How shadeism harms us in myriad ways


"A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness." - John Keats

What do you mean when calling someone 'beautiful'? Is the beauty of a person measurable in numerical terms? Since time immemorial, each society has set its own standards to measure an individual's beauty. Unfortunately, people have been engrossed in praising the external beauty of others. Most often, a beautiful person is perceived to have a perfect body figure, fair (or rather extra fair!) complexion, perfectly maintained skin and hair. Be it the magazines or fashion media, beauty is measured against complexion to a large extent. This discrimination based on skin colour is termed as shadeism or colourism.

This discrimination has assumed an alarming issue among our youth. Every single day we watch a lot of commercials of cosmetic products. In most of these advertisements, girls or boys are seen to be worried about their dark complexion and suddenly after using a particular product, they turn into objects radiating white light!

Indian society considers dark skin tone as a curse and even link it as a hurdle to get a good life partner. It is pitiable to note that even an individual's character is determined by his or her skin tone.

The Advertising Standards Council of India attempted to bring forth a regulation in 2014 and to stop depicting dark-skinned people as inferior in commercial ads. But, it failed. India treats white complexion as an implication of power, status and beauty. Shadeism is at its peak in our country.

A common joke that Indians usually crack about skin colour is: "Hey, do hold a torch light when the electricity goes off, or else, I can just see your teeth."

In movies, people with dark complexion are mocked at and given roles as either villains or comedians. Some changes have come in recent times to this aspect of Indian cinema. But, not many film directors and producers dare to cast a heroine who is dark skinned.

Also, childless couples mostly insist and pay more for surrogates who are fair skinned!

Where are we moving to? We see youngsters running around to get a fair complexion. They apply varied types of cosmetics to lighten the skin tone. But, not many of them realise that they may be applying low-standard and harmful products on the skin. Since the last few decades, skin cancers have become common in India and no wonder why, mostly young and middle-aged people are diagnosed with dermatological diseases. Most of the creams that we see in the market nowadays contain dangerous mixture of steroids, hydroquinone and tretinoin, and all these chemical compounds lead to skin cancers, pigmentation, liver damage and mercury poisoning in the long run.

Shadeism also becomes a factor of mental stress. People with dark skin tone are considered inferior, they confront regular improper questions like: How will you get hitched with this complexion? Why don't you try any skin-lightening treatment? Youngsters tend to lose self-esteem in such embarrassing situations in life. There is thus, a dire need to erase these stereotypes and define beauty on the basis of a person's character and not the other way round!

The beauty standards underlain with racism have their roots in slavery and colonialism. The racial hierarchy was created in order to justify slavery. Even after the end of colonialism, this idea has been deeply entrenched into our society. Should this draconian concept be watered by India again? How can we stop this social and psychological disorder? The solution is in our hands. We just need to understand and accept a simple thing that -our personality is based on our mindset and character!

We need courage to join together and denounce colourism. We should stop setting prejudices and be open-minded. Parents should teach children with dark complexion that they are worthy and skin colour is not a parameter to measure one's personality. Children should also be taught self-love. Colourist remarks should never be used at homes or schools. Persistent fights against shadeism through civil society and campaigns can help a lot. Government should ban all advertisements which tend to glorify fair complexion and look down at dark-skinned people. All individuals are unique and special. Together, we can dismantle shadeism.

Beauty lies in love, compassion, empathy, cleanliness, kindness, and generosity. Mortal things do not have beauty because a thing of beauty is a joy forever, it is immortal and it never passes onto nothingness!

(Opinions expressed are personal)