Unfair & Unlovely

May 28, 2010

OMG Shahrukh Khan "Fair & Handsome" -  Seriously?

OMG Shahrukh Khan "Fair & Handsome" - Seriously?!

I’ve very intentionally avoided this subject despite its relevancy to South Asia, but it’s close to summertime and now that Shah Rukh Khan is involved it’s borderline political, so it’s within my jurisdiction.

“Fair and Lovely” face cream is so pervasive in “desi” culture that it’s a household name amongst both Resident and non Resident Pakistani’s. International diplomats, the United Nations, countless non profits have all failed to get India and Pakistan to agree on nukes, trade, cricket, religion (the list goes on) but when it comes to the primal issues of attraction, both have consistently been on the same page. Visit the Fair and Lovely website and you’re confronted with images of a woman’s face growing progressively lighter and the slogan: “Gorepan se kahin ziyada SAAF GORAPAN”  Translation: “Even more Whiteness than Whiteness”. I kid you not, that is an accurate translation literally and contextually speaking, and yes despite this, we are still in the 21’st Century.

So this week Shahrukh Khan’s face is seen promoting the creams male counterpart, “Fair and Handsome”. The Telegraph reports “despite doubts of the effectiveness, the sight of Khan’s chiseled features endorsing the cream has angered campaigners, who say it’s “racist” to promote lighter skin as superior”

Shahid Afridi's Pretty Chiseled

Shahid Afridi's Pretty Chiseled

Alright, first off Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t from any angle I can see have “chiseled” features. Shahid Afridi is more chiseled than him. But, that’s besides the point and doesn’t invalidate the fact that billions of men and women around the world idolize Khan and find him very attractive, hence the lakhs of rupees I’m sure he’s receiving for this endorsement. But with such immense fame, comes responsibility and his endorsement of Fair & Handsome cream is justifiably being labeled “racist” by angry campaigners.

I grew up in California where girls lay out in the sunshine all summer to quite frankly, try and get skin like mine. When sunshine isn’t an option, they confine themselves into what are nothing shortof human frying pans, lids closed in tanning beds as they do their best to maintain my shade of golden brown all year long. So it’s no surprise that I love my mocha skin. Always have. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Tan skin is part and parcel of being a Californian. Just listen to Katy Perry or the Beach Boys. In this part of the world, tan has always been undeniably sexy.

Maria & Zainab - Perfect Beach tans ;)

Zainab & Maria - Perfect Beach tans

Which is why the angered campaigners in India are correct in denouncing the Shah Rukh Khan endorsement; it perpetuates an unhealthy, yes racist fascination with fair skin. The reason it’s racist while the the girls in California wallowing in tanning beds isn’t is because “Fair & Lovely” occurs in a post-colonial context. You’d think that as oppressed subjects having suffered and struggled to fight of massive injustices of colonialism until Partition wherein India severed itself into two as a result (the birth of Pakistan) looking like the oppressor would be unpopular. But instead fair skin is the ultimate desire in desi land, and it’s mind boggling because European skin tones are not naturally attainable in South Asia.

Sure evolutionary biology will tell you that humans are innately attracted to beautiful people. According to biologists, we’re attracted to relatively youthful characteristics because they’re indicative of heightened fertility (i.e. lustrous hair, hourglass figures, large eyes and clear skin) but a preference for skin color really is only skin deep. South Asians naturally have darker skin and there’s no reason it should be touted as inferior.

Out of chance I happened to have grown up in a particular part of the West that values darker skin, but had I lived in Pakistan I might not have been so lucky. It’s a sad realization, because skin color is not in our control, which is why it’s problematic when corporations like Fair and Lovely seize control in attempt to create preferences where none should exist. They’re preying on insecurities to peddle their products which is done by all advertisers, but this one goes too far because it’s racist.

Shame on Shah Rukh Khan for endorsing Fair & Handsome cream; it’s not a “fair” or “handsome” move on his part.  It’s Unfair and Ugly.



  1. clearly, he got a nose job as well.


  2. “the grass is always greener on the other side…” -its the most cliche and widely used saying but still very apt particularly for the point you raise here.

    While you wont have anyone else’s support stronger than mine across the points you raise of celebrity endorsement / advertising / social responsibilities.
    I believe it would be unfair to tag it as “racist” (in the western world definition)

    The roots for this issue lie in the deep set ‘inferiority complex’ in the Indian sub-continental mentally. And like every business, even these FMCG companies are exploiting / leveraging this market need & consumer fear / complex of skin color.

    Wouldn’t you say the West’s urge for a tan also crops from the same human emotion to ‘Want’ something that they don’t have ? Would you consider the Sun-tanning / spray tanning salon advertisements also as ‘racist’ ?
    (Besides cosmetic surgeries -Women who have straight hair spend $ on hair-perm and curlers… and women who have curls burn their hair with straightening irons! again wanting wat u dont hv )

    But I commend your voice in raising the larger issue here …. best said by Spiderman’s uncle “with great powers comes greater responsibility..” Hence, I second you in the opinion that our celebrities, corporates and ad-agencies need to show more conscience to eradicate such socio-evil stereotypes of our emerging countries.


  3. Hi Zainab! I can’t agree more with you! I am Pakistan and I write a beauty blog and was actually going to research the ingredients found in Fair & Lovely to find out how damaging this product is for skin. I refuse to believe it is healthy for skin. Other than that, I am excited to explore your blog and hear your take on Pak politics. Have you by chance read Three Cups of Tea? I am reading it now, and I love it because it is rich in historical information about Pakistan in addition to the story about building schools. I definitely recommend it!


  4. I don’t think there’s anything unfair in this. Fair skin IS considered the epitome of beauty in South Asia, and if it is, then why can’t SRK be the one selling the fairness cream?! His fan following may attempt to be more like him by wanting to be “fair” and thus buying the product, but they can do that even by wanting to act in films or drink Pepsi. If promoting an unhealthy soda isn’t wrong, why should this be?


  5. Please petition!!! https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-racism-in-indian-media-and-movies please sign up and share!!! lets create a new India of respect and dignity!!!


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