The fairness delusion

Published On: August 11, 2016 12:25 AM NPT By: Dr Aruna Uprety

Many young girls think if they use creams as shown in ads by cine stars, their face will be as white as theirs. They are wrong.
It was a few years ago. I was talking to young girls in Bahrabise, one of whom had her facial skin unhealthy, with a lot of pores and pigmentation. I asked her the reason behind this and the 16-year old said, “I used whitening cream a few weeks ago, it looked very good on me. I turned white and I was excited. But in two weeks my skin started getting itchy. I regret doing so and have stopped using it now. I am worried if my skin patch will disappear.” “Is there any doctor or medicine with which I can get rid of this blemish?” She asked.

She looked depressed and I could feel her pain. When I was adolescent I used to apply many types of creams to get rid of my pimples and blackhead of my face as I wanted to be fair. I thought I would be praised by everybody if I looked gori, white . My mother used to ask me to eat healthy food and clean the face with only clean water. I did not heed her then. Few years later, I understood what she meant. She used to tell me that using those creams will only spoil my skin. But I believed more in beautiful advertisements than my mother. My mother was not educated. I did not pay any attention to her. Today I say to my daughters what my mother used to tell me when I was young.

I have been telling my daughters since their childhood that one should not crave for fair but for healthy and radiant face.  One should eat healthy food and discard junk foods to get clean face. There is no need to use any cosmetic creams.

But not all parents feel like I had felt and they even encourage their children to “look white” and use any cream for that purpose.

Many young girls think that if they use creams as shown in ads by cine stars, their face will be as white as theirs. But little do they know that those stars never use the whitening cream. They use very expensive branded cream when they have to face camera and other times they use mostly the natural materials. They appear on ads using the fairness creams because they are paid a lot of money for working as “brand ambassadors” of those products.

Once famous Bollywood star Kangana Rawat declined fairness cream ad deal worth Rs 200 million because she did not believe “fairness should be hyped so much.”   “Ever since I was a kid, I have never understood the concept of fairness. Especially, in such a case, as a celebrity, what kind of an example would I be setting for younger people? I have no regrets about turning this offer down. As a public figure, I have responsibilities,” she said in an interview.

Another actor Nandtia Das has also taken a similar stand and supported ‘dark is beautiful’ campaign. “I want people to be comfortable in their own skin and realize that there is more to life than skin color,” she said.

Such news does not get wider coverage in India and Nepal leading the girls to believe that their success to love and work will come only with fair skin.

Very few of us know that most creams sold in the market are a dangerous cocktail of compounds like steroids and hydroquinone the long term use of which can lead to lethal health concerns like permanent pigmentation, skin cancer, liver damage, mercury poisoning and others.

Dr Sabina Bhattarai, dermatologist from Kathmandu Medical Collage once showed me the pictures of women and young girls who came to her with skin problems. All of them had history of using various types of creams to become “fairer than they really are.” I had told them to stop using those types of skin lighting cream,” she said.   She also had pointed out that even a nurse from her hospital had been victim of ads of fairness cream and suffered skin allergy as well as skin pigmentation.

It seems that million rupees beauty industry does not pay attention to the health of the people and health workers also do not speak against those cosmetics.

Many public health specialists and heart specialists are openly talking about health hazards of junk food, sugar and cold drinks. They are making people aware about using healthy homemade food instead of junks. Why cannot skin specialists come forward and speak against “fairness cream” which has both long and short term impact on human health?

Some fairness cream ads even announce that being smoggy or dark is a disease and it needs to be treated with fairness cream. Such ads are creating a lot of stress on young girls and women.  The broadcast of such ads from TV and radios need to be banned just like ads of alcohol and tobacco.

The author, a medical doctor, writes on health and nutrition

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