Indians and Indian-Americans took to social media to assert that Miss America Nina Davuluri’s skin is “too dark” to ever win an Indian beauty pageant. Some even said that her skin is too dark to allow her to become a contestant. Comments of this nature flooded Twitter and Facebook, and the commenters were pointing out that India’s “obsession” with “fairness” would prevent Davuluri from being considered a beautiful woman there.
Indian magazines routinely carry advertisements for “skin lightening” creams and tout the beauty of “fairness,” which is what many Indian people call the characteristic of light skin. Numerous American and Western companies take advantage of this idea by creating and pushing products designed to lighten Indian women’s’ skin. Companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and L’Oreal are guilty of this practice, and ads for their skin lightening products can be seen in Indian media, including on television and in magazines.
The idea that someone’s skin could be “too dark” is a very uncomfortable concept to many Americans and most consider it to be a racist way of thinking. Many Indian people pointing out the issue on Twitter indicated their disgust as well. Tweeter Suitablegirl expressed her feelings in a two-part Tweet which read: “What’s interesting is Miss America Nina Davuluri would never win pageants in South Asia because she’s be too dark to be considered beautiful…& the same is true for all of those Indian American USA pseudo-pageants held here, as well. No darkies allowed in winner’s circle.”
Other Tweeters were quite blunt. Commenter @satishkolls said “Newly crowned Miss America Nina Davuluri is too dark to win Miss India in India.”
Indeed, some India folks who move to the United States have expressed surprise at Americans’ penchant for tanning beds, saying that their Indian peers would be “horrified” to find an Indian woman consciously choosing to darken her skin. Many Indian people are raised with the idea that “fair is beautiful” and “dark is ugly” and sometimes this concept is even repeated within families, such as from mother to daughter. Indian women with darker complexions are made to feel as though they are inferior in looks to their lighter-skinner counterparts.
Some activists in India have condemned the selling of skin lightening creams and have called for them to be discontinued. They say that such products “encourage the caste system” and ruin girls’ and women’s’ self-esteem, which can lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or even suicidal thoughts. Technically, the caste system has been abandoned in India but many feel that old, ingrained attitudes that harken to the caste system still exist.
It is somewhat ironic that one of the questions during the Miss America pageant was about television host Julie Chen having surgery for “Asian Eyes.” This question was given to Miss America Nina Davuluri, to which she replied, “I don’t agree with plastic surgery, however I can understand that from a standpoint. More importantly I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door. And Miss America is always evolving… I wouldn’t want to change someone’s looks. Be confident in who you are.”
By: Rebecca Savastio