by Khesraw Majidi
This paper describes and analyzes the norms of beauty in India by considering the whiteness of people’s skin, Caucasian looks, body shape, and its impact on social status. The paper also analyzes the relationship between skin color, social positioning, and pale skin in India. Furthermore, the paper explores the historical and ongoing influence of Colonialism and Globalization in rooting the notion of “Fair is beautiful” and establishing homogenized beauty ideal in Indian society. Finally, the paper analyzes the impact of whitening/lightening products in promoting western beauty standards in India.
The three wishes of every man are to be healthy, to be rich by honest means, and to be beautiful.
Human beings have always craved beautiful objects, but lately, the desire and preference to look beautiful hits new heights all over the world. Early in our lives, the notion that “beautiful is good” is entrenched in our minds (Rubenstein, Kalakanis, Langlois 1999). For instance, childhood stories all over the world constantly depict a beautiful princess, a handsome prince, and a hideous antagonist. As the villain perishes in hell, the prince and princess live happily ever after. The notions that “beautiful is good” and “beautiful people getting better grades” (Clifford and Walster 1973), earning more (Rhode 2014), and being luckier in love (Udry & Eckland 1984), create a strong and compelling desire to pursue beauty not just to look beautiful but also to be good in most aspects of life. Some of the studies conducted to understand the belief that “beautiful is good” suggest, societies perceive beautiful people more intelligent and more decisive and logical (Dion et al. 1972 & Dipboye et al. 1975). Beauty advantages also exist in the labor market, according to Hamermesh, attractive candidates more likely to be hired and are attributed to be more talented, having better leadership skills, higher salaries, being rewarded more often (Hamermesh 2011). While the pursuit of beauty appears to be universal, and being beautiful is coveted highly in the world, questions raise what is beauty? Who is considered beautiful? Is there a universal beauty standard in the world? In recent years, numerous studies attempted to examine the various ratio of physical appearances such as waist-to-hip or waist-to-chest and facial features to characterize specifically an objective standard of beauty in order to understand what makes someone beautiful in the eyes of others. Nevertheless, it is hard to claim that they are the only determiners of beauty. Like the old saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This adage gives a literal meaning when we consider the diversity in opinion about what makes a person beautiful because the definition of beauty is not only subjective but also varies across cultures and societies (Yu & Shepard 1998, pp. 321-2). As Peiss argues, beauty is not only an aesthetic term that applies to faces and bodies; it also helps to determine social status, gender, and class. In fact, “beauty standards are formed by social relations and cultural categories and practices which created opportunities and commercialization of fashion and beauty industry” (Peiss 2000, p. 490). According to Nancy Etcoff, beauty is “something intrinsic to object or simply as the pleasure an object evokes in the beholder” and “no definition can capture beauty entirely” (Etcoff 2000, p. 8). Plato defines beauty as eternal, changing, and universal where women’s bodies have not only played a crucial role in the making of art or provoking philosophical interests but also in setting up the business of the beautification–beauty and hair care products– around the globe (Foo 2010, p. 2). However, anthropologists have always contended that beauty is culturally driven and subjective (Englis et al. 1994, p. 54). In other terms, there is no absolute definition of beauty, and the norms of beauty are normatively defined based on socialization processes and media influences (Banner 1983 cited in Madan et al. 2018, p. 8). Nevertheless, in recent times many articles suggest that societal norms play an influential role in defining who/what is considered beautiful, and the motivation to adhere to societal norms may also depend on the most important cultural values of an individual (Ibid, p. 9). As in the contemporary world, every culture emphasizes and cares for physical features in various ways, which puts pressure on people, especially women, to appease standards. While the desire to be beautiful and pursuing beauty is a universal trend, studies suggest this desire is extreme in Asian countries, particularly in India. Thanks to colonialism and the recent expansion of Globalization for embedding and spreading the notion of “white is beautiful” in colonized countries. Various articles that study colorism in India indicate that the definition and norms of beauty have significantly influenced by the 200 years of British Colonialism and the modern era of Globalization. Moreover, the caste system in India supplementary contributes to this notion, consequently promoting segregation and colorism, which further marginalizes the darker-skinned Indians in society. Therefore, the paper aims to analyze the norms of beauty in India by exploring the traditional Indian beauty ideal and Modern beauty standards. The paper explores the impact of Colonialism and Globalization on characterizing beauty standards by narrowing down the traditional Indian beauty norms into a Western beauty ideal and promoting the notion that white is beautiful. This paper briefly provides an insight into the relationship between skin color, social positioning, and marriage marketability in India. The paper discusses the impact of media and whitening products in promoting whiteness as a global beauty standard and how they influence women and girls from various socio-cultural backgrounds to define what beauty is. Finally, in the last part, a conclusion will be drawn.
2. Norms of Beauty in India
In recent years, it is argued that beauty standards in India are becoming narrow and conforming to more international standards due to the westernization process (Runkle 2004, p.38). The requirements for ideal beauty are limited, and women have drastically increased their efforts to modify their appearances based on societal standards (Gelles 2011, p. 2). Before we explore what impacts Colonialism and Globalization had and still have on the Indian beauty standards, it is essential to understand what Indian cultural beauty standards were historically and what these standards are now. It is quite helpful to examine the ancient Indian arts, literature, and examples of the marriage ads in the early twentieth century that describes many traditional standards of beauty to understand the historical norms of beauty in India. Rebecca Gelles and Robert Bracey used this method in their articles in which they analyzed various Indian ancient arts and literature to understand the traditional beauty ideal in India. Although it will not be possible to define the beauty standards in India precisely only based on those sources because beauty standards may have changed at different points in history. However, it is helpful to comprehend what aspects of beauty standards have transformed from the ancient to modern Indian society.
2.1.Traditional Beauty Ideal in India
According to Dhavalikar, Mauryan figurines−4th to 2nd century B.C.− represent the first images of women in India (Dhavalikar 1999, pp. 178-179). The images represent women with “large breasts, wide hips, tapering legs,” as shown in figure 1 (Bracey 2007). During the Sunga period–first century B.C.– Bhartut portrayed women with “elaborately platted hair…round breasts, thin waist, and wide hips,” and women in these images are described as “stiff,” as shown in Figure 2 (Ibid). However, half a century later, images of women in Sanchi female bodies contorted into the “S-shaped curve” and women (Ibid). By the Kushan period–from the 1st century to the 4th century C.E.– the “S-shaped curve” body, as well as many of the other proportions of a woman’s body, had been standardized such as the “eyes were placed two-thirds of the way up the face, the bottom of the breast were placed one heads height below the chin, the whole figure stood seven heads high… and the use of a fairly round face” (Ibid). The portraits indicate that the artists ought to be trained to make them because these proportions were not the natural features of Indian women. They were considered idealized beauty standards rather than natural, as shown in figure 3. Another representation of Indian beauty ideal is the portray of Parvati–one of the goddesses−who is characterized as “the grand personification of […] the concept of beauty” (Dehejia 2006, p.11). Parvati is a “slender-bodied maiden of comely hips and moon-like face,” as “comely hips” presumably means obvious ones, and the “moon-like face” states that the face is glowing, pale or both (Ibid, p. 18). Moreover, other facial features of Parvati are described as “Her eyes as lotus petals, her lower lip like the Bimba, her eyebrows as the bows of Kama, and her nose like the beak of a parrot” (Ibid, pp. 19-20). In the meantime, ancient literature supplements the sculptural images of women in these eras. Although it is rather rare to find detailed descriptions of beauty standards in ancient Indian literature. However, epithets in various literature provide consistent images over a long period of Indian histories, such as “large hips, thin waists, large and globular breasts, and lotus petal eyes” (Ibid). For instance, the Shringarashata of Bhartihariepic–c.5th century, philosophical text– describes beauty ideal as follows:
The coral beauty of her lower lip;
Those twin globes, her breasts,
Rising high in the pride of youth,
Her navels hollow, and diminutive waist;
Her hair by nature’s own hand curled
(Shringarashata of Bhartihariepic cited in Bracey 2007)
Such poets also mention the ideal hair, skin, eyes colors. For instance, the Sangam poets of South India approximately in Kushan period describe beautiful hair as “the darkness of full black tresses” and “skin-like gold”– perhaps because South Indians are generally darker than their Northern counterparts–instead of aforementioned “moon-like face as well as “the black-rimmed eyes and a mouth red as coral” (Varma & Mulchandani 2004, pp. 96-99).
A face to rival the moon,
Eyes that make a mockery of lotuses,
Complexion eclipsing gold’s luster,
Thick tresses that shame the black bee,
Breasts like elephant’s swelling temples,
A voice enchanting and soft-
The adornment in maidens is natural
(The Shringarashata of Bhartihari cited in Bracey 2007)
Source: Bracey, 2007
Now moving from the ancient art and literature to a more recent history of marriage advertisements in the twentieth century is another valuable source of ‘research on traditional beauty standards in India. The marriage advertisements indicate what a society values in a bride or generally in a woman. Such advertisements are mentioned in Rochona Majumdar’s article. In one of the marriage advertisements, a thirteen-year-old girl’s family from Calcutta in 1910 characterizes their daughter beautiful by describing a “medium complexion skin color, and good figure” (Majumdar 2004, 925). Another fourteen-year-old girl’s parents in 1927 write their daughter’s description as “Ujjwala Shyama varna–means glistening dark complexion (Ibid, p. 926). In the meantime, the well-known Bengali writer and literary critic Mohitlal Majumdar (1888-1952) characterizes Bengali beauty ideal as follows:
“She is like the duck, a portrait which is demure, tender, and modest. She is medium-complexioned, with wide downcast eyes; her tresses are black, wavy, and flowing; her posture is not aggressive, and her feet small, her most beautiful feature was her gaze, not sharp but loving and gentle. From the dot of her forehead to the Alta on her feet, she shows no dearth of modesty and decency” (Ibid).
The portrays of women shown in both the marriage ads and Majumdar’s poem reveals Indian’s preference towards medium-complexioned skin color, which comparably could represent a minor historical transition of skin color from the Sangam poems− describing ideal skin tone as “skin like gold.” Therefore, the skin tone has changed to a more significant proportion of beauty standards in India in the late 20th century. Nevertheless, we can not argue that the overall preference of skin tone in India has always been medium-complexioned because there has been regional variation, foreign influence, and historical changes throughout the history in India. Nevertheless, we can draw a general and traditional beauty standard from all the above descriptions of beauty portrayals. As the ideal Indian woman has been medium-complexioned, she has large eyes, a narrow waist but wider hips and breasts, long black hair, and full red lips as this beauty ideal or at least some proportion of these standards have managed to last in India for centuries.
2.2. The Beauty Ideal in Modern India
In recent years, the beauty standards in India have significantly changed. As beauty standards are conforming to a more westernized beauty ideal (Runkle 2004, p.38). While there are several aspects of appearance, ranging from facial features to complexion to hair to body figure, the most important aspect which characterizes someone beautiful in most Asian countries, particularly in India, is the skin tone. As stated above the Indian society historically and traditionally exhibited a preference for medium- or fair skin tone. However, the preference for whiteness and the fairness bias has become even more apparent in recent years, and often medium complexion is not considered enough. The society’s beauty ideal of “fair is beautiful” is an obvious example of colorism in society (Global News 2019). While the matrimonial advertisements from the early twentieth century described women with medium, even dark complexions, the new ads define mostly women’s beauty by their fair or white skin colors (Gelles 2011, p.13). This notion is deeply inscribed in everyday life in India. I remember I realized the importance of skin tone in defining beauty in Asia when I was on a train ride from Colombo to Kandi in Sri-Lanka with my girlfriend. While we were talking about the beauty of nature, suddenly I glanced at some children’s magazine laying on the top of the table in front of us. Out of curiosity, I grabbed one of them and started reading. Some articles in the magazine written by schoolchildren where an eleven-year-old girl writes, “My name is …. And I am in 5th class, I have many friends in School… I like my history teacher because she is “Gori”–means white or fair–, “she is gorgeous, and a kind woman… And I do not like my math’s teacher because she is Kali”–means black or darker color– “and she is ugly and bad.” Furthermore, there were many other articles written in that magazine referring to darker skin color as ugly, bad, unkind, and not smart, etc. Reading this article made me realize how colorism is deep-rooted in these countries. How in a country where the majority of the population have darker skin color, beauty is defined based on fairness and white skin tone and how this notion of “white is beautiful, more intelligent and good in general” is entrenched and imposed over decades of foreign influence through Colonialism, imperialism, and Globalization. As Zahira Kelly–an award-winning writer, artist, and activist – in one of her lectures– Decolonizing Bodies and Beauty – argues “skin color plays a significant role in the lives of Hindu-Indian women and for many Hindu-Indian women, feelings related to beauty, attractiveness, and marriage marketability are strongly influenced by the lightness of their skin (The Heights 2017). In contemporary India, whiteness is attributed to beauty standards, and skin color characterizes if someone is beautiful or not. In fact, fairness is so important to beauty standards in India, indeed, as Meenu Bhambhani an Indian scholar said in her interview, that it could be enough for a woman to be considered beautiful only to have this feature and have no other specific deformities (Gelles 2011, p. 13). While in modern times, fair skin is considered a significant proportion of beauty standards not only in India but around the world, another crucial aspect of beauty is the figure. As the aforementioned historical images of Indian women revealed the preference of curvy hourglass figures and even some extra fat in the stomach area, the modern ideal is dominated by slim figures. Lately, besides, to fair skin, “slim figure” is what you see more often in matrimonial advertisements as a beauty indicator of women as well as “slim and trim” is what women appreciate in their favorite actress appearance (Gelles 2011, p.18). Meanwhile, hair is another feature of beauty in India. In terms of the appearance of the hair, there are, according to Rebecca Gelles, three main variables: “color, length and texture” (Ibid, p. 15). Since the majority of people in India have black hair, the preference for black curly and wavy hair is high. In the meantime, long or at least medium hair length preference have remained consistent over time, not just in Indian but universally. As Gelles cites one of the interviews she conducted with a hairstylist in India saying, “many women come to him for advice on how to make their hair grow longer, to which he recommends oiling and vitamin supplements” (Ibid, p. 16). Furthermore, sometimes a woman’s beauty is attributed to clothing in Indian. As traditional Indian clothing is sari or shalwar-kameez and a dupatta, modern clothing has changed to some extent, and women often wear Western clothing. The way women wear clothing often ascribes their social status and class as well as education level in the Indian society. Despite the indication of modern beauty ideal in India, it is hard to argue that the Indian traditional beauty ideal has vanished over time. However, various studies reveal that most aspects of Indian traditional beauty standards have changed, and Indian society’s preference for a more international beauty ideal is growing significantly. Consequently, the modern ideal Indian woman has fair skin, slim figure, long black wavy, and curly hair, and wears modern clothing.
3. Fair is Beautiful: A Legacy of Colonialism and Globalization
The traditional beauty ideal has dramatically changed, and arguably Indian’s overall preference towards westernized beauty ideal hit a new height recently. In recent times, fair or white skin tone is considered the most important norm of beauty in India. In such a case, questions raise what factors influenced this change of beauty ideal in India and Indians’ preference for fair or white skin tone? Various studies suggest that Colonialism, Globalization, media had/have a crucial impact on promoting colorism and western beauty ideal in India. In this section of the paper, I will attempt to analyze the influence and impact of Colonialism, Globalization, and media on the standardization of beauty ideal in India, and in promoting the notion of the fair is beautiful. To understand the impact of colonialism on beauty ideal in Indian, I will use Frantz Fanon theory of Colonialism in Black Skin, White Mask (1967) and The Wretched of the Earth (1963) and Edwards Said’s theory of postcolonialism where they talk about colonialism and the long-term effect of colonialism on colonized societies.
