My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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26 December 2017

Ugh, why can't I just buy face cream already without being hit with a patriarchal burden?

(This appeared in  February 2016)

Today I tried to buy a face cream. (Yes, I know, I know, they're mostly a rip-off, and there's no science that says regular body lotion can't be used on your face, but I'm a woman and susceptible to these things.) I say “tried” because no matter how many search results I saw online—and I waded through loads—all of them offered me “whiteness improving night cream” or “fair and bright day cream.” Nothing was just plain old face cream, as far as I could tell, until I landed on one simple one, not at all as nicely packaged as the others, but a face cream that was just that: cream for your face, without any added transformative effects.

The page refreshes to show items that are “based on your order” after you buy something. Here's what I got for the cream I had so painstakingly purchased because it didn't offer me a two-for-one fairness deal: Whitening Day Cream and Whitening Face Wash. The website seemed to be taunting me: oh, you didn't get the fairness cream? Why not add it now? It reminded me eerily of going to a beauty parlour and having my eyebrows done when I was younger with the beautician asking if I didn't want a “detanning facial” or a scrub. When I'd say no, I was quite happy with my tan, she'd make a face and say, “Well, your eyebrows are very weird.” (I stopped threading my eyebrows into oblivion after it was made quite clear that no one actually noticed my eyebrows even though that whole operation is extremely painful.)

White facing like a boss

I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised that fairness has become the default for beauty. From people having a choice to aspire to be fair, bringing about brands such as Fair And Lovely (and its male counterpart, Fair And Handsome), it's become something companies think you want so much that they don't seem to make any other options.

My first reaction was to blame the companies. I mean, if Olay or Garnier or Lakme weren't pretending these were the only ways women could keep their skin beautiful then we wouldn't buy into it. But then it's probably also the customer's fault. Sadly we've been conditioned to think that our skin needs to be pink and white to be beautiful—something that's almost impossible for most of the country. If you think of India itself by its skin colour, it varies so much that yes, some of us are fair—but there's milky fair which becomes bluish or yellowish fair, moving into a reddish tinge and then there are all the browns: from golden skin to light brown to dark brown to very very dark brown. We have them all—and the funny thing is that no beauty company has found a way to market to that. I, with my coffee-coloured skin, would enjoy a cream made for my complexion, as would someone who was perfectly fine with the amount of “white” they were and just wanted to stay that way and not get any paler.

The most ironic thing is that they don't actually work. Nothing can make you fairer if you have melanin in your skin. It's something that you know and I know, but people all over the country are buying into this myth, and therefore buying into the companies. Week after week they slather these snake oils on their skin and when they don't as the ads say “grow many shades lighter” they're deeply disappointed. The consumer court made Emami Limited, a skin care product company known for their brand Fair And Handsome, pay a 15 lakh fine for misrepresenting costumers. The complainant was a man called Nikhil Jain from Mumbai who said he didn't see any difference in his face after 3 weeks, even though he had been using the cream.

[I find it interesting that a man brought in this case, because I'm sure there are thousands, if not millions of women in India who have thought the same thing and haven't had the courage to admit they wanted to be more beautiful. Interesting also that according to a sales trend report done by Snapdeal recently, more men than women are buying fairness creams and grooming products.)

I would like options. We'd all like options. And I'd like people to be more careful about what they promise in advertising. Is this an utopian ideal? Perhaps. But if enough of us want it—like enough of us want fairness creams—maybe it'll happen.

1 comment:

  1. Corporations will be corporations. They care only about filling the coffers of the top 10%. And so they do things like this:
    That's how they sell their potions in African countries (I assume, this one being from neighboring Madagascar). It's foolish of us to expect them to believe in and promote anything that's actually beneficial to any individual or to humanity.


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