From Mali to Malaysia, the rush is on. The New York Times is reporting that India is the latest nation to be embroiled in a discussion about “beauty” and skin complexion. International firms like L’Oreal and Unilever are marketing products in Africa, Latin America and Asia promising to lighten skin and create new opportunities for love and career advancement.
What is compelling about this is not the assumption that this type of marketing is odious. That’s hardly the point. The issue is that Africans, Asians and Latin Americans consistently remark that their nations are free from the “racial animus” or “color consciousness” of the United States. The comments are made in the face of some serious conflicting evidence. There is broad appeal for these products. Sales have spiked and the demand curves suggest new and more innovative campaigns to satisfy more and more customers.
The attraction for lighter skin in women has evolved in different ways in different locales. The evolution in Asia is not the same as in Africa or Latin America. Nor has that preference come about the same way in Europe or among whites in the United States. Presently, the whites in the United States do not exhibit a clear preference for the pale skin idealized in India, Japan, Korea or in parts of Africa. What may have begun as an indication of social status (tanned white skin indicating menial labor in the outdoors) has often become synonymous with ill health.
Was not Kate Moss the poster girl for drug addiction and anorexia while also being the waif-like body/face of Calvin Klein adverteasing? Nothing keeps a model in tip-top shape like a few lines of the good stuff. That’s not a sexy look. That’s a near-death look – but it worked – for a time.
Since that time, Kate’s more often than not revealed, captured, depicted as colorized, even Africanized. Americans may occasionally go for that pasty pale look, but there is usually something else in the “package.” (Even in this pic, it’s easy to see the photographers use of color to change the appearance of this actress.)
What do we make of the fascination with pale skin in India? It’s an age-old dynamic rooted in thousands of years of history. It couldn’t be about Krishna:
“The term Krishna in Sanskrit has the literal meaning of “black” or “dark”, and is used as a name to describe someone with dark skin. The Brahma Samhita describes Krishna’s complexion as being “tinged with the hue of blue clouds”, and he is often depicted in paintings with blue or dark-blue skin. In murthis, Krishna is more commonly portrayed as being dark skinned or black. For instance, the Jagannatha (a name meaning: Krishna as ‘Lord of the World’), deity at Puri in Orissa shows Krishna as being ‘jet black’ in colour alongside his brother Balarama, and sister Subhadra, the latter two having much lighter complexions.”
This has absolutely nothing to do with “Europeans”…in fact, these values stem from a time when there was no Europe. It does have something to do with Aryans and Brahmins, though. It all makes for interesting reading when one considers the impact of pre-Aryan Indus Valley civilization on our modern world. Just who were these ancient people with their jet black god? And who are their descendants with their abundantly obvious ‘fear of a black planet’? Another thread, another time.
Back to the modern world of marketing and beauty products: The latest is that Unilever is going to market these products to men.
A word to the wise: “That shit ain’t gonna help you get laid, buddy. Remember the Jheri Curl? Exactly. Get some sun, lift some weights, kcik some endorphins, earn some loot, learn how to smile and relax.”