3.1. Impact of Colonialism on Indian Beauty Ideal
Today having a fairer skin tone is an obsession of many women in India. Indeed, beauty has changed to mean white in India due to British Colonialism, as Meenu Bhambhani says, colonialism has deeply rooted this thinking of white as beautiful in Indian society (Gelles 2011, p. 13). As Zahira argues, society’s understanding of beauty was profoundly altered by colonization, which imposed a standard of whiteness to measure beauty (The Heights 2017). To understand the notion of “white is good” and “fair is beautiful” in India, the great French West Indian political philosopher and psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon’s theory of colonialism and its psychological impact provide a clear picture of how colonial powers promoted Western values and standards in a colonized society. Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks (1967) argues that colonialization does not merely occur for the territorial and economic benefits but also leaves a profound psychological influence on the interactions between colonized and colonialists (Fanon 1967). Fanon defines colonized people as not merely those whose labor has been seized but those “in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality” (Ibid, p. 18).
Furthermore, Fanon points out; the people of color perceived their culture and ideology as being inferior to whites due to the insemination of Western culture by colonial powers in a colonized society. As a consequence, the people of color adopt the same values and ideals as the invaders and the long-term impact of such implantation is that the colonized people create a vision that deviates them from their world because they understand they will never and cannot become a white nation (Ibid, p. 16). Nevertheless, Fanon explains, the colonial powers have fundamentally succeeded in influencing the way people see themselves and making them feel inferior to colonizers. Therefore, they need to wear a white mask–i.e., culture– and the only way to overcome that psychological disability is the imitation of European culture by natives (Fanon 1963, pp. 170-236 & Fanon 1967, p. 11). Fanon’s critique focuses on his view that imperialist powers not only colonized the lands and territories of colored people but also colonized their vision of the world, called “epistemological colonialism” (Wardhani et al. 2018, p. 237).
Furthermore, Fanon explains one of the colonization effects of knowledge as “Alienation of black man”−refers to the classification of colonizers to the colored people who have lower intellectual abilities (Fanon 1963, pp. 150-163). Although, when the postcolonial period started, it seemed that the colonized people had been freed from Western oppression, and they had been given the freedom to govern themselves. Nevertheless, the Western imperialism against the developing world continues. As Fanon says, the inferiority complex implanted during the colonization has a devastating effect on the minds of colonized people by altering their ontological perspective on the understanding of superior-inferior relationships with other groups (Fanon 1963, pp. 170-236).
Meanwhile, Edward Said’s valuable work, Orientalism (1978), is another critical theory talking about the long-term effects of Western Colonialism on colonized people. Said’s theory is mainly based on what he considers the false image of the Orient fabricated by Western thinkers since Napoleon’s occupation in 1798 (Hamadi 2014, pp. 40). According to Said, the Westerners have fabricated the false image of the Orients as being primitive and uncivilized “other” to create it as the contrast to the progressive and civilized West. Therefore, in the name of “enlightening, civilizing and even humanizing” them, they have imposed a Western language and culture on the colonized people through ignoring and distorting the “culture, histories, values, and language of the Oriental peoples” (Ibid). Said claims, “Orientalism is a way of thinking based on the ontological and epistemological distinctions made between Orient and Occident”–West (Ibid). Said argues, although there is always the desire of self-determination and armed resistance against colonialism in colonized societies, at the same time, there is acceptance of some cultural elements brought by the colonial authorities (Ibid). Finally, Said states, this colonial propagation leads to the adoption of Western culture, language, and values by the local communities where the indigenous people are no longer comfortable with the customs, culture, and structures of the local system that they have undergone for generations. Said’s analysis of colonial texts concludes that colonial articles and literature depicted Indians, the Egyptians, the Palestinians, the Latin Americans, and many others as almost the same, the Orient –”the Other” – in contrast with “The U.S.” the Occidental (Ibid). In the case of India, where the British colonized the country for more than 200 years not only occupied the land and its resources but also successfully inseminated Western