The Indian fixation with lighter skin tones is the reason why there continue to exist melanin-suppressing, skin-lightening products in the market. While it has been a persistent fight over the years — to end the shaming of people based on the colour of their skin — it took the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to galvanize and enlighten people around the world, and especially in India, where a majority of people have a distinct brown complexion.
But despite positive developments, some bullies keep rearing their heads every so often to indiscriminately troll others for the way they naturally look — regardless of their socioeconomic background, or the fact that they are related to the most celebrated actor in the country.
Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter Suhana Khan took to social media on September 29, to write her thoughts on ‘colourism’. In her post, she shared that she has been called “ugly” because of her “skin tone”.
View this post on Instagram
There's a lot going on right now and this is one of the issues we need to fix!! this isn't just about me, it's about every young girl/boy who has grown up feeling inferior for absolutely no reason. Here are just a few of the comments made about my appearance. I've been told I'm ugly because of my skin tone, by full grown men and women, since I was 12 years old. Other than the fact that these are actual adults, what's sad is that we are all indian, which automatically makes us brown – yes we come in different shades but no matter how much you try to distance yourself from the melanin, you just can't. Hating on your own people just means that you are painfully insecure. I'm sorry if social media, Indian matchmaking or even your own families have convinced you, that if you're not 5"7 and fair you're not beautiful. I hope it helps to know that I'm 5"3 and brown and I am extremely happy about it and you should be too. #endcolourism
“I’ve been told I’m ugly because of my skin tone, by full grown men and women, since I was 12 years old. Other than the fact that these are actual adults, what’s sad is that we are all Indian, which automatically makes us brown – yes we come in different shades but no matter how much you try to distance yourself from the melanin, you just can’t. Hating on your own people just means that you are painfully insecure (sic),” she wrote.
Although a ‘star kid’, Suhana is yet to make her Bollywood debut. She is, however, being lauded for speaking up on an issue that the best of Bollywood has not only dismissed but also guiltily promoted. When around the world the BLM movement was picking pace, some actors in India were criticised for their ‘hypocrisy’ — for having perpetuated the culture of colourism in the country by endorsing fairness products.
More recently, a song from the Ishaan Khatter, Ananya Panday-starrer ‘Khaali Peeli‘ faced immense flak, when it allegedly compared Panday’s lighter complexion with American singer Beyoncé’s darker skin tone. The makers had to tweak the lyrics of the song, following a massive outcry.
An article dated June 9, 2020, written by Melissa Godin for TIME states that “skin lightening is a multi-million dollar industry in India. Companies like Garnier and Neutrogena often use famous Bollywood stars in their advertisement campaigns”.
As such, the dichotomy of Bollywood — to, on one hand speak against racism, and on the other, promote fairness brands in the country — becomes imperceivable.
List of Indian actors who are speaking on BLM and their fairness cream ads, a thread : pic.twitter.com/yUeRNLch6U
— anti pigeon (@aluminiummaiden) May 31, 2020
It should also be noted that while ‘star kids’, in the recent past, have openly talked about privilege, access and nepotism, Suhana’s trailblazing post is the first that openly addresses the problem of colour obsession.
We hope in the near future, more actors reject the fair-skin obsession in the country, and take responsibility for the fact that the film industry plays a colossal role in it.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines