White is Beautiful unless you are Captain of the Cricket Team
With the recent uproar over the Pakistani cricket team captain’s remarks where he called a SA player black (Kalle), I scanned my Insta and Facebook feeds, (like many others) and read the outpouring of anger at Sarfaraz for being so culturally inane, insensitive, politically incorrect etc. etc. etc. Some sided with him and defended his intentions rather than his actions; they too were called out for defending a point of view that requires no defense whatsoever.
Here’s the thing. Something about all this just wasn’t gelling with me. We are a nation that is quite obsessed with color – fair skin to be exact. Yes, it’s true. I recall when a multinational corporation in Pakistan launched Fair & Lovely – the fairness cream, many years ago. I was in school when team members from the corporation visited our school to hand out free samples of the cream. The cream was like a stamp of approval for all young girls who were already fair-skinned, that THEY are beautiful, and all the dark-skinned ones were supposed to apply Fair & Lovely, or hide it in their bathroom cupboards to use covertly as part of their night, morning and day routine to gain the ever-elusive gora/ white complexion.
Over time, this desire to beautify ourselves by staying gora has become a universally acceptable practice, but not because the company sold us the cream. The company only cashed in on so many potential m in-laws who seek gora wives for their sons, on women who landed rishtas in well-to-do gharaanas because of the color of their skin, and women who give birth in hospitals and prayed that their children turn out fair-skinned! Have you never heard this phrase? Buhat pyaari hai, aur itni gori! I’m not even going to get into the objectification of women as humans who need to look and appear pretty to make a mark in this world, so let’s just stick to whitening creams for now.
But Fair & Lovely was another era ago, or so I thought. What took me by surprise was a hit on my Insta, feed when I came across recent multiple posts of Fairness creams, or was it Whiteness cream? I was quite repulsed … and shocked, because I thought we had evolved enough as a nation to leave the days of Snow White far behind.
I was livid actually, not by the post itself, but by the fact that the thousands who passed judgement so readily on Sarfaraz’s comments have NOTHING to comment or protest about adverts that promote ‘White Beauty’, whitening creams and tips on how to look fairer? How many people find THAT offensive on Facebook?
That our nation, a nation of predominantly 100 million brown-skinned (and some fair-skinned) women is being told to apply fairness creams to improve their appearance makes business sense for the company selling the cream, but does it justify the thousands who commented negatively on social media posts about Sarfaraz’s shout out and NOT on the Fairness cream adverts? Or is it just about appearing holier than thou on foreign soil while we don’t pay heed to what is happening in our own backyards? OR is it about just jumping on the social media bandwagon and waiting for the next viral thing to come up on the internet so we can follow that too? Whiteness creams aren’t making the cut yet, apparently! … but Sarfaraz did!
Perhaps living in Switzerland has made me oblivious to the ground reality in Pakistan. Perhaps I did not understand that things are the same back home. But then, perhaps I would have understood if the same nation did not stand united against the cricket captain for calling a SA player black. How can we as a nation, call one thing wrong (racism), but like, share and promote companies and brands that promise whiteness as a thing of beauty?
Whiteness beauty creams denote that white is beautiful and therefore the opposite – black is not. If the cream were called a sunscreen, which is what it is really, and which is a useful product to apply in order to escape the harmful effects of the sun, there would be nothing objectionable in that. Presently, a jar of Whitening Cream is a dream in a bottle for millions of girls who BELIEVE. They believe that they need that potion inside the jar to be and appear beautiful. And the advertising for whiteness creams, let alone the name itself, promotes this body image – that I somehow find, might I say … racist?
If the change has to come, it needs to come from the power of social media no doubt. And this is a message to all those who Tweeted, posted about Sarfaraz Ahmed.
If you could make Sarfaraz apologize, which he rightfully should have, can you not influence big brands to mobilize their bigger influence and make women believe they are worth more than the color of their skin?
It is 30 years or more since Fair & Lovely caused a sensation in Pakistan and India – the first goray pan ki cream launched by a big banner in countries teeming with a ripe market; millions of girls ready to try out the promise of fairer skin and white beauty. However, that was 1980 and this is 2019. Don’t you think global beauty brands should have evolved and played their part in changing consumer perceptions about our gora obsession and BE the change? Don’t you think that you, as a consumer should drive that change? Perhaps it will be easier for our cricket players to follow suit … who after all, might end up marrying a woman who uses a whitening cream?
About Shazia Habib
Shazia likes to pen her thoughts when she feels passionately about a life experience, a person or an event. She is mother to 3 lively boys and along with her husband, attempts to settle in her new country by taking German lessons so she is able to soak in the culture, language and spirit of the region. "Wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and exhale! Keep on living with a passion that inspires others! "