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.

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