Fairer the better

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.

[photo: florianstamm]

24 thoughts on “Fairer the better

  1. Ah, it’s just “normal” perhaps to aspire things that people normally don’t have. As an average, Mexicans perhaps are darker, and therefore the average mentality is to aspire for something lighter. On the other hand, Caucasians as an average are lighter, and guess what, they want a tan. The grass is always greener on the other side.

    • You are joking, right? Comparing centuries of documented and sanctioned discrimination based on skin colour (also race, but yeah we are not talking about that here) to getting a tan?

      • Actually no, I am not. Yes, I agree that there have been centuries of documented and sanctioned discrimination of darker-skinned people by lighter-skinned people (the Philippines has similar history). But that is NOT what I am comparing. What I would like to say is that there is a parallel between darker-skinned people wanting to be white, and lighter-skinned people wanting to be dark. It’s just two different manifestations of “the grass is always greener on the other side”. But yes, these two different manifestations may have different diachronic bases, but at a synchronic level, they are similar.

        • Sorry I still disagree. The desire to have a tan is simply a fashion statement, not a desire to be-like-dark-people. Neither is it an aspiration of lifestyle change, or an aspiration to move to a different social class, or wanting to feel superior – not at all. Additionally, I haven’t heard of commercials that say “use this product, and you will be black forever!” (Maybe there is one, but who knows about it?) There is no mass desire to become blacker or darker. People like a tan because it looks cute, not because it makes them feel like dark skinned people or puts them in a different class.

          Unfortunately, all of the above is true for the other way around. I don’t think that this is a case of the grass being green. If anything, only one side has green grass.

          • I could not have put it better puku !
            It does make people bother, and people are scared to tan here.
            A friend regularly used fair and lovely … now he uses fair and handsome… Another who is pink white, and didnt mind having a tan sometimes avoids beaches because people around him in office give awkward stares …

          • Hey Prax,
            True, and sad, but what to do… The new TV commercials in India are even worse.. trying to ‘whiten’ private areas of the body. puke.

  2. It saddens me when people try to change the person they are. There is so much natural beauty in each one of us. It’s true that white people work hard at getting a tan, in summertime, only because, in their eyes, it looks sexy, healthy and exotic. I doubt they would want the colour permanently. A very good post, Priyank. It makes me think. Sometimes the world breaks my heart.

    • Hi Claude, very well articulated. Thank you for that. Usually I hate to think about these issues because there are just too many upsetting things around us…

  3. Hum kale hein toh kya huwa dilwale hai. 1′s nature is more imp than such silly things. Who would tell them? Puku, Could you pls translate it in english and convey them.

    • Amod, you made me smile – I never used to believe in that dictum earlier, now, having been around a bit, I know better and am convinced, people are not the same everywhere, there are some subtle differences that makes each community special and ours special in that respect – hum sachhi mein dilwaley hain :)

  4. I think people’s obsession with ‘fair skin’ will only increase as it becomes a rarer quality… the world is moving towards browner skin! hah

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  6. well, Puku, that bias works bec we let it work. it is ingrained in our literature, social customs, notions about beauty, notions about the idea of “white” (“white=purity, hence good, desirable)
    (dark=night, everything negative, evil) :) Aparently, the standards we live by were created by “fair” people, what to do? How do you throw off the mantle of Aryan descendancy? Easily? Good to read you after such a long time. Nothing on Libya? And where are you? wheres Chad?

  7. it’s a fact in the society nowadays. upsetting but so true.

    well, some just want to ‘feel’,'get’ and ‘be’ something better based on their own preference, be it fairer or even darker.

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