Fair And Lovely skin bleach cream is the biggest selling beauty product in the country, with an ad campaign that says “Guaranteed fairness or your money back.”
This emphasis on fairness, however, “is having a bad impact on society as a whole,” says Mariam Davley, an activist for women’s rights.
In 2006, she sued Fair And Lovely when their commercials had become particularly negative about dark-skinned women.
She won her case and now Fair And Lovely only focuses on the so-called positive side of being fair.
Davley argues that this widespread penchant for lighter skin and model-like bodies only encourages people to look on women as objects.
And there is some indication that Bollywood is starting to take notice, even if only just a little.
One of the more popular TV series in India these past three years has been Saloni Ka Safar (Saloni’s Journey), which tells the story of a confident, dark-skinned woman making her way in the world.
It is a big step from the day when actresses such as Nandita Das, one of the stars of the Deepa Mehta films Fire and Earth, were passed over because of their complexion.
Even Vogue India recently put a dark-skinned model on its cover, observes fashion editor Bandana Tewari, who was much in favour of the move.
This, she says, after years in which “brown models were routinely Photoshopped white.”
But, some say this desire to look European is deeply rooted in India’s history and psyche because of the centuries of British colonialism and subjugation.
“We ape the West,” says Susie. “We were ruled for 200 years by white people so it shows that a certain amount of power came with being white. White is beautiful. And beauty is power, right?”