Spare My Child Your Fair & Lovely Obsession

Jaibala Rao expresses her thoughts on our society's obsession with fairness and the effect it has had on her son.
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It was almost the end of summer holidays and my son and I were taking a walk around our apartment complex. He’d had a full and exciting summer with a vacation, swimming lessons and cycling sessions taking up most of his time. Suddenly he spots an Ajja (grandfather) he meets often and stops to greet him. “Namaste,” he says, making me proud that he still remembers our discussion on respecting elders.

Now as a response to this, this person could have said a number of things, like “How tall you have become S!”

or “Oh, you have a summer haircut now?”

or even just a simple “Namaste” back.

Instead of all of these perfectly acceptable responses, he looks at me and then at my son and says “Oh my god! You have become so dark”.

I was speechless because I did not know how to respond, angry because something like that was said to a 4-year-old and helpless because that statement could not be unsaid.  But it was what followed that really broke my heart. After we walked away, S looked up to me and asked “What is dark, does it mean I am like the night? It is dark no, in the night? I don’t want to be bad. Dark is bad!”

That raised an important question in my mind. How can we as responsible adults be so negative about something that we cannot control? The way most people talk about being dark, even a 4-year-old can understand the negativity from the tone and the expression. So, here’s a child who has no clue about the stereotypes attached to “skin color” and yet, somehow he understands it is a bad thing to be dark. That is the first lesson we give our children about skin color. Is that not sad and repulsive?

Our society’s obsession with fairness leads to children having a negative outlook toward a dominant gene manifesting itself. It’s just science and yet some people behave as though you’ve wronged them most deeply by being born mocha instead of alabaster.

Is it really so easy for us adults to distinguish and discriminate among children based on skin color?   I shudder to think what these children who are discriminated against will grow up believing. Will they believe that the color of their skin is an important factor when it comes to getting love and attention?

At a young age, we make a non-issue such an important aspect of a child’s life and a parameter to judge them by. Isn’t this also body shaming, when we judge our own children depending on how they look? Eventually, this non-quality can have a massive impact on their life. It may begin to – consciously or subconsciously – influence the things they do and the decisions they make.

Our obsession with fairness has become a bad habit we all need to break.

Body shaming is not something any child should grow up with. That day, I did not think it was wrong of me to tell my son that people who focus unnecessarily on skin color are individuals who have a very warped sense of the world. It’s when it’s dark that we see the shining stars and there never will be and never has been anything wrong with being dark. What is wrong are our perceptions and stereotypes and that’s what needs to change.

Less whitening creams and more open minds, please.

About the author:
Academically a microbiologist and professionally a Freelance Writer and Columnist; Jaibala is regularly featured in various reputed online publications including the Huffington Post India and Women's Web. She has been featured on India’s top bloggers’ lists twice in a row and her posts are regularly picked as top posts. Jaibala is very passionate about writing and blogging and also conducts workshops that help other writers find their voice.

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  • Wonderful Article…

  • This is sad and really irresponsible! Some people…
    ‘It’s when it’s dark that we see the shining stars…’ very thoughtful of you to say this. Dark is not always bad. Sometimes, it beautiful!

    I’m tired of this stupid Fair & Lovely ads where a daughter needs to put fair & lovely (or needs to become fair) to tell her father what she wants in life!

    Very thoughtful post!