As a little girl from 90s, my standards of beauty were determined by advertisements of Nirma Soap and Vicco Turmeric. Therefore, back then, an ideal beautiful woman according to me, would bear a fair skinned complexion and a fine, slim figure. Well meaning relatives fueled this belief by saying that these attributes would make me a great sale in the marriage market, a high quality groom was guaranteed, irrespective of my education and job. However, a grim, harsh reality befell me soon as teenage prevailed- the first acne! Those advertisement girls had clear skin, damn to all those hopes of being good marriage material. Besides that, all that sport and walking home from school tanned me, I thought I was no longer beautiful, and mind you it was a little girl of 12-13! Enter Fair and Lovely. That advertisement completely convinced me that the pink bottle was my key to open the Pandora’s Box of the former coveted beauty. In one chemistry class though, the teacher discussed bleach and some subsequent internet searches later, the spell casted by these advertisements was broken. Realisation dawned that this magical bottle was not a bit different from what my mum used to keep those precious whites fresh!
The whole process made me realise that what I was told about beauty was wrong, that it did not singularly comprise of good looks and a slim figure. The normal skin complexion of a significant number of Indians is designed to be dark. We need to embrace what is naturally given to us. The fact that complexion enhancing industries are multi-crore entities in the Indian market shows the hypocrisy the society is entwined in. A fair and lovely face of a woman would last briefly, on the other hand her education, conduct and behavior would last and determine the fate of her potential family and children.
Moreover, I do not understand the need to always have fair models in general wellness and skin care products. Is it that their darker skinned counterparts are somehow blessed to never suffer from burns or dry skin? Or that they are not entitled to use these products because of their inferior complexion?
Creation of such Gender Stereotypes is not limited to the fairness enhancing products alone. Take up any weight loss pamphlet or travel in any public transport and you would see advertisements depicting transformations of fat to fit women. These advertisements create stereotypes of an ideal woman in the minds of people. Recently, Sridevi’s daughter was body shamed on Instagram for being a little out of place (what?!), she went on to post a brilliant response to it. Like her, many young girls and women using social media face such comments on a day to day basis, the psychological consequences of these are immense and unimaginable.
Weight loss is a good idea if a woman wants to do it for her own good health. However, when an advertisement compels a woman to achieve the ideal weight by consuming pills having horrible side effects, it becomes a major issue to think over. When a weight loss poster triggers people to think that a fat woman is not desirable or a little girl is body shamed for being who she is, we seriously need to reflect upon the kind of society we have created for ourselves. No one has the right to criticize a woman for being confident in her own body.
Coming to hair commercials, the models somehow always have lustrous, straight black locks. Almost every Shampoo and Conditioner guarantees to give straight locks which are the norm. Hence, according to them, you have a major problem if you are happy and choose to do nothing about a bunch of curly hair planted on your head. Again, the complexion of these women is always fair, is it that the dark girls are bald now? Or barred from using these products because of their colour?
Next in line are those matrimonial commercials, when it comes to creating stereotypes, they surpass everything. Take for instance this one: “Wanted V’bfull, Fair, Smart luking, bride fr 25 yr old boy, HGT 6 Ft. Settld Abroad, knwldge of cuking mst.” The manner it describes the ideal wife for any Indian family is immaticulate. All newspapers are filled with advertisements like these. Darker, educated girls who do not know how to cook are not supposed to settle down and start a family then?
I do not intend to say that all advertisements create gender stereotypes. For instance, Biba’s recent change is beautiful series are a delightful break from the usual advertisements. However, illustrations like these are few and most of the advertisements are like the one seen in beginning of the article. They aim to define certain quintessential features of a modern Indian woman, exhausting every morsel of liberty to her thoughts.
Advertisements are all about creativity, how effectively you are able to communicate your products to the target customers. The idea of making a person uncomfortable in their skin and then selling off a product just does not appeal my rationale. These gender stereotypes are widely perceived by the masses as true, and leave a long lasting bad impact on the society in general.
My last article was about objectification of women, on a parting note; do check out this “He Deodorant” commercial featuring Vir Das which talks about objectification and breaking gender stereotypes in Indian advertisements.
Photo courtesy: Buzzfeed