Fair Skin and Marriage in India

by Cherry Zhou

In marriage advertisements, there are numerous ways to describe yourself or your desired partner. Detailed information can be divided in to non-physical factors and physical ones. This chapter (“Fair Enough? Color and the Commodification of Self in Indian Matrimonials,” by Jyotsna Vaid) shows that skin color matters in Indian matrimonial over time. Although there is no single origin of the conscious of fair skin being beautiful, one possible explanation is that British colonization led to a preference of lighter skin and the introduction of Western notions of beauty. In India, fair skin was and probably still is considered as an indicator of belonging to a higher caste, social standing and hierarchy in society. People are likely to link fair skin tone with wealth and education, whereas those with dark skin may be perceived as low-income workers.

Through the reading, I also found that there exists a gendered pattern of mentioning skin tone in marriage ads. Women mentioned fair skin more than twice as often as men. Figure 9.5 shows that the the percentage of mentioning fair by women increased a lot overtime.

It may also be possible that Indian women are more sensitive to messages about social norms than men; they fully understand that to highlight fair skin in marriage ads is advantageous for themselves. On the other hand, however, men are less conscious about the importance of their physical appearance, skin color in particular. Men face far less pressure than women to have fair skin. Darker skin tone in men may be compensated by assets such as having a well-paid job, overall economic security and a good personality, whereas women are likely to be evaluated and judged only on their physical appearance

But there may be a change in this idea since more and more cosmetic companies like fair&lovely are staring to sell products targeting male customers. With more and more male celebrities endorsing skin products, male’s consciousness about fair skin may change in the future.

What this chapter didn’t mention much is that whether fair skin really improves marriage prospects, especially for women. So I did some research about this question.

The author is right about the fact that a large percentage of marriage in India is arranged marriage, even nowadays. Since the socially constructed idea is that fair skin is ideal beauty so it certainly can influence a person’s chance of finding suitable partner. For women, marriage is considered to be extremely important for lifelong economic security within Indian cultures. Sahay and Piran (1997) suggested that: ‘In many Indian languages, the words fair and beautiful are often used synonymously, and there is often a preference for a female with light complexion in marriage, if other considerations are equal’ (p. 162).

Moreover, this chapter argued that there basically is no resistance or critique of the emphasis on fairness as a marker of beauty even over periods of time. So through the diaspora, future generations of immigrated Indian people still remain to have their traditional ideals about skin tone. Overall speaking, what I found shocking is that there’s so much emphasis on looks in India, especially about being fair. In Indian culture, fair skin was perceived to increase one’s likelihood of an arranged marriage, and this suggests that some aspects of physical appearance are more important than others factors.

Reference:

Sahay,S., & Piran, N. (1997). Skin-Color Preferences and Body Satisfaction Among South Asian-Canadian and European-Canadian Female University Students. Journal of Social Psychology,137, 161-171.

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