values, culture, and language in the country resulted in the weakening of traditional culture, values and language that lasted in India for centuries. For instance, one of the aspects that the British Colonialism inseminated Western values in Indian society is the white-superiority, and the notion of white is good and beautiful. The notion of “white is good” and “fair is beautiful” is the result of British colonialism insemination of Western standards in India where whiteness does not only define the beauty ideal in India but also determines the social status, caste, and intellectual ability. The British colonialists promoted this notion by attributing Indians with the fairer skin tone to the higher class, caste, smart and beautiful – of course; they were still considered inferior to the colonizers – and the darker Indians to low-class and caste, ugly and cheap people. The British colonialists reinforced the patriarchal society in India and ascribed women’s social status, education level, and class based on the fairness of their skin tone, which resulted in Indian women’s aspiration for fairness to improve their social status. As Wardhani et al. point out, women in postcolonial societies think that skin color determines social status (Wardhani et al. 2018, p. 238). When the British colonialization started in India, they changed the social stratification system because the highest social position in this era was occupied by the British colonials as the most superior. This notion mainly affected women’s position and role at the bottom because of the level of white superiority on the one hand and masculinity embraced by the British colonial system on the other hand.
Consequently, women faced double oppression and create a sense of envy to mimic colonialists to gain a social position as well as beauty standards (Ibid, p.243). In precolonial times women were idealized based on local beauty indicators such as medium-complexioned skin, large eyes, narrow waist but wider hips, round breasts, black hair, moon-like face, and arched eyebrows. In recent times, the local beauty standards no longer exist because women have been misled by the beauty norms imposed by colonialist agents. According to Wardhani et al. (2018), the British colonizers in India internalized the belief that whites are socially preferred skin-tone around the world (Ibid, p. 36). As Fanon analyzes the internalization process of Western values, culture, and language in colonized societies as follows:
“The colored people start to perceive their culture, ideology, and practices of their daily life as inferior to whites, as well as, reject their own social and cultural identity and create a sense of envy to the colonizers” (Fanon 1967).
This analysis draws a clear picture of Indian society where the Indians started to ignore their culture, tradition, and values that have undergone for generations and developed a common preference toward whiteness, Western culture, and values due to the insemination of Western values by the British colonialists. It explains how a society where the majority of people have black skin-tone changes their traditional beauty standards to Western beauty ideal and defines beauty based on whiteness of skin-tone as Wardhani et al. (2018) call it “Structural Violence” by colonists. “Western beauty standards are a kind of structural violence because the colonists have distorted and removed the distinctive cultural features by changing the perception that white is the ideal color” (Wardhani et al. 2018, p. 236). Meanwhile, Fanon also claims that the colonists used violence and implemented the divide and rule strategies to keep the indigenous people down. “Violence in the colonies does not only occur for its aim the keeping of these enslaved men at arm’s length; it pursues to dehumanize them…Everything will be done to wipe out their traditions, to substitute our language for theirs, and to abolish their culture without giving them ours” (Fanon 1963, p. 15).
Consequently, British colonist agents successfully implanted the notion of “white is beautiful” through various strategies in Indian society by removing and distorting the historical Indian beauty standards and promoting the Western beauty ideal. As Wardhani et al. (2018) insinuate, the colonization and Globalization have changed the behaviors of people of color in colonized countries resulting in the process of Westernization of beauty (Wardhani et al. 2018, p. 238). Although, this change of beauty standards is not limited to skin-tone only but also physical appearances, such as face shape, posture, height, dress behavior, and all aspects of lifestyle in postcolonial countries (Ibid). As mentioned above, in precolonial times women were idealized based on local beauty features− medium-complexioned skin, large eyes, narrow waist but more full hips, round breasts, black hair, moon-like face, and arched eyebrows −, in postcolonial India beauty standards, has changed to Western/Caucasian beauty features such as tall and slim body, blond hair, blue eyes and white skin (Ibid, p. 239).
