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Why Indian Women Have Low Self-Esteem

Why Indian Women Have Low Self-Esteem

May 04, 2012

The media industry has concocted a brand new worry for us: the colour of our private parts.



If it wasn’t bad enough that Indian women are constantly being criticized by judgmental mother-in-laws, the media industry has concocted a brand new worry for us: the colour of our private parts.

Um, what?

Last time I checked, Nivea’s skin-lightening cream for underarms - promoted as “The Biggest Freedom Movement for Women”- was about as bad as it got. Even the multitude of hair removal creams available were treading a careful line. But a recent ad for Clean and Dry “intimate wash” launched on prime-time TV, promising women “protection, fairness and freshness” below the waistline, takes it to a whole new level. The ad depicts a young woman looking miserable and simultaneously wistful as she longs for a solution to her problem. Apparently Clean and Dry is what she’s been looking for, and post-use she’s all smiles, literally “brighter” down there, free now to frolic around with her man.

Advertising has always been about convincing people to buy things they don’t necessarily need (as Mad Men’s Don Draper so eloquently put it: “what you call love was invented by men like me to sell nylon socks”). For the most part advertising is relatively harmless if you take it with a pinch of salt. When celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan promote men’s skin-lightening creams (thank you Photoshop), you know you have to draw the line somewhere. But I think it’s been crossed here. Tapping into, and leeching onto the fear Indian women have of being ostracized because of their skin-colour, advertisers do what they do best: create a solution to an artificial problem.

The ad has received considerable media attention already with some critics commenting on India’s “fairness obsession”. Do we really need to be seen this way? How do we empower our women if they’re constantly being undermined by their own culture? Ads like this only serve to make them feel dirty and undesirable and for impressionable youngsters, can have lasting negative effects. For a country that’s progressed so much in some respects it’s appallingly lacking in others. And even the growing cosmetics for men industry can’t hope to compare to damaging ads like this. So much for equal standing; you only have to peruse the matrimonials section of the paper to see every man is looking for a “fairer” partner. Perversely, the same doesn’t apply in reverse. It’s a twisted statement of our society, and young women especially are susceptible, wrapped up in morbid age-old perceptions of what beauty should be.

Which begs the question: what’s next? What part of a woman’s body is still “fair game” as far as the media is concerned? You can’t fault the agencies for being out to make a quick buck- it’s a huge and lucrative market.

But for once advertising, take the high road. 

50 Comments

  • Preet
    By
    Preet
    02.11.12 04:26 AM
    The only thing left is a soap for your anal.. The good thing is it cant get any worst then this.
  • Richard Sumner
    By
    Richard Sumner
    28.08.12 11:48 AM
    IT'S CRAZY!!!!!!!

    We Whitees love getting a tan and many chose to use sunbeds to keep the tan for as long as possible and yet so many Indians just what to become whiter....

    I guess the grass is always greener on the other side...or should I say browner or whiter!!

    CRAZY
  • PMLokanathan
    By
    PMLokanathan
    08.06.12 12:38 PM
    It effects a small segment of wwomen in this country.
    It is not good.
  • Mr Wacrus Wacrus
    By
    Mr Wacrus Wacrus
    07.06.12 03:06 PM
    Don't blame the British Raj, your caste system existed long before any white men appeared and as for oral sex, it's always existed!!!!
  • aguardente c.
    By
    aguardente c.
    07.06.12 09:17 AM
    Haaaaa! and white people go to get a tan at solariums to look more attractive! It is true however that light tones of red e.g. pink attract sexually more than anything else, hence the lipstick, therefore, men should do that too because too dark that thing doesn't look that big or great either!
  • T
    By
    T
    07.06.12 02:55 AM
    I would submit that the underlying issue stems from years of white rule and our Colonial past. And I would also submit that the underlying issue is not just one specific to India. I am part of the Indian diaspora. My family has been removed from India since the early 1900's. My ancestors were taken to the West Indies as indentured servants by the British. However even though we have been in the West Indies for generations and have little in common culturally with India. The same exact sentiments and feelings around the colour of your skin still exists. You would be surprised how many times a conversation about a particular person is started or ended by the sentiment "but he/she too dark ehh?"
    Furthermore this sentiment exists to a lesser degree among the black community. The other large population group in the West Indies are the descendants of black slaves. There the equation of beauty as a function of skin colour also exists. Though to a lesser extent than in the Indian diaspora.

