Skin deep: the issue of colourism


By Aiman Siddiqi

“None of us is responsible for the complexion of his skin. This fact of nature offers no clue to the character or quality of the person underneath.” -Marian Anderson


It is true that the skin we are born with cannot be our choice but somehow we still choose to think that one type of skin colour is better than the other. The world is full of all kinds of discriminations, racism and sexism being the most highlighted ones but one topic for which much is usually left unsaid and is thus unheard of is colourism. Perhaps because it is seen as a less serious issue and our minds have been programmed to believe that skin colour can simply be changed by constantly using a fairness cream.

Since women are judged more for their looks than men are, colourism affects them much more. Ever since childhood, many girls are told to stop playing outside as the sun will make them ‘dark’. The use of fairness creams, which often include harmful ingredients, is started at a very young age to prevent said ‘darkness’. This is an issue that is spread across many Asian countries especially the South Asian part of the continent. Countries like India and Pakistan are full of dark skinned individuals who are made to believe that if they were fair, somehow all of their problems would subside.

cream-194126_1920Fairness cream commercials for brands like ‘Fair and Lovely’ bring forth the impression that women are the equivalent of their looks and fair skin will solve all their problems. A few dollops of a magic fairness product and they’ll get all the men and ‘rishtas’, a good job and financial independence.

Now, adverts like these clearly bring down not only dusky women but also fair skinned ones by depicting that the most important thing about a woman is her beauty or lack thereof, and to be beautiful and a success one must be fair skinned.

Upon visiting major supermarkets across the country, one notices that the majority of products in the skin care section are fairness products; as if a tanned complexion is the only possible skin issue and fairness will cover up any other skin problem.

Girls are always told to stay out of the sun, not drink tea and start using harmful chemicals on their skin which can seriously cause skin problems and not to mention the dependency and low self-esteem these products and ads bring about. Commercials for fairness creams are similar to commercials for washing powders. Take something dark, use product and make it whiter and brighter. Dark skin is such a stigma in our part of the world that we are constantly indoctrinated with the idea of fair skin, this affects our confidence. The ‘Kaali’ Pakistani individual will have to work doubly hard to prove her worth in comparison to her paler counterpart.


Ridiculous adverts basically tell us that our college degree is as good as trash unless we have fair skin to go along with it. All those years of education and working hard mean nothing because you’re not the right colour. Even in marriage and relationships, if you want your man’s respect, you’d better be fair skinned.

And instead of letting go of this primitive ideology, our society continues to linger about the concept. The aunties choose to only bring a fair ‘bahu’ (daughter in law) into the house and consider it one of the most important criteria for marriage. They also perpetuate this mentality in to the minds of their sons who happily go on rejecting and not even approaching women who are dark skinned.

Celebrities that people look up to continuously wager this idea upon our heads making us think that we will be more desirable if we had lighter skin. Not only in Asia but all around Hollywood as well, the white actors are the ones being given major roles. As was the case with the biopic of Rumi. Rumi was a very iconic Afghani-Persian poet so he was clearly not a blue-eyed, blonde haired Caucasian man. However, the person touted to play him was Leonardo DiCaprio. People of colour are always sidelined to secondary roles and there is no denying that a majority of the magazine covers of people of colour are white-washed, their skin is lightened, the texture of their hair changed, even eye colour can become a problem.

The Pakistani media also continues to do the same. Celebrities of all ages and from varying mediums have endorsed whitening products; from Fawad Khan’s fairness cream to Zubaida Apa’s infamous whitening soap, colourism is as prevalent in our media as it is abroad.

David Hume eloquently defines beauty by saying, “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” But there are individuals who relish in their “societal” beauty and stop others from breaking free from this stereotype. In our daily lives people all around us naively say things that always reinforce the stigma attached to dark skin. Everyday things like, “that colour doesn’t suit your skin” or ‘jokes’ like “can’t see you in the dark” maintain the hierarchy of fair skin in society thus degrading all other skin tones.

All the ‘kaalay’ jokes maybe non-serious but are truly confidence shattering for the people that go through them. Pakistan being a country that is already so divided doesn’t need division on the nonsensical basis of one’s skin colour. It is time that people start to reject the ‘ideal standards of beauty in society’ and not only accept each other but also themselves; skin tone included.

Liked it? Take a second to support admin on Patreon!


  1. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I actually
    enjoyed reading it, you could be a great author.I will remember to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back at some point.
    I want to encourage yourself to continue your great writing, have a nice weekend!