The skin we are in has always weighed heavily upon us; beauty, the sermon goes, is just skin-deep. It's the melanin -- a dark brown to black pigment -- that we do not want too much of; never mind if it is the last line of defence between us and the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.
This is the pigment that haunts our imagination and let's not just waggle a finger at another country, because the remaining fingers are pointing at us. Why, the nation's beloved radio channel, in a recent episode of an afternoon show for women, had the presenters gushing about how everybody's (read women's) 'complexion' had improved because of the lockdown.
We are vociferous about how Black Lives Matter in America but, closer home, agonise about running out of that miracle fairness cream, be it 'Ayurvedic' or that cosmetic offering and having to face the world in our 'true' colour.
Many in Twitterverse have called out a top multinational company's announcement to rename one of their top-selling products for exactly what it is: a marketing gimmick aimed at improving sales of what is already a hot commodity in our country and elsewhere, 'to avoid backlash from BLM (Black Lives Matter) supporters', as a Twitter-user succinctly summed it up.
Why work on changing the name, discard the product itself, they are clamouring, in black and white. A radical idea which will never see the light of the day simply because it makes no business sense.
Skin colour for us, especially where females are concerned, is not just skin-deep but visceral. And it begins at birth, or at gestation, perhaps? Include 'kesar' in the pregnant woman's diet so that the new arrival would be 'fair'. This is just the beginning. One new mother, clutching her 'wheatish'-complexioned baby, was given this pearl of wisdom by a new bride.
Then come all the ritual baths with milk and ‘besan’ and ‘moong’ flour and all manner of light-coloured kitchen ingredients, to nurture every iota of lightness and stamp out any trace of 'shady' ancestral genes.
Colour matters even at the dining table. Brinjal is mostly out because who likes how it looks when it's cooked. Why, our roti flour comes in packages with pictures of perfectly fluffed, pale phulkas, claiming to be 100% whole wheat flour. In fact, it is truly amazing that we let that golden caramel be the colour of doneness. Brown rice is healthier for you but it gets tossed aside for the better-tasting but not as wholesome white rice. We are just a nation consumed with colour, or the lack of it, for the most part.
Why, generations of kids who read Amar Chitra Kathas grew up thinking Ram, Krishna and Draupadi had blue skin. Until one takes time to 'hear' the words used to describe Krishna - Shyam, Ghanshyam, Saanwariya - and realise what they were trying to hide from you - dark complexion. Even divinity must be presented in a pleasing colour to us.
Then our school history books about those with Aryan ancestors and their light skin and those with Dravidian ancestry and their dark skin. Our entertainment industry has been engendering this belief from the beginning of its time and is now on the screen of your handheld, your I-pad, your laptop or PC.
Perhaps our science books could keep reinforcing the fact that melanin matters in a purely physiological way, no more, and like Cordelia's love for her father, King Lear, each one of us has enough and that's all there is to it and we don't need to 'lighten up' unnaturally.
Twitter-user Pankaj Pushpa cited these words to go by. “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the s𝒐𝒖𝒍 that lives within.
L'OREAL TAKES CUE
Feeling the heat, L'Oreal, the world's biggest cosmetics company, has decided to expunge words referring to "white", "fair" and "light" from its skin-evening products, a spokeswoman said on Friday. In doing so, it has taken a cue from Unilever which took a similar decision on Thursday, in the face of a social media storm. Clamour to stop the marketing charade of Fair & Lovely has been there for years, but the movement received a fillip recently. This month, over half a dozen petitions on Change.Org received scores of signatures, aimed at Unilever and its Indian unit.