    So what is the solution to this issue within our society both within India as well as the diaspora? That is a hard question. I think it will take a fundamental shift in thinking. As a country we have cast off the physical oppression of the British Raj. As a people we need to do this mentally as well. We need to re-define our concepts of beauty.
  • Priya Gupt
    By
    Priya Gupt
    06.06.12 11:47 PM
    All this just goes to prove how Indians are STILL so backward in their thinking... and are still white-suckers.
  • iain
    By
    iain
    06.06.12 11:25 PM
    I'm married to an Indian, one of three sisters whose treatment by their mother was based on skin colour.
    The sister with the lightest skin was put on a pedestal and treated with reverence while the other two, particularly my wife who has very dark skin, were treated like slaves.
    Until the bulk of Indian society matures and becomes educated about these non-sensical views on skin-colour, little will change.
    Both Bollywood and the cosmetic industry have a lot to answer for because their actions re-affirm this warped view of the world. In effect, they are condoning cultural apartheid.
  • Andy
    By
    Andy
    06.06.12 10:54 PM
    Ironic - isn't it? - that so many European women spend hours each week in solariums, at great risk to their future health, in order to look nicely bronzed, while, judging by the article, whitening potions are catching on in India.
  • R Hurtz
    By
    R Hurtz
    06.06.12 07:30 PM
    Vivek Iyer: before the FMCG's there were Indian companies -- read the Illustrated Weekly from the '60's and '70's and you'll always find Afghan Snow advertised. Don't kid yourself that this is something new and imported from the west!!

    By: Vivek Iyer
    on May 4, 2012
    at 12:25 pm
    Great article!
    Adding to the point, I think its specifically these FMCG companies that thrive on marketing, and have one of the most misleading and innovative ad strategies.
  • Akash
    By
    Akash
    06.06.12 01:41 PM
    India is obsessed with fairness and this is the height of it!

    Mentally we are still slaves of the british era.
  • Queen B
    By
    Queen B
    06.06.12 10:57 AM
    The obsession with 'fairness' does not begin and end with India and is certainly not part of our culture or tradition. I am one of those rare dark-skinned Indian woman married to a fair-skinned Indian man. I remember non-Indian fairy tales from my childhood where the princesses had complexions that would put a cold corpse to shame. This is a trend in the West & Far East too - whiter, paler, blemish-free skin. Advertisers will always exploit our ignorance so we need to educate ourselves and our younger generation and not be focusing on the colour of our body parts that don't even see the sun!
  • Muneeb Bhat
    By
    Muneeb Bhat
    06.06.12 08:38 AM
    This is what one of my respected teacher called 'Mental Colonialism'. He said that we may be politically independent but mentally, we're still locked in the same cage of racial inequality. This is what the advertisers are exploiting.
  • Romaine
    By
    Romaine
    06.06.12 08:36 AM
    Being a European and of the fairer sex I'd like to point out that we are spending millions on tanning parlours and tanning products. All for the sake of feeling more desirable.
  • Maria
    By
    Maria
    06.06.12 06:49 AM
    If Indian women don't want to subject their nether regions to bleaching cream or be subjected to constant pressures about their skin tone, they should pick up stakes and move the the US. I know plenty of enlightened men here who appreciate dark skin and a foreign accent.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    22.05.12 08:00 PM
    With added functionalities if the older men could rise up to an occasional orgy would be worth trying some products like German tweezers that promise painless hair removal for men. LOL
  • MahaLingam
    By
    MahaLingam
    22.05.12 04:43 PM
    While we are at cleaning and drying and making the area fair, shouldn't there be a third ingredient to depilate the area?

    With this added functionality, old men could use the same cream get rid of hair on their ears and noses and as an added bonus make tips of noses little lighter.
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 07:20 PM
    @ atheist Indian I agree.
    But I would India has a larger problem in hand than that.
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 07:19 PM
    @ Tys it is not, just because a company is peddling water mixed with chemicals,does not make it safe or necessary. Several studies and any doctor with sense will tell you that.It is actually bad for you.
    thats like when the doctors prescribed smoking in the 1930-40's because they thought it was good for you!
  • Atheist Indian
    By
    Atheist Indian
    10.05.12 10:41 AM
    @ Mojo
    I don't see how it is relevant. Ethnic eroticisation doesn't validate women, but objectifies them based on cultural stereotypes and imagined eroticism. It is not very different from Indian men who eroticise white women as 'easy' and 'good in bed'.

