India’s Obsession with White Beauty

There are tons of jewelery stores all over India. All the glamor, glitter, and gems are stark contrasts to the rugged roads and poverty-stricken lanes. Jewelery stores tower over the urban streets and bleak everyday life. While Indian women don themselves in colorful, almost-angelic sarees, men sport togas. Women love their earrings, rings, necklaces, and bracelets, all best in GOLD. Seriously, India’s ‘eternal love for jewelery’ is best represented by TLC’s new series Oh My Gold with Golden Girl Lisa Ray. The endless repeat of commercials became frazzling and oh-so-jaded.

Whenever I walked down the streets of India, I was amazed by the bright lights and ornate jewelery shops. Especially at nighttime, the luminescence radiating down the busy streets and lighting up the sky came from the grandly studded jewelery towers. Security guards manned the entrance for hours. Gates came down and securely locked all windows and doors. Jewelery stores are the revenue reapers in India, beautifying women and girls and burning men’s wallets to ashes.

JOSCO Jewelery

Sunny Diamonds

After seeing a society that values gold, jewelery, and beauty, I think about how low-maintenance I am. No earrings because I have infection-sensitive ears, one of which has probably closed up already. I used to have toothpicks through my ears as a treatment regimen, as prescribed by mommy dearest. It was a painful (and awkward) ordeal, since people asked me “What’s that in your ears? ARE THOSE TOOTHPICKS?” and subsequently grimaced in telepathic pain. No necklaces because I wear a jade & gold one my mom gave me from my toddler days. No bracelet because I have a Swatch watch on one hand and a red/gold dragon piece of art on the other. No rings because I hate taking them off constantly, whether for showering or medical school classes. If someone were to present me with fine jewelery, it will have to be somehow more significant and meaningful than what I have. It’ll be a tough act to replace my current jewelery box.

You know how many face whitening creams and washes I’ve seen on TV since I landed in India? Funny thing, the first day I got there, I bought 2 face washes: Garnier Lightening Face Wash w/lemon extracts and Pond’s White Beauty. Later, while I was watching TV, I saw 2 different commercials that advertised those exact products! How coincidental…

Well, I cannot be immune to India’s obsession with white and light beauty. All Asians are like this too! I fell into Indian society easily and naturally. Hence, I came back to the states with barely a tan, even after my numerous seaside vacations. I covered myself well amidst the sweltering heat. I used an umbrella to block off the radiating sun. I used the whitening face wash, but I’m not sure if it had any tangible effects. It did not irritate my skin or cause any allergic reactions, so that was a positive sign.

Anyway, many commercials aired featuring whitening products and gorgeous, light-skinned Indians. It was almost unnatural for them to be that white. I was pretty sure the lighting and retouch function gave them the white, radioactive glow.

And this commercial, is absolutely shocking… this is how much Asia values ‘whiteness.’

Whiteness is the standard of beauty in India, just like China, Japan, and Korea. There were several commercials that were clearly from China, but dubbed in English with an Indian accent. It’s only in America where people frolic in the sun and seek the burnt, tanned appearance. The bronze, smoky look is considered stunningly beautiful. To me, that’s plain ugly and disgusting. The sun’s dangerous rays will only accelerate the aging process and make you look leathery, wrinkled, orange, and moley. How the hell is that attractive?

The dermatologists are getting their money’s worth of patients, and hence they get paid so much in the field. It’s certainly no comfort that tanning salons are hot spots for young women and skin cancer is still on the rise.

There’s a reason why Asians and Indians appear more youthful and good-looking – and that’s called proper skin care, sun protection, and healthy eating. No magic formula like Proactiv anti-acne formula or tanning creams. No greasy hamburgers or tub of french fries. Not even so-called ‘whitening creams’ honestly, though I was stuck using them in India purely for cleaning the grease off my face every day and night. When I get a chance to visit Korea, I will be sure to try their magical Bebe cream for the hell of experimenting. Because of my sensitivity to face creams and formulas, I have to be particular with what I use to maintain my complexion and smooth skin. I’ve had bad reactions to ordinary products from Duane Reade, but since I tried India’s version of Garnier and Pond’s, I will be a loyal customer. Sadly, I cannot find special ‘whitening’ versions, so I’ll have to deal with what America offers. Hm, now I wish I stockpiled the extremely cheap face washes and creams from India that did exactly what I want for my face…

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5 thoughts on “India’s Obsession with White Beauty

  1. As a person of Indian origin, I find your observations to be hilariously true. Yes, we are obsessed with gold. It usually has it be 24 carat gold too. Each time my family goes to Kerala (South-East India), my mother (my dad also buys something if he can, like a ring or something) inevitably takes us to the jewellery . At least these times it was not as bad when my uncle was getting married. I think they spent like 3000 dollars on the chunky, gold and traditional jewellery worn by the bride. Heck, I had to wear ear-rings (gold ones) ever since I was 4, which is absolutely the average age girls get their ear pierced here. And I still wear them mostly out of laziness to not want to change them every day.

    And yes, like many other Asian countries, whiteness is seen as a sign of beauty. Though from my understanding, the reasons for it in East-Asia are very different form South-Asia. I think I heard that the obsession with whiteness in East-Asia is due to traditional class distinctions (ie. the lowers classes were tan from working outside all day). I suspect the obsession for whiteness in India has a more sinister, colonial roots. Mainly, the more whiter you are, the more British you look, or something like that. The problem with this standard of beauty is that it really is only achievable by the lighter in general looking North Indians and not so much the darker looking South Indians such as myself. I actually got bullied a lot for my dark skin when I was going to school in North India as a child. Coming from a family with the weirdest gene pool ever, my sister is a light olive, and my parents are your average brown. I myself am a lot darker than my immediate family members that my sister jokes that I “black” lol. I was certainly told to put whitening creams such as “Fair and Lovely” (it’s a very popular whitening cream introduced during the colonial era I’m told. Still very popular today. It’s also fairly cheap. If you’re looking for Indian whitening products in the US, I suggest going to your Indian grocery store or any Indian store). Basically, I got a lot of crap for having the skin colour I have and ironically most of it as from Indian people themselves.

    And I also agree with the whole tanning obsession. What’s the appeal of looking burnt and potentially getting cancer?

    • Thanks for reading! These were funny observations I made on my trip last year. Being Chinese, we have a similar taste for white beauty, so it was interesting to see it from another background.

      Thanks for your input and your experiences. Be true to who you are… every color is beautiful! I purport natural beauty, and not the fake kind via tanning. It’s unattractive, makes you look old and wrinkly, and makes you sick. Stay true, natural, and you’ll be number 1 to someone =)

      • Hi, I’m korean student.
        I was searching about the standard of the beauty in India^^
        This is your personl opinion, but it was very helpful : ) Thanks!

      • =) India’s idea of beauty overlaps with Asia’s standard as well. That was one thing that struck me when I was abroad there. Aside from getting stared at for being “different,” I soaked up my surroundings and really noticed how women and men valued the “white beauty.” In Korea, there’s the craze with BB Cream and staying light and taking care of the skin from the sun. Even for me, I try to stay light and protect my skin from the sun, just to stay as light as possible, subconsciously.

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