In most cultures that have been affected by white supremacy, there are white standards of beauty in place to tell women that they are not beautiful enough to be loved or wanted in their society. Unfortunately, when beauty is based solely on European standards, a woman’s physical and mental potential is not related to a her intelligence. Instead, this logic suggests that the whiter she is, then the prettier and more successful she will be. However with hashtag #UnfairandLovely, South Asian women are taking a stand against this system of oppression called colorism. This hashtag is important because it raises much needed awareness of the discrimination that women face because of their darker complexions.
#UnfairandLovely counters both the preference for lighter skin that runs rampant in South Asia, and also the skin lightening cream Fair & Lovely, which is marketed toward teenagers and women in their twenties and thirties. First patented in the early 70s, Fair & Lovely is one of the most successful skin lightening creams. Although its target population is teenagers and young women, there are preteens who feel the pressures to use this product. In Fair & Lovely’s marketing campaign, the cosmetic product suggests that women will only feel confident and beautiful if they look white.
With the social media campaign #UnfairandLovely occurring during Women’s History Month and a few days after International Women’s Day, it unites women across the world as they voice the prejudice and stigma they have faced in their lifetime. This feeling of not being wanted because of your dark skin not only affects women in South Asia but also other Black communities such as the Ghanaian, Nigerian, and Black community in the United States.
In their research, scholars like Dr. Yaba Blay and Dr. Ronald E. Hall have examined the issues of colorism in Black communities. Specifically, Dr. Yaba Blay, highlights how the Black people often struggle to confront this issue that has and still separates the Black community. Although colorism has negatively separated the Black community for centuries, the term “colorism” was not coined by Alice Walker until the early 80s.
The prejudice that the women in South Asia are fighting with #UnfairandLovely is the same prejudice Black women and their ancestors have been battling for generations. For my grandmother and mother, it was failing the paper bag test. For me, it was telling my aunt in Nigeria that I had no intentions in bleaching my skin.
Growing up as a dark skinned Black girl, from my classmates, the television shows, and the magazines that I read, I learned being dark skinned made me undesirable. No one wanted to date a girl or play with a girl who they thought was “black as night”.
As I matured into adulthood, this feeling of being unwanted did not disappear. When I watched romantic movies, the women falling in love were fair skinned. Then when I listened to rap music or listened to my celebrity crushes talk about their dream women, all the men wanted were light-skinned women with long, straight hair.
Fighting this prejudice against dark skinned women on social media lets people across the world come closer to understanding the societal isolation and pain that women have felt because they could not fit into the white standards of beauty. With conversations across the world starting about colorism, we can use them as an opportunity to continue sparking other debates about the racism, transphobia, ableism, and sexism that still plague our societies as well.