    @ tys
    Agreed. I prefer to keep my conversations with women strictly away from their hygiene practices and stuff like that. There are some things which are best not talked about and this is one of those. As long as they look good, feel good, smell nice and taste yummy...
  • tys
    By
    tys
    10.05.12 02:25 AM
    harry, u just dont ask your female friends about their sex lives...u just don't...i live by the bro code...i do have rules...there are six of them i live by...in the meaningless lingering of my existence, it does make sense to have some semblance of order.

    mojo, water or feminine washing, dont u think that the person who has the need or want has the last word on it?... give to ceaser what is ceaser's and to woman what is hers.
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 01:11 AM
    @ Atheist Indian..I have had american guys who went gaga over hispanic and Indian women, it was something about them bein exotic and like chocolate compared to Vanilla.
    Yes I know corny,but this was years ago and they were horny american boys in college.
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 01:07 AM
    Oh brother please... @ TYS..any woman with half a brain in her, knows..Water is the best cleanser. This is like when douching was huge in the US in the 60's and 70's. My MIL etc..did it because thats how these things were marketed.
    If you doubt me ask that douche Dr. OZ (pun intended):)
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    09.05.12 08:19 PM
    @ TYS

    Well if I am going to hell for my cunnilingus hobby, I want to know. :) And since when are you afraid of getting your arse kicked, you like pushing boundaries, and also born rude. :) Awaiting for your answer. :)

    HARRY
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    09.05.12 05:56 PM
    By: Rajpriya
    on May 9, 2012
    at 12:23 pm
    @Atheist Indian,

    I do apologise. I am sure I have been dreaming and saw offence when there was none.

    Today I seem to be dreaming and even posted my apology in the wrong place. Sorry about that.
  • tys
    By
    tys
    09.05.12 05:37 PM
    when on earth did he do that? I been following this comment section over the week ( cant help myself when the topic involves womens' body parts and references to cunnilingus) but i dont think anyone AI said those things...

    but i did talk abt this to female friends of mine who are by now used to my curiousity and answers all my queries ...feminine wash as these are called have been around for a long time...apparently it is a prefered thing becoz the concerned is a sensitive area and the wash is gentle and something abt some ph factor...its been in use by women of different countries ( I spoke to filipino, indian, german , english girls...noone can accuse me of bad research)...and they like it...they dont feel its insulting...its as insulting as the existence of aftershave or a deo...

    so heres what i feel...why on earth are we getting so sensitive about things? We do we see an insult where there might be none?

    i didnt ask if the area tasted different after its is doused...theres a thin line between good friends and getting your arse kicked.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    09.05.12 05:22 PM
    @Atheist Indian,

    But you do seem to be judgemental and too radical about Indian women. You gone to the extent calling them smelly, black below and the sort.

    Can you explain this attitude?
  • Atheist Indian
    By
    Atheist Indian
    09.05.12 01:37 PM
    @ HARRY
    I have no idea how I meet these sort of guys. Perhaps because when it comes to people, I tend to have as non-judgemental as I can be. I live my life on with a very pragmatic outlook. I have a strong distaste for religion but I don't hate people who are religious. I strongly disagree with marriage but I don't refuse to attend people's weddings.

    Look at it this way. If these guys hate certain sexual acts, it is fine. If they have unrealistic expectations, I can't blame them. Most of these guys have never seen a naked woman till they are past 20, by which time their personalities, tastes and prefences in most aspects of life is already set. I can only tell them to be more realistic and hope that the strength of biological drives cures them out of their misgivings.

    Ah well, I am starting to sound like a Zen philosopher.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    08.05.12 08:23 PM
    @ Atheist Indian

    LOL :) :) :) .....................
    I have never laughed this much in my whole life dude. Thanks for that.

    You are saying that oral sex is still considerd gross and taboo in the desi culture, akin to eating beef. :) :) I just can't stop laughing at above sentence.

    I must be the baddest hindu living on the planet and posiblly eaten a cow and a half by now. :) From what you are saying. I will definitely will go to hell for this. :)

    I am not outraged. The thing I am saying is only fair. The other thing that you said was that mainland Indian males have such unrealistic preferences of women's bodies. Where do you hang out with these sort of guys!!!! I have never met one like this in my life, and if I did, I would bitch slap him.

