Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nothing fair in love and fairness

Dark isn’t beautiful. In fact, some would even go as far as to calling it ugly. This is a truth most of us would deny, because directly or indirectly, we have contributed to these attitudes towards complexion. This state of denial we live in could be the reason for the outrage about the Maliban White Chocolate Puff commercial.

The storyline of the commercial is simple and familiar; a female is visited by a potential suitor and sitting next to him is a matchmaker. The lady is shades darker than the male, who isn’t fair either. He comments on her skin color, saying, “Slightly dark… She’s might even be darker than I am.” The matchmaker explains that the lady is dark because she eats chocolate. The lady’s fair and younger sister serves them White Chocolate Puff, and the potential suitor is visibly impressed. When he comments on her complexion, the matchmaker says it’s because she eats White Chocolate Puff. The potential suitor inquires if something can be worked out between him and the younger sister, which the matchmaker refuses to do. The commercial ends with the words, ‘Sudata lol ayata’ or ‘For those fascinated with whiteness’.

People have their opinions about the commercial. Most hated it; some didn’t see a reason to pull off the commercial. However, it was often labeled as offensive, misogynist and racist. Was it offensive because it ridiculed society and forced people to accept that this was not a made up situation, but something many females experience? The commercial seems like it’s set a decade or two ago. However, even today, dark complexions are considered a flaw. They may no longer be linked with ethnicity or caste, but still make a female less desirable or beautiful.

It starts when people are young. Relatives gather around new born babies and comment on their skin color. Nicknames are often given based on complexion; sudu putha, kalu duwa. These kids are told not to spend hours in the hot sun, not because of the effect on one’s health, but because they will get dark. As females grow up, they are introduced to fairness creams. Today, even men are told that dark isn’t handsome. Models are fair. Actors and actresses are fair. The advertisements and commercials have fair ladies. So of course it offended people when Maliban, or rather the advertising firm behind the commercial, not only used a dark female in the commercial, but also exposed how society discriminated based on color.

‘Surathal Nangiye’ is a song today’s youth grew up listening to. While the siblings argue about if their mother or father is the better parent, the brother sings, “nangige thaththa kaluma kaluyi, ape ammanam suduma suduyi, ebawin amma piyata wadiyen, sudu paatin inhalayi” (your father is very dark, our mother is very fair, therefore our mother is better than our father when it comes to how fair they are). To this the sister replies that if being fair/‘white’ is considered beautiful, even a coconut kernel is white, therefore the brother would find a coconut kernel the most beautiful of all things.

These verses remind us all of the truth the Maliban commercial made use of. Being fair makes you beautiful and better. No one wants to get married to a dark female, and if you are going to deny this or protest that views on complexion have changed, go through the matrimonial page of newspapers. Most parents seek not just beautiful, slim or smart females, but also fair females. So for all those who found the Maliban commercial offensive, please find some time to raise your voice, or at least dedicate a tweet or two, against these requirements of grooms and their families.

Listen to relatives discuss the single and of-marriageable-age females of the family. They would list out the good qualities of the female and then add at the end, “…but she’s dark.” It’s almost as if this dark complexioned girl would be perfect if not for that terrible shade of her skin. A female can be educated, pleasant and have a good job but none of that would matter if she’s dark.

Maliban was bold enough to bring attention to this prejudice, and after pulling the commercial off because it was considered offensive, they also apologized. It is rare for a company to issue an apology the same day. Maliban admitted they were in the wrong. They admitted the commercial was colorist. However, where is society’s apology?

One could ask, “Why should a ‘collective’ apologize for attitudes that not everyone shares?” Not everyone may share this attitude, true. However, if we look at the attitudes people have toward dark skin, it’s safe to say the majority opinion doesn’t favor them. Cosmetic products tell us that dark isn’t lovely. Commercials, films and the fashion industry tell us that dark isn’t beautiful. Nicknames and notices in matrimonial sections tell us that dark skinned people, especially females, are not desirable. Regardless of age, people avoid the sun and often, the first thing they say to other people is, “My! How dark you have become!” So no, it’s not a closed-minded few who think that a dark complexion is a flaw. It’s not only Maliban that thinks fair is better than dark.

Maliban White Chocolate Puff is for those who desire the fair skinned; the closed-minded people like the potential suitor in the commercial. However, Chocolate Puff warns you of biting into happiness (‘Balagena, happy hapeyi’). The chocolate biscuits, the darker sister has, are full of happiness. The suitor, if he was wiser, would have chosen happiness over fair skin.

Fair is lovely. It is beautiful or handsome. It isn’t, however, better than being dark. Dark, too, is lovely, beautiful or handsome. It isn’t our complexion that makes us good or bad people. It’s our actions, attitudes and behavior. By discriminating based on color, you aren’t being a good person, no matter how fair you are.