India’s Light Skin Obsession

A.J. Bryant
4 min readSep 16, 2021
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

‘Our family is cursed,’ screamed my mother-in-law when her daughter Sasmita was born*. Sasmita is darker than the rest of her family.

Her own daughter’s skin was so offensive to her that she thought the devil was playing tricks on the family.

Indian businesses and others in Asia have long sold ‘skin whitening creams’ or other methods essentially bleaching one’s skin, presumably making it ‘more attractive.”

In Bollywood’s A-list, both men and women are always light-skinned. The famous hawk skin lightening products nationwide. The number one cream is actually named ‘Fair & Lovely.’

Skin Color in Matrimonials

India’s newspapers usually have a personals section, but unlike Western ones, they are not written by the person looking for their match, rather they are posted by the family.

Reading through India’s matrimonial advertisements reveals the mindset regarding skin complexion.

Slim, fair, 30yrs, looks much younger, never married, 5 feet, sweet, homely, caring, responsible, intelligent, Chartered Accountant, well versed in all home-related activities, extremely good cook, exceptionally sincere & dedicated, emotional & sensitive

Notice that ‘fair’ is the second attribute mentioned.

What a strange way to look at marriage prospects. This example is not an anomaly, most read similarly.

Sasmita’s parents tried to arrange marriages for her two different times. Both times the potential grooms’ parents said she was ‘too dark and not ‘attractive’ enough. Two of Sasmita’s school friends committed suicide because they were always ridiculed for their skin color.

Even the famous are mocked and demeaned.

It’s common for a woman of darker skin to be rejected for marriage. Countless darker complexioned women in India never marry because of their skin color, staying unmarried their entire lives.

Wealthy darker-skinned Indian girls also have trouble finding marriage matches. But their parents can afford to bargain with the potential groom’s family because they have money.

Television Ads Reinforce ‘Fair is Better.’

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A.J. Bryant

Adopted from Kerala. I write about adoption, my intercultural marriage, contemporary India and more. Prawns are my love language.