I used to use 'Fair and Lovely'. Its little more than our own brand of racism

25th June 2020   •   opinion
by Anish Parekh
Twitter @Mr_Pop87.
Credit: Unilever Ad
Yesterday Unilever announced it was ditching the 'Fair and Lovely' brand-name, but not the product itself. I have some experience with the cream.

When I was 16, I went on a three-week family holiday to India. The sun was scorching and as a young, wide-eyed teenager I wanted to be outdoors exploring the country, eating from the stalls, playing cricket in the street and shopping. I was just a young kid enjoying his life.

After a few days my fair-skinned Indian family pointed out that my skin had gotten darker. They told me in no uncertain terms this was not a good look and recommended that I use a cream called ‘Fair and Lovely.’ I was naïve, and thought that it was worth trying – what’s the worst that could happen? I had self-esteem issues and didn’t want my dark skin to hold me back as I was about to start college.

Once we got back to Britain we would occasionally receive parcels full of goodies from our Indian family. Home-made papad, an Indian cricket t-shirt and some Fair and Lovely. I remember my mum was furious but by now I was conscious of my skin and viewed it as a flaw. So I continued to use it and asked her not to be annoyed over it.

One day, after washing my face with the face-wash, I stared into the mirror in horror. My face had turned grey. I blinked hard in disbelief. My eyes weren’t lying. I immediately drenched my face with as much water as possible. After a day or so, my skin went back to normal. I never used the cream or face wash again.

But I would continue to feel self-conscious about my appearance.

The warm glow of the sun wasn’t an enjoyable comfort but rather a signal to find shade. I knew I would get comments like I had ‘turned black’ or ‘African’, or how you can only see my eyes or teeth in the dark.

The fact that Asian people use being ‘black’ as an insult shows our attitudes. I understand that British colonialism left a scar on our psyche. Whiteness became a symbol of superiority and something to aspire to.

But South Asia has had 73 years since independence to denounce the idea of white-supremacy. Instead we embraced it.

We must take responsibility for how we view skin colour. We need to question the beliefs of friends and family who are obsessed with skin tone and ask why they believe that fair is lovely.

Dark can be clever, funny, interesting, ambitious and beautiful. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can all finally be more comfortable in our own skin.

As time has gone on, I have become more confident in myself, I have accepted who I am and I see the ugliness in people’s ignorance rather than in myself.
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Anish Parekh is a freelance journalist and writer.
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