    It's time you changed your friends before they change you. :)

    HARRY
  • Atheist Indian
    By
    Atheist Indian
    08.05.12 01:50 PM
    @ Rajpriya AND HARRY
    He wasn't gay, just a normal desi male. And he wasn't unique in his tastes. Most desi men loath going down on a woman, which I suspect is for the same reason he had. He wasn't particularly an ass, just an honest male under the influence of alcohol. I am sure his dad had the same attitudes as well, given that oral sex is still considered gross and taboo in the desi culture, akin to eating beef.

    Hell, there are traditional men who get turned off in sexual positions that put women in control. It is hilarious, to say the least. A Bengali friend of mine told of this problem she had with an ex. What do you think such attitudes do to women in the country?

    And Harry, cut that outrage. Do you think I didn't explain to him what you just did? It is not MY problem that mainland Indian males have such unrealistic preferences of women's bodies. I just laid it out as it is.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    07.05.12 08:09 PM
    @ Atheist Indian

    Is your friend gay? The things you describe, which he doesn't like doing sounds gay to me. Have you ever heared of photo shop, that's what they use in the porn mags and all other media and you know what, people don't look like that in real life.

    You and I both know that women don't smell like roses down below. Even white women's genitals are darker tone then their own skin colour. I thought you knew this having polish girlfriend.

    The guys who complain about women and their dark bits are a sort, who shaves their chest and pubic region, this is equal new metrosexual, but if you ask me this equals gay. It's normally this sort of guys who doesn't like going down.

    Give me dark any day, and I think this is about personal hygiene not dark bits.

    The other thing that you need to explain to your friend is that, the porn is not real. The act may appear real but it's not real, take my word for it.
    So don't put women down because of their colour, they don't need this BS.

    HARRY
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.05.12 07:38 PM
    @Atheist Indian,

    I really like to know where your friend's Dad went down to get an an a**h**e like him out? LOL
  • Atheist Indian
    By
    Atheist Indian
    07.05.12 06:09 PM
    *he avoids going down
  • Atheist Indian
    By
    Atheist Indian
    07.05.12 06:08 PM
    I remember sometime during my college days, a friend told me he avoid going down on Indian girls because their "c*** is so black". He'd go for 'fair' girls and still end up with 'black c'. I told him if he saw any women with how he wanted the genitals to be. His said 'yes, in porn'. If porn is where Indian men learn how a woman's body is supposed to be, then perhaps there is very little hope...

    Western women are targeted with advertisements far worse - bleaching, douching, cosmetic surgery and what not, just so that their genital looks and smells like a flower. If we overlook the fairness obsession, Indian women have actually been able to get away with a lot, it seems the western trends of looking like barbie dolls and smelling like roses is catching up.
  • Vishal
    By
    Vishal
    07.05.12 12:50 PM
    Very good points raised. Until society doesn't get rid of this dogma it's trapped in, women will keep going through mental turmoil.

    It would be good if women stop giving into these crappy traditions of society and take a stand for themselves.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    05.05.12 10:00 PM
    When I first saw this ad in march in India, the first word out of my mouth was "WHAT THE F**K".

    When it sunk in, I said to my self, when did Indian housewife started frolicking with keys. :) :)

    Then I thought to my self, why not record this and show it the wife, to give her some ideas, then I decided to go against it remembering the acute pain in my ribs from back of the elbow after explaining her the certain functions of the housewife.

    Women canbe nasty sometimes, they don't know what's good for them. :)

    As for Indian women, they are not as thick and gullible as others think. They know which side to butter the bread. As for Nivea, here today gone tomorrow.

    HARRY
  • Vikram Karve
    By
    Vikram Karve
    05.05.12 08:24 PM
    Food for Thought - and introspection
  • indu chhibber
    By
    indu chhibber
    05.05.12 06:09 PM
    What else can we expect from these advertisers? But it is up to us women to not fall into their trap.
  • protik
    By
    protik
    05.05.12 05:39 PM
    Damn well written!

    Its a vicious cycle really...I mean, heck, the skin whitening market is one of the biggest industry today.

    Just imputing our sense of morality on a business decision is something that wont do much god until the attitude that fees the demand changes. A businessman will make money from an opportunity

    And we do give that opportunity to them. When legions of bride seekers seek fair (pun!) and wide, the creams go off the shelf and then more money is poured in.

