and age knows that unlike his father and his grandfather who had a full-time wife who took care of the house and kids, this time around things are different. It seems logical that women cannot be expected to do everything. I think it works best if both men and women agree in advance what chores to be performed during the week, rather than operating under a boot camp scenario. The truth is no one likes to receive orders.

  99. Ravi Naik — on 24th July, 2006 at 4:40 pm  

    “I remember my prof stating a theory that dark gives the impression of maturity, whereas fair/light exudes youthfullness.”

    The problem with these theories is that they are over-simplistic. There are gazillions reasons why we find someone attractive and it’s individual and based on our past experiences. A lot of cues are taken from our parents and friends. If our mothers are warm, we associate her physical traits with that feeling. And according to Freud, we will try to find a partner that resembles her.

    My point is that physical appearance means different things to different people. ‘Light/blonde’ might be connoted to fertility to a lot of European men for the reasons I stated above, but to claim that these associations are universal is one more example of euro-centrism. (I know you didn’t say it, but I have heard this theory before).

  100. Sunny — on 24th July, 2006 at 6:58 pm  

    Speaking of men being “made to do housework,” one of the theories I’ve heard (in anthro class as well, strange) is that fairer women are perceived to be more docile and yielding in their opinions and demands from relationships than women who are not as fair.

  101. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 7:00 pm  

    “The problem I have with explanations like this is that there are so many layers of culturally and genetically accreated ‘beliefs’ on top of and under anything anthropological.”

    In my opinion, there is SOME truth to this assertion, but I personally am careful to not dump everything on “culture” as an explanation for everything. Because the truth is, “culture” itself is not homogenous and static, providing us with a fixed database. Problems if we talk about “cultural explanations”:

    1. We risk reifying “culture” (ie South Asian culture is like this and that; in South Asian culture, it is like this)

    2. There is the danger that we assoicate genetics and ethnicity to phenomenon when there are obviously other factors in play– such as class, socio-economic status.

    3. The trap that we start essentializing culture (In South Asian culture, men are chauvenist, as opposed to Western culture)
    4. “Culture” does not have an evenly distributed and pervasive influence; that is to say, people pick and choose what they want from “culture”, or certain aspects of a given culture affect each individual in varying degrees.

    Ofcourse I am not saying that culture as a concept and practice does not exist and that it does wield influence; but I am also saying that when we attempt to come up with “cultural explanations”, we don’t get very far. So for example, if one were to say, “In South Asian culture, fair women are valued”. This could be true, but it discounts diversity. For example, I know some South Asian men (few, admittedly) who find South Asian women who are not so fair extremely attractive.

    “The truth is no one likes to receive orders.”

    I should have never made this joke about giving orders to men to do their share of the housework.

    Sheesh, people, LIGHTEN UP ;)

  102. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 7:07 pm  

    “Or you can try finding a guy you can reason with.”

    A guy you can “reason” with doesn’t really mean that you can successfully convince him to do his share :)

    “Any male from this day and age knows that unlike his father and his grandfather who had a full-time wife who took care of the house and kids, this time around things are different.”

    Knowing doesn’t necessarily translate into DOING. I’ve met many men who claim to know this, and that they like “strong women” and they believe in “equality” etc etc but very few can actually put their actions to words.

    “‘Light/blonde’ might be connoted to fertility to a lot of European men for the reasons I stated above, but to claim that these associations are universal is one more example of euro-centrism. (I know you didn’t say it, but I have heard this theory before).”

    I completely agree with you here– which is why I stated in my post that I myself wasn’t convinced when my professor offered this explanation, and neither was he, for the very reason that you point out– Eurocentrism.

  103. Chris Stiles — on 24th July, 2006 at 8:01 pm  


    n my opinion, there is SOME truth to this assertion, but I personally am careful to not dump everything on “culture” as an explanation for everything.

    Which is why I said “The problem I have with explanations like this is that there are so many layers of culturally and genetically accreated ‘beliefs’ on top of and under anything anthropological.”. Pick any of ‘cultural’, ‘anthropological’ or ‘genetic’, add a few more qualifiers, keep swapping their positions and the statement would still hold true in my opinion.

    Whilst there is some truth to some stereotypes, I’m not not trying to sweep this entire issue under the carpet of cultural conditioning. I just think that in most instances – except the most obvious and least interesting – people’s reasoning in this area is not easily reducible to a set of rubrics of the form ‘light skin connotates fertility on the part of women’. Who can tell what goes on in the heart of most relationships? Well, I can – as I’m always right – at least until I realise that I used to be wrong but NOW i’m definitely right.

    A few weekends ago I went to a wedding held in the quintessentially English setting of a CofE village church in the backends of one of the home counties. The bride was down to earth, short, english and blonde, the groom was tall, south asian and a dreamer. Out of the matrix of all possible prejudices what values can be assigned where?

  104. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 10:42 pm  

    Chris:

    “Which is why I said “The problem I have with explanations like this is that there are so many layers of culturally and genetically accreated ‘beliefs’ on top of and under anything anthropological.”.”

    Oops, I’m sorry– I misread your posts. Was skimming too fast :) I thought that you were proposing cultural explanations, when in fact you were critiquing it.

    So, I agree with you.

  105. Desi Italiana — on 24th July, 2006 at 10:44 pm  

    “The bride was down to earth, short, english and blonde, the groom was tall, south asian and a dreamer. Out of the matrix of all possible prejudices what values can be assigned where?”

    Opposites attract?

  106. funkg — on 25th July, 2006 at 4:52 pm  

    going back a few post….ravi i dont think that the only way to gain respect in india is waving my money and passport around, i was merely stating some of my experiences, because believe i have a couple of instances of hostilty being called ‘damn african’ etc. you dont know me, know my experiences, or what im like so why try and assess my behaviour as offensive? i would not castigate someone just thru a poorly written sentence. besides when i go to india its, nice as a black man to go into a jewelry shop and not be thought of as a crim? hell yeah ill wave my money, get me?

  107. preeti — on 26th July, 2006 at 11:59 am  

    Noted that almost all the models at the recent Asian Lifestyle event in Kensington were white skinned European girls, what’s going on here? Surely there is no shortage of Asian models in the UK ?

  108. Rakhee — on 26th July, 2006 at 2:59 pm  

    Preeti, it might have something to do with height as opposed to complexion. I don’t know many asian women who are over 5ft 6.

  109. Don — on 27th July, 2006 at 2:23 pm  

    Indians – especially Hindus have an unhealthy obsession with fair skin. End of. It says alot that Fair and Lovely is the subcontinent’s biggest selling cosmetic product.

  110. Mindred — on 6th August, 2006 at 1:42 pm  

    if a woman eats relatively healthily, dresses well and takes care of herself she is beautiful. Women who are dirty and don’t comb their hair have issues!…

    It helps if she is funny.

  111. TruthBeTold — on 6th August, 2006 at 4:22 pm  

    It isn’t a coincidence that in the Hindu Varnas, white (representing the Brahmin Caste) is at the top and black (representing the Sudra Caste) is at the bottom.

  112. don — on 6th August, 2006 at 4:25 pm  

    #109 ain’t me. Obviously.

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