This Indian Matrimonial Website Had A Skin Tone Filter Which They Took Off After A Backlash. One Brand Won’t Make A Fairness Line. This Is Good News
The currently raging Black Lives Matter protests in America have thrown a light on the unhealthy obsession we have with the colour of people’s skin. You’d assume this is merely African Americans rebelling against their systematic oppression by the whites, plainly put. But it isn’t that simple. There are many skin shades between black and white, and we’re all equally party to this discrimination. Look at India, a country of ‘brown people’ who often complain about facing racism when we travel abroad. But at the same time, not only do we ourselves treat people with darker complexions as people who are lesser than us, but we’re also obsessed with fairness and will shun the dark-skinned amongst us. Oh, and we’ll use fairness creams like they’re an elixir of life.
The BLM protests hold up a mirror to racism rampant in India too, whether it is based on caste or people’s skin colour. And there are many who’ve taken it upon themselves to call out this wretched bias, leading to two substantial tectonic changes in the market.Representational Image / Source: Pixabay
Shaadi.com, the online Indian matrimonial website, has received tremendous backlash for its ‘skin tone filter’ that allowed users to sort potential matches on the basis of their skin tone. An Indian American user, Meghan Nagpal, came across this filter when she was using the website. Annoyed that such a filter even existed, she emailed shaadi.com and was told by a representative that most Indian parents asked for this filter.
Meghan went on to talk about this filter on a Facebook group, where another Indian American woman, Hetal Lakhani, was equally shocked that this filter was being supported by the matrimonial portal. She decided to do something about it. Hetal told BBC News,
“I wanted to tackle this in a way that could make a difference so I started a petition. And it just took off like wildfire. Within 14 hours we had over 1,500 signatures. People were so glad we were raising the issue.”
Shaadi.com also responded to Hetal and Meghan on Twitter, calling the filter a ‘blindspot’ which they have now removed.
That said, it was blind spot from our side and we have removed it.
— Shaadi.com (@ShaadiDotCom) June 11, 2020
‘Fair’ and ‘beautiful’ are often words that you’ll find in matrimonial ads and profiles, and it is in this sphere, more than anywhere else, where our true bias shows itself. This is further encouraged by the messaging that is constantly transmitted to us via television and movies and the society’s outlook.
Perhaps the most un-fair (what a lovely use of words) parameter to judge a person’s abilities and personality is their skin colour. And yet, we’ve been conditioned since childhood to believe that only women (and eventually men as well) with fair skin and a pinkish glow are entitled to high-flying jobs, romance, and respect. Fairness is said to give these women confidence to excel in job interviews or raise their voices for social causes. Their ‘taiyyari’ for their future involves applying the fairness cream while looking in the mirror. Talcum powders, luxury soap brands, hell even acne creams peg their marketing on fairness. Even in movies like Vivah, the father is seen giving a shade more love to his ‘fair’ niece over his ‘kaali’ daughter, and the niece does not even once raise her voice against her aunt’s constant taunting of her sister for her dark complexion. Because as we all know, fairness is the only requirement for a great marriage, compatibility and respect are just extras.
Which is why, this second major impact of BLM hits hard and hits home. A leading manufacturer of a fairness cream range, Johnson & Johnson, has decided to stop selling their skin brightening creams. The company used to produce two fairness lines—the Neutrogena Fine Fairness range for the Asian and Middle-Eastern markets and Clean & Clear’s Clear Fairness range for the India market. The brand has assured that production on both these lines will be stopped, and the stock that is on the shelves will be the last of it ever sold.
Considering their markets were Asia, and specifically India, where the obsession with fairness must’ve minted quite the moolah for Johnson & Johnson, there’s no denying that this is a huge decision. One that should’ve come way before, but now that it has, we aren’t complaining.
But this raises the question—what about the other brands who have similar products in the market, some of whom continue to manufacture them under less blatant but still equally skewered adjectives like ‘white radiance’, ‘whitening’, ‘brightening’ and ‘glow’? What’s more, these brands market their ‘fair and lovely’ ranges using Bollywood actresses (and actors promoting ‘mardon waali fairness cream) to make buying the product seem aspirational, preying on the insecurities of the gullible populace. Some of these actresses are not even that fair themselves, but the magic of editing solves that problem for them rather convincingly. Irony strikes when this same population campaigns for Black Lives Matter, not because they care but because they want to seem woke.
Let’s be honest. Most of this is based on the simple principle of supply and demand. If there is a demand for these products, there is going to be a supply. While some companies may have taken a stand, they are the exception to the rule right now. Others might not be so forthcoming in killing the proverbial golden goose in such a lucrative market. And this is where we come in. True woke-ness would be more such petitions and campaigns that call out companies for promoting the idea that a particular skin tone or colour is more desirable. Moreover, change is needed on an atomic level in the society’s mindset and this can only come if we lead by example and put our biases aside.