Amateur ‘observations’ about social status and skin colour in the Mexican society
I was sitting at a at a bus station cafeteria in Mexico City last week in front of a big screen TV that was playing advertisements. There were several familiar (US/international) brands and products and then a lot brands that were unknown to me. While I sat there for over 30 minutes waiting for my bus and drinking “cafe negro”, a I sensed a distinct pattern emerging from the commercials.
They were all depicting fair skinned models; or showing aspirations to be like them.
Now had this happened in India, I wouldn’t have bat an eyelid. Indian society generally worships the pale skin; this fact is known, accepted and I have, unfortunately, gotten over it. But perhaps it was my innocence and naivety about Mexican society that left me kinda shocked and surprised. I know, its ironical.
In particular, there was this commercial showing an unhappy dark skinned native “Indian” woman wearing a traditional dress, washing clothes in a rural setting. She isn’t able to get the dirt off her fabric. Then comes a blond lady wearing a chic western outfit, bright lipstick, fake Colgate smile and holding a package of some detergent (it wasn’t to clean her teeth I hope). She gives the detergent to the native woman. The cinematography depicted it in a way as if a saint was granting a divine gift – with a halo around the saint and the product, and an expression of “Thank you for coming to my rescue!” on the native woman’s face.
Predictably, the fabric is now free of dirt and the native woman is shown wearing a western outfit, lipstick, fake Colgate smile and is also magically two shades fairer.
While I don’t claim to have any authority whatsoever on Mexican social structure, I did notice that majority of the people are mestizos, i.e. of mixed Spanish and Native descent. Then there are people that look a lot “whiter” and there are people who look quite “darker” but are not necessarily black. While I was wandering in the richer neighbourhoods of Mexico city such as Polanco, the “whiteness” of the place was quite evident as opposed to traveling in second or third class buses in Yucatan where strangely I was probably the fairest guy. So it seems to me that there is certainly some form of economic distortion based on skin colour. That commercial showed everything wrong with the attitude that reinforces the idea that fairer is better – in India, Mexico and several other places.
This is neither a new phenomenon, nor is the world an ideal place, but mainstreaming the adoration of a particular skin tone, or linking it to purity, prosperity and beauty, certainly upsets me.