Aishwarya Rai lightened up on the cover of Elle.


So, that happened and Rai is really mad about it. Understandably so, after all, she is a very loud and proud Indian who often takes joking pot shots at American culture. And she is well within her rights to be mad, what is Elle thinking?

But this bring up a much larger issue that is how much color politics play into who becomes famous in India. A big part of why Rai herself is famous is because she is lighter than the average Indian, a standard that is very pervasive, to an unapologetic degree. Also, Jorge Rivas at Colorlines talks about the skin lightening industry, something we have written about as well that is thriving not only in India, but around the world,

India has a thriving skin lightening beauty industry that includes products with ingredients so hazardous they’ve been banned in the European Union, among others. But India is not alone. A recent study found that 90 percent of the women entering Arizona clinics for mercury poisoning were Chicanas who had been using skin-lightening creams. A Harvard medical school professor notes: “These women had tried so desperately to whiten their skin color that they had poisoned their bodies by applying mercury-based ‘beauty creams’.”

So, I am totally feeling Rai’s anger here. Elle took a few too many creative liberties with the photoshopping of her skin color. But I also think this is an opportunity to talk about how color preference plays a huge role in stardom world-wide and has very much become a standard beauty ideal in the South Asian community. There is an international sense that lighter is better reinforced both by Western culture gone global and by Indian cinema, something Rai has very much benefited from.

Join the Conversation

  • Véronique

    I realize that what you are saying is true–that lighter skin is always considered more attractive. I think that what Elle has done is unconscionable.

    I am happily out of sync with the world. If I am allowed another life, I want to come back with your colour. Seriously. My main Second Life avatar has always been dark skinned. Years ago, it wasn’t easy to get decent non-white skin in SL (non-white, not California tan), but I persisted.

    Frankly, the whiter than white beauty standard puzzles me. I look at pictures of you and Rose and I think you’re both beautiful. I want to look like Parminder Nagra! I thought it was awesome when Krista White won America’s Next Top Model, and hopefully is doing well in the business. It’s not that I don’t think white women can be beautiful as well. It’s only that I think the whole range of skin colour is beautiful. I really don’t understand why white is considered better.

    • Deanna

      You’ve gone ahead and established yourself just now as someone with a skin color preference by saying “I want to come back with your colour.” Then, you go and say that you don’t understand why white is considered better.

      What I don’t understand is why ANYTHING is considered better than anything else. You’re considering a certain skin tone to be better than others, as stated by your wish to have that skin tone, both in real life and through your virtual persona.

      When I think of good skin, I think of good skin CONDITION, which has nothing to do with differing skin colours. Do you see how you’re no better than those who “prefer” white skin colour, as you’re blatantly preferring the opposite? Are you understanding that the problem lies in the existence of a preference to begin with, no matter what that preference may be?

      That being said, I also think it goes without saying that what Elle did was deplorable.

      • Véronique

        Not better, Deanna. Show me where I used the word “better.” Just what I like, me personally. I don’t dislike light skin. I just do like darker skin. My taste is quite catholic. My skin tone isn’t going to change, and I’m fine with that.

  • Amanda

    The terrible thing is that while women of color are being told to lighten up, even if it means putting their heath and lives at risk to do so, white women are being told that tan is beautiful, so they’re spending all kinds of money on fake tanner and – so much worse – tanning salons, not to mention baking themselves on the beaches, too. No matter what skin you have, it never seems to be the ‘right’ one. It makes me beyond angry that Elle would do this. It’s beyond just photoshopping away acne or uneven skin tone – it’s stripping Rai of her cultural identity.