In conclusion, the promotion of the notion of “white is beautiful and good” is associated with British colonialism, which resulted in the change of beauty standards in India from traditional Indian beauty Ideal to modern/Western beauty ideals. Although, studies also relate the influence of the caste system in promoting white superiority in India. However, British Colonialism had a considerable influence over the stratification of Indian society by associating people to social positions based on fair skin-tone. Nevertheless, due to the lack of space and time, the caste system in India will not be discussed. In the next section, the influence of Globalization in shaping and changing the beauty standards in India will be discussed.
3.2. Impact of Globalization on Indian Beauty Ideal
While colonialism rooted white-superiority and entrenched the notion of white is beautiful in colonized societies, Globalization extensively homogenized beauty ideal and changed people’s perception of beauty around the globe. As Geoffrey Jones (2011) points out, while colonialism established white superiority and the notion of “white is good” in colonized countries through Western civilization mission, Globalization reinforced such values and played a key role in globalizing Western beauty ideal (Jones 2011, p. 893). Meanwhile, Hunter (2007) insinuates, Globalization has accelerated the ongoing colorism by imposing a Western culture, products, and imperialism, including skin color preference (Hunter 2007 cited in Wardhani et al. 2018, p. 239). According to Jones, homogenization of beauty begins with the assumption of ideal beauty as propagated by multinational corporations of colonial countries. During the nineteenth century, the West, especially the Europeans and Americans, started to promote the desire to standardize beauty and became extensively curious about the rest of the world by writing scientific journals about the differences in beauty ideals (Ibid, p. 891). Jones indicates that the international expansion of the beauty industry formed the worldwide homogenization of beauty ideals, as well as beauty, began to mean white (Ibid). Meanwhile, Western soap brand advertisements begin to associate cleanliness with whiteness. Burke explains that colored racial stereotypes of bath soap and cleaning product advertisements are an important aspect contributing to Western civilization’s mission of the colonialism era (Burke 1996, p. 17-34). As the British and U.S. soap advertisers constantly claimed that using their soap would whiten the skin referred to as civilizing the people of color (Jones 2011, p. 892). By citing Sifneos (2002), Jones insinuate in an advertisement, one of the traditional Greek soap companies proclaimed that their product was capable of turning even a negro to white” (Sifneos 2002, p. 71 cited Ibid). However, this expansion of the beauty industry was not limited to Western countries but expanded to most of the colonized countries where the notion of white is beautiful has already been deep-rooted by colonialism, and the aspiration of achieving beauty by becoming white already existed. Furthermore, the global media played an important role in characterizing Eurocentric physical features as more beautiful than the other races, such promoting the stereotype of lighter skin tones are preferred over dark colors (Wardhani et al. 2018, p. 239). As Rebecca Gelles explains, due to the expansion of Globalization in the modern era, ideas from individual cultures are spread more easily to other parts of the world. For instance, one of the cultural standards that are spreading extensively in India is western beauty standards, where media and tv advertisements of western companies are playing a crucial role in globalizing the notion of white is beautiful (Gelles 2011, p. 2). One of the most important features of Western beauty that many Indian women aspire to have is the whiter/lighter skin-tone. According to Srivastav, the skin whitening market in India is valued at over $200 million in 2017, and 60-65% of Indian women use skin-whitening products (Srivastav 2017). As Wardhani et al. (2018) insinuate, there is a great tendency to appreciate higher lighter colors in countries where colonialism has internalized Western values (Wardhani et al. 2018, p. 239). Therefore, Indian women perceive brighter skin color and Western beauty features not only as access to a better life but also it is a social obligation to follow. In such societies where colonialism has already internalized the Western beauty ideal, such as whiteness as an indicator of beauty standards, skin-whitening products easily promoted their propagation via electronic and printed media. For instance, the British-Dutch multinational consumer good company launched a fairness cream called Fair and Lovely in 1975− hold 50-70$% share of skin whitening market in India in 2017″− promoting colorism and reinforcing the stereotype “white is