In The Washington Post, Rama Lakshmi examines the omnipresence of Caucasians in India’s modeling world, beckoning from billboards to TV ads to storefronts. From “In India’s Huge Marketplace, Advertisers Find Fair Skin Sells“:
These days, the faces of white women and men, mostly from Eastern Europe, stare out from billboards, from the facades of glitzy, glass-fronted malls and from fashion magazines. At an international automobile show this month in New Delhi, most of the models were white.
The presence of Caucasian models in Indian advertisements has grown in the past three years, industry analysts say. The trend reflects deep cultural preferences for fair skin in this predominantly brown-skinned nation of more than 1 billion people.
This may seem the logical conclusion to Indians, who are all too familiar with skin-color description tags on bachelorettes (‘wheatish’, ‘dusky’), fair-skinned Bollywood stars (men and women) and skin-lightening products like Fair and Lovely.
European models have been drawn to Mumbai, India’s cultural capital (even as more Indian models go abroad), and advertisers prefer them because they’re often less inhibited than their Indian counterparts (and not as expensive as Western European models). There’s also the belief that ‘fair’ and ‘beautiful’ go together and the perception that brands with international faces are of better quality and therefore reliable. One model interviewed, Tanya Bohinc, is Slovenian and newly arrived.
“I can sense the local fascination for my skin color here,” said Bohinc, who has modeled in seven countries. “I think it has to do with the fact that the British ruled India for so long.” Bohinc said she’s been trying out for small roles in Bollywood films and learning Hindi lines. A growing number of Bollywood film choreographers are now hiring white dancers in song-and-dance scenes.
The Indian editions of fashion magazines like Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue regularly feature fair-skinned, international (or international looking) faces in their spreads. The fashion features editor of Vogue’s Indian edition, Bandana Tiwari says,
“When we put the white model in Indian clothes, it is a cultural exchange. It shows India’s economic self-confidence. Of course, it also caters to the general feeling that ‘fair’ and ‘beautiful’ go together. For a rickshaw-puller who earns $2 a day, seeing a fair-skinned woman is an escape, a fantasy.”
Earlier this year, in The New York Times, Heather Timmons wrote that skin-whitening products are the most popular product in India’s fast-growing skin care market. International brands like Avon, L’Oréal, Ponds, Garnier, the Body Shop and Jolen are also selling lightening products and all of them face stiff resistance from the local giant, Fair and Lovely, a Unilever product that was launched in 1978. According to the article, about 65% of all women use these fairness products.
India is hardly alone in its pursuit of “fairness.” Korea, Japan and China are big markets for skin-whitening products. And the United States is not exempt. Ebony magazine ran similar ads relating to full-face “skin brightening” or “skin whitening” creams aiming at African-American consumers through the 1950s and 1960s, said Jeanine Collins, communications director for Ebony. Those ads changed their message during the 1970s and 1980s to talk about removing spots or blemishes, she said.
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