To be Tan or White? That Depends on Your Culture

In the summer as a teenager, my sisters and I would “lay out” in our backyard trying to get a tan of some sort.  I am sure we caused all sorts of sun damage to our skin because sunscreen was not what people used back then — we actually would put products on that would help make the tan happen faster.  Many Americans are so obsessed with having that “tan” look that they visit tanning booths and get spray tans.  As many Americans try to get some type of a “tan” this summer, I wanted to share a little about the obsession in India for many (not all) to NOT get any darker, rather to lighten the skin as much as possible.

For centuries, some people of India have believed that the “lighter” the skin color, the more beautiful the person .  I do not know where this stems from, maybe from the British rule, or the perception of their God’s being light-skinned, but it is startling to me how much money and effort is placed in making skin lighter.  I believe that it is the individual, not their outward appearance that makes one beautiful, but walking through a mall here, driving past billboard advertisements, or even watching commercials on television, one sees that some in the  Indian culture are very obsessed with “whitening” their skin.


My first visit to a modern mall here, I noticed the large signage in the windows of the cosmetic stores advertising skin whitening treatments, creams and lotions.  It surprised me quite a bit, thinking how many people could really be worried about such a thing?  Well, there are MANY people that think about it, and the very rich and middle class with spending money are not shy about using products to get some results.


When doing a little research on the topic, I came across an article from 2012 that claimed that there were 240 unique skin-lightening products launched in India and that the industry is booming.  These products contain agents to decrease pigment production but once stopped the skin returns to its natural skin color a few weeks later.  That same year a research firm claimed more skin lightening creams were sold in India than Coca-Cola.  That is a little bit hard for me to believe to be quite honest because the majority of people can not afford these creams.  But for some there is a distorted view on the body based on skin color here.

Yes, they even advertise making your underarms whiter.

I have heard from numerous individuals, that if the daughter is lighter skinned, than there is a chance of a better dowry for marriage.  I have seen a family that has two sons, the younger one being darker skinned than the older and he is teased a lot about how he is too dark.  The Bollywood actors and actresses all have much lighter skin than the average Indian so their role model to the people of India definitely influences their self-perception just as ours can be influenced from celebrities and media.  While watching American Idol here last Saturday, we saw a commercial that advertised a product for “how to remove your tan.”. I do not want to come across as judgmental here in any way.  As I mentioned at the beginning on this post, many are just as obsessed elsewhere with acquiring a tan.  It seems to be human nature to some extent to try to conform to a standard of beauty.   So as you lay by the pool or head to the beach to get some sun, quit worrying if your body is the whitest one around — that’s worth a lot of money in other parts of the world!




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