good, beautiful, successful” through advertisements in Indian society (Ibid). Advertising and promoting such products by media implanted the perception in Indian women that they could become fair, and not striving for fairness is their fault (Gelles 2011, p. 13). In one of their famous advertisements “Kaash Beta Hota”−If only I had a son− the protagonist, a common Indian woman, is shown to be heartbroken when she hears her father is saying “Kaash Beta Hota” because she has a darker skin tone and due to her skin tone, the protagonist does not have a well-paid job. Also, she does not receive any marriage proposal and is considered low-class. Seeing her daughter heartbroken, her mother offers her a tube of Fair and Lovely. Immediately after she uses Fair and Lovely, her life changes drastically. She becomes whiter, gets a promotion, earns more money, receives marriage proposals, and simultaneously her clothing style changes to Western clothing, and she takes her parents to a fancy restaurant for dinner, which indicated how whiteness changed her class too. This advertisement does not just promote whiteness as the only beauty ideal but also propagates how whiteness can shape someones’ social and welfare status as well as pave the way for employment opportunities. Nevertheless, this trend is furthered reinforced by the film industries, particularly Bollywood, where the actresses represent the beauty ideal for Indian women. This stereotype is deeply rooted in the Bollywood film industry, where most of the actresses have whiter skin color and Eurocentric beauty standards. It is strikingly unreal how in a country where the majority of the women have darker skin-tone Bollywood actresses depict the image of Ideal Indian women as white with Caucasian features. For instance, Aishwarya Rai, who has white skin color, a tall and slim body, blond hair, blue eyes, represented Indian women in the 1994 Miss World contest, which she won. She also appeared in many other whitening products, bleaching, hair dying product advertisements promoting whiteness, and Eurocentric beauty features as a common Indian beauty ideal. Nevertheless, Globalization and media have played an important role not only in reinforcing European civilization’s mission of the colonial era but also in promoting and homogenizing European beauty Ideal around the world, particularly in propagating the notion of whiteness, is the only feature to be considered beautiful in Indian society.
The desire to be beautiful and pursue beauty has been throughout human history. However, the concept and perception of what makes someone beautiful have differed from one culture and state to another. While centuries ago, people even in the West idealized Persian and Asian beauty standards today, beauty has been homogenized, and beauty standards have been Westernized around the globe. Although it is hard to characterize beauty standards precisely, however, evidence shows that beauty has become homogenized, and beauty standards have become Eurocentric, especially in colonized societies. While colonialism shaped the way of thinking of the colored people by embedding white superiority and the notion of “white as good and beautiful” in colonized societies, the Globalization and media have further reinforced these stereotypes and took it to a new height and promoted whiteness as the most crucial feature of beauty standards. In India, where women were considered beautiful based on traditional beauty ideals in precolonial time, this thinking system clearly changed during British Colonialism. The British colonialist agents deep-rooted the Western values, culture, and beauty ideal in Indian society by restoring and weakening the historical Indian values, culture, and practices that lasted in India for centuries. Although, when the postcolonial period started, it appeared that colonized people had been freed from Western oppression, and they have been given their freedom to structure their societies, culture, and values. In reality, colonization has never ended because colonialization does mean the occupation of the land but also the occupation of soul, minds, and the world’s vision of the colonized people as Fanon terms it Epistemological Colonialism. Therefore, the colonized people only enjoy territorial decolonization but not psychological colonialization. Consequently, there is not a possible short-term solution to decolonize such a way of thinking, which is promoted by colonialism by changing the values, practices, and culture of colonized countries through embedding the colonial powers values cultures and practices. Furthermore, Globalization, on the other hand, further hurdled the decolonization process by boosting and reinforcing the Western values, culture, and practices that implanted during the colonial era where media has been the best source of promoting such stereotypes around the globe.
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