Photograph of Miss India finalists rouses debate over obsession with fair skin in the country

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What started as a faultless collage of Miss India finalists this year has grown into a heated debate on social media regarding obsession of India with fair skin. The image that the newspaper Times of India published had 30 headshots of finalists with glossy hair who all seemed to share similar fair skin tone.

In a country having 1.3 billion people, languages in hundreds and numerous ethnic groups, users of Twitter suggested that organizers of beauty pageant were only selecting contestants that bring about Eurocentric ideals of beauty.

While the skin tone of contestants appears specifically light and looks especially even in the collage that resulted in a stir online, other videos and photographs of the contestants makes known that they are not fair-skinned as much as the image in the Times of India. The parent company of Femina and Times of India, the organization hosting the pageant is the same – Bennett, Coleman & Co.

The disagreement around the photograph in the Times of India, though, highlighted an issue sensitive in India, where Miss India is a big cultural event.

The competition assisted to begin the careers of actress Bollywood icon Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra, and has turned into an indication of national pride when winners go on to fetch international titles home, like Miss World.

National obsession

The fairness obsession can start even before a baby is born in few parts of India, with few pregnant Indian women drinking milk infused with saffron for making the skin of their infant fairer. Remaining avoid supplements of iron in the misplaced faith that it will darken their unborn child. However practices such as these, have become much less frequent in areas where education levels and wealth have improved.

Cosmetic brands internationally have benefitted from the insecurity, taking advantage of a multimillion dollar industry of skin bleaches, creams, and invasive procedures that guarantee to lighten skin. The requirement for whiteners by 2024 is estimated to reach $31 billion, increasing from $18 billion in 2017, particularly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as per Global Industry Analysts, a market intelligence firm.

A study in 2017 found that above half of 1,992 women and men surveyed regarding product utility in India had tried whiteners for skin and nearly half (44.6%) felt the necessity to try products as such due to media like advertisements and TV.

Paradigm shift required

Within this setting, there are voices demanding for change. Emmanuel established the campaign Dark is Beautiful, which comprises of advocacy programs for addressing bias of color and Bollywood actor Nandita Das has endorsed it.

In 2017 in a sequence of posts, another star of Bollywood, Abhay Deol, criticized his co-actors for endorsing brands for skin-whitening. Since then, numerous Instagram brands and influencers have criticized the bandwagon of inclusivity.

Anushka Kelkar, the photographer who is 22 years old and behind browngirlgazin, the Instagram account that won recognition for portraying Indian women from diverse backgrounds honestly has mentioned that one face does not represent India.