Colorism, Mimicry, and Beauty Construction in Modern India

Having a fairer tone of skin is an obsession of many women in India. This explains a high rate sale of whitening products in India. Srivastav (2017) claims, skin whitening market in India values at over $200m. Among them is Fair and Lovely that currentlybholds a 50-70% share. India is one of the largest markets for skin whitening/lightening products in the world with an estimated 60-65% of its female population using skin whitening/lightening products, with the largest consumers of 16-35 years old (Franklin, 2012, p. 9).

Every year Indian community consumed more than 250 tons of whitening cream, and in 2010, according to AC Nielsen, whitening cream sales reached US$432 million, and in 2012 it became US$634 million (Pradityo, 2014, p. 114). Since 2000 there have been over 30 skin whitening/lightening products in India, and even sales are higher than Coca-Cola soda products (Franklin, 2012, p. 36). Bleaching or skin lightening products in India fall into the category of FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) in Personal Care Products. Based on data from the Market Survey in India on the sector, whitening or lightening products have a substantial portion of 56% or Rs11.75 billion from the total skincare sector worth Rs21 billion (Italian Trade Commission, 2008, p. 17). In India, self-confidence is a big issue, particularly among the dark-skinned female, and is exacerbated by a caste system.

Having a whiter or brighter skin is related to form of perception on the hierarchy of skin tones that are closely related to the history of colonization. The increasing use of skin whitening products in the world is shown by the increasing number of types and sale of these products. Rondilla (2012, p. 3) describes, in 2005, there were 62 new skin whitening products issued in the Asia Pacific market, which until 2009 increased to an average of 56 other new products. Suvattanadilok (2013, p. 1) says that based on the Global Industry Analysis, the sale of whitening or skin lightening products increased over time in the global cosmetics market. In 2012, this product increased by 2 billion sales in the Asia-Pacific market.

This sale or promotion of whites has been marketed in Asia for the last 10-20 years with Market Share on the product increasing in particular products from Japan and China over the previous 5-10 year (Mire, 2012, p. 274). Discussing the connection between post-colonialism and the use of skin whitening/lightening products to change skin tone is an important subject. According to Jemima Pierre (2008, p. 11), skin bleaching or any act of whitening should be included in the discussion of global structures due to differences and powers or as a form of racial hierarchy of the world. The ideology of whiteness as a form of power influences socio-political conditions, and even it impacts to their daily lives. As a globalizing phenomenon, whitening or brightening skin tones suggests that there is an issue of color discrimination that is closely related to colonialism, slavery or oppression in the past (Robinson, 2011, p. 86).



Homi Bhabha is well-known for his analysis of distortions over the original subject. His thoughts about mimicry and hybridism, radically question about the effectiveness of colonialism. In Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse (1984) Bhabha discusses the mimicry, which is the behavior of imitating whites by natives. Mimicry, thus, is an ambivalent strategy whereby subaltern people simultaneously express their submissive attitude to a stronger party and subvert that power by imitation. The concept of mimicry explains how colonial rulers encouraged colonized subjects to ‘imitate’ the invaders, by adopting custom culture, assumptions, colonizing institutions and their values. What happens is, mimicry has never been a simple reproduction of the properties desired by colonizers. Instead, the result is a ‘fuzzy copy’ of the invaders, because mimicry is another form of mockery. According to Bhabha (1994, p. 86), imitating colonial culture, behavior, manners, and colonial values contains elements of mockery as well as certain ‘threats’. Thus, mimicry expresses limitations in the authority of colonial discourse. According to Bhabha (1984, p. 126),

“…colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite. Mimicry is, thus, the sign of a double articulation; a complex strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other as it visualizes power.”

Furthermore, Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks (1952) argues, colonization does not only occur in terms of spatiality and economic benefits, but also leaves a profound psychological impact in the relations of colonized and colonialists. Through Western cultural insemination, Fanon saw that colored peoples perceive their culture, ideology and practice of their daily life as being inferior to whites. Fanon claims that the colored people reject their own social and cultural identity as they were inferior to the whites, thus creating a sense of envy to the colonizers. Colored people began to adopt the same values and ideals as the invaders. The long-term impact is that, the colonized peoples create a vision that deviates from their own world because they understand they will never and cannot become a white nation. Such thinking systems have created a continuous and prolonged power imbalance that results in a complex inferiority among the people of the colonized peoples. The colonial power has radically succeeded in influencing the way people see themselves in relation to ‘others’ who have different skin colors, religions and ideologies. Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth (1961) explains, the colonizers successfully make the colonized feel inferior. As a result, the colonized feel they need to wear a white mask (i.e. culture) as the only way to overcome that psychological disability, as such, European culture is ideal for imitation by natives. They use violence and upheld divide and rule strategies to keep the indigenous people down.

Fanon’s criticism centers on his view that imperialist powers not only colonize the lands and territories of colored nations, but also colonize their view of the world, termed ‘epistemological colonialism’. One of the colonization effects of knowledge presented by Fanon is the ‘alienation of black man’. Alienation refers to the classification of colonizers to the colored peoples who have lower intellectual abilities. Racism is a system maintained by the West to demonstrate the ability of the West to subjugate non-Westerners who can easily be exploited by the West. When the postcolonial period came, colonized countries seemed to have been freed from Western oppression and they were given the freedom to govern themselves. But in fact, Western imperialism against the developing world continues, one of them through the neo-liberal practices instilled by transnational corporations that exploit the cheap labor market in postcolonial countries. The inferiority complex implanted during colonization has a devastating effect on the minds of colonized people by altering their ontological perspective on the understanding of superior-inferior relationships with other ‘groups’ (Fanon, 1968). In the same vein, Edward Said’s theory of postcolonialism is based primarily on what he considers to be a misrepresentation of the Orient as Western explorers do through their poetry, novel, and theorized works by the philosophers, political and economic scientists as well as administrators of the empire since Napoleon’s occupation in 1798. According to Said, these Westerners have always shown the image that Orients are primitive and uncivilized, regarded as a comparison in contrast to the progress and values of Western civilization. In a very influential work, Orientalism (1978), Said considers that Orientalism is a style of thought based on the ontological and epistemological distinctions made between Orient and Occident (West) (Hamadi, 2014).

Hence, postcolonial studies are at the intersection of the debate between race, colonialism, gender, politics and language (Ashcroft, Griffith, and Tiffin, 1988). It is a paradox that in the midst of the desire to self-determination and the struggle against colonialism, there is the spread of values, norms and patterns of thinking and behaving like the rulers. Once there is physical and armed resistance to the goals of colonialism, there is at the same time acceptance of some cultural elements brought by the colonial authorities. Civilian missions propagated by the colonial authorities are consciously adopted by local communities with long-term consequences. Indigenous peoples are uncomfortable with the customs and structures of local systems that they have undergone for generations and there is a strong desire to change the system with the new system brought by the foreign ruler. Colonial thinking begins when there is an assumption that the writings, art, legal system, science and practice of social culture are always racialised and unequal, in which the colonial rulers position themselves as representative parties and indigenous peoples as represented. Post-colonialism divides historical, political, cultural areas into ‘western’ and ‘eastern’, implies not only a physical demarcation, more importantly, the division has created binary opposition. Postcolonialist writers like Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin (1988) argue that postcolonialism refers to the cultural enslavement occurred during colonialism to the present days.

Author : Baiq Wardhani, Era Largis, Vinsensio Dugis