    Instead of blaming the ads, which just reflects an economic reality, we need to just look really deep inside. We may find that we are more racist or fair-minded (pun!) that we believe.

    We change ourselves and harass those around us to change, the ads would disappear!!
  • Nitin
    By
    Nitin
    05.05.12 03:51 PM
    unfortunately in India no agencies monitor, verifies the claims made or wrong/ confusing information transmitted in ads, unless someone files a case/ litigation. The ads can be annoying and demeaning and so are so many other things, much larger e.g Bollywood movies. All the educated, liberal, crown winners have been reduced to an item and nobody objects. So Indian women unfortunately dont have much to look upto. But I think it has nothing to do with Indian culture. Indian culture and religions are highly accommodating for new ideas and respectful...and I dont think these ads are representative of our culture in any ways !
  • tys
    By
    tys
    05.05.12 02:01 PM
    suresh, if that was intended to be a tongue in cheek comment, i applaud u man. That was brilliant. Why wud anyone want to mask the scent of a woman? Must be the same idiots who like men to have hairless chests.
  • mak
    By
    mak
    05.05.12 02:15 AM
    This is not the power women need. There has to be certain levels of maturity when it comes to dignity of women.

    On the contrary, you can not term all the women have self esteem based on this ad. It is some profit making buggers who come up with something like this. pity.
  • Vivek Iyer
    By
    Vivek Iyer
    04.05.12 05:55 PM
    Great article!
    Adding to the point, I think its specifically these FMCG companies that thrive on marketing, and have one of the most misleading and innovative ad strategies.
  • C. Suresh
    By
    C. Suresh
    04.05.12 04:26 PM
    An article of great taste about a tasteless ad. and equally tasteless product. Kudos
  • Stutii
    By
    Stutii
    04.05.12 04:13 PM
    Basically we are not mentally free. We still feel Fairer is better. Still Indian people use the word 'beautiful' girl for generally one who is fair. "Is desh me ladka bhale kaisa bhi ho par ladki to use gori hi chahiye" A very typical mentality where all the mother in laws generally be unhappy if her boy selects even wheaty complexioned girl. All the qualities of the girl remain unseen just if she is not Fair.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    04.05.12 02:09 PM
    Things were different when grandmothers never used Nivea. Stop using Nivea. Protest against Nivea for making women feel they are dirty.

    Only in India there is problem empowering women. figure out how to. Make a start today.
  • Khadija
    By
    Khadija
    04.05.12 12:30 PM
    "How do we empower our women if they’re constantly being undermined by their own culture? Ads like this only serve to make them feel dirty and undesirable and for impressionable youngsters, can have lasting negative effects."

    Hey, I heard about this from a friend a couple of weeks ago. What the hell, ya?
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    04.05.12 12:08 PM
    Women of the world are so dependent on Nivea to look what they really aren’t. They have made Nivea Rich and Bold. Nivea will exploit this weakness of women to create a new need all the time. Read below what some women say:-

    " All I want is you, oh its you. Only you" its for sun-kissed moisturizer and I think for shaving but she gets on a motorcycle at the end.

    Most of my bath and body purchases are done on the fly – as I hasten down the aisle at a grocery store, I might stop for a moment when my eye catches some different color or packaging. That’s how I found this gem – pun intended. The label on the bottle of Nivea’s Diamond Related posts: Fresh Crème Ancienne Eye Cream Body Lotion Reviews MAC Gives Lips a High Beam Shine with Dazzleglass Creme ...

    And those of you born 1930 – 1979
    http://petemarkiw.websitetoolbox.com/post?id=3632386
  • Jyoti Agarwal
    By
    Jyoti Agarwal
    04.05.12 10:16 AM
    The first time I saw the ad, it felt so ridiculous and funny at the same time. A very well written article on the issue and a witty comment by Jayanth.

    It was ok by time by the time they were concentrating on face, body color, or even underarms. However, this has taken it to a whole new level.

    Jyoti
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    By
    Jayanth Tadinada
    04.05.12 10:02 AM
    "Give me an insecurity and I will exploit it for profit"

    "But Sir, we are already exploiting pretty much every insecurity for profit"

    "Oh is it? What are you waiting for? Create one! Innovation is the key you see..."

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