Beyond The Fair & Lovely Culture

KannaFatema Islam: 

I got brown skin. Milk-chocolate tone! During summer months, when I grill myself in bikini by the beach, my skin turns a few shades darker – quite close to dark chocolate. But that is today’s me, which is dramatically different from yesterday’s version, when I was being ruled by the ‘Fair & Lovely’ regime.

While growing up in Bangladesh, I was constantly classified as ‘kalo meye’ (dark-skinned girl), which means I was ugly in people’s eyes. The social meaning given to the skin tone of a woman’s body and the social value attached to it, is pretty brutal I recall.

The reality in this society is: ‘lovely’ is synonymous with ‘fair’ or light skin-tone. The fairer a woman is, the more attractive and desirable she is considered to be. A fairer woman is auctioned for a higher value in the competitive marriage market and is likely to be ‘sold’ to a a groom with an upgraded social and economic status than her own. Being ‘blessed’ with a fair skinned daughter may also facilitate a family’s mobility to a higher social class and greater honour in the society.

The classified section of most daily newspapers is quite dominated with matrimonial ads shouting out ‘patro chai’, ‘patri chai’ (groom wanted, bride wanted). The candidates for brides are almost always demanded to be ‘fair-skinned and slim’ for the ‘well-established’ grooms. The fairer, the bargain has a greater value. It raises no question, or causes no startle to anyone. Our eyes, our brains are so used to it!

If we keep turning the pages of the newspaper or just set our eyes at the television, it’s almost certain that we hit on one of those ‘Fair & Lovely’ commercials. The content of these commercials always based on a storyline showing how a woman can be fairer within a short span of time using this particular whitening facial cream. The storyline always starts with a young woman being miserable – if not her life is portrayed as a total failure – in her social circle due to her dark skin. 

This constant preaching in a girl’s ears for her socially undesirable dark skin tone can shatter every possibility to build self-esteem and degrade her existence few levels down in the society. The definition of beauty I was taught while growing up, and constant disappointment of my family about my appearance I was ruthlessly injected with, was a demon. An ugly demon almost always looked back at me every time I stood in front of the mirror. Horrible it is! I even thought my eyes were just as ugly and my ‘creator’ was so unfair towards me!

This definition of beauty of female body “fair = lovely/ pretty” is terribly demeaning and dehumanizing. It tells out loud that the value or worth of a woman depends on how desirable her body can be in the eyes of the society. When she cannot fit into society’s sweet-little box with a fancy ribbon around it, her social value is degraded to close to zero and consequently, her self-image is shattered into pieces.


We badly need to detoxify ourselves from this disgraceful ‘Fair & Lovely’ culture and stop feeding the patriarchy on silver-plate to keep objectifying women.

Earlier published into the main site on 2nd January, 2016.



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