50 Shades of Colourism: An Insight into South Asian Beauty Standards


Rachel Gunawan- The Northwood Howler

Hanan B (Year 12)

Summer’s coming up, and here in the west, everyone is coming outside to get a nice tan. But summer in South Asia can be a dreaded time for darker skinned people. Instead, we do everything we can to keep fair and lovely skin. From carrying umbrella’s to splurging on foundation 10 shades lighter, people quiver in fear of the sun. But what started this idea, and why is it still around today?  


When the British entered Hindustan (when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were one nation), they not only capitalised on a nation’s fragile disunity, but also corrupted the beauty standards. The coloniser aesthetic was the hottest new look, fair skin, pointy noses and tall, slim figures. If you didn’t have these features, no worries! There was always a job as a servant or a farmer. That’s right, people’s position in the hierarchy was influenced almost entirely by skin tone. The more privileged, light skinned South Asians were promoted to fancy British government jobs while the rest of were farmers. After breaking the nation into 2, causing 200 years of trauma, and stealing $45 trillion, the British finally had enough. 


Over the years, Bollywood has become world renowned for their various famous films, starring actresses such as Kareena Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut, Alia Bhatt, Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif, Taapsee Pannu, and Anushka Sharma. But notice something about all these actresses? They are all lighter-skinned girls playing desirable people in their movies. Now, I am not trying to discredit any of these actresses because of their skin tone, but the gap between light-skinned and dark-skinned actresses is way too big to be a coincidence. Young girls watch these movies which embed into their minds that only light-skinned girls are pretty. This is way worse knowing that some of these actresses also promote skin whitening creams.  

Skin Bleaching 

In 1975 the world was cursed with the dreaded “Fair and Lovely”, one of the first ever skin bleaching creams. A business which makes millions benefiting off people’s insecurities and internalised racism. It claims to achieve “Guaranteed Fairness,” but could also cause serious health issues. The cream caused melanin cells (melanocytes) to stop growing due to the corticosteroids, hydroquinone, and mercury in the cream. This causes lighter skin, but also may seep the bloodstream which is a HUGELY problematic. So only use prescribed skin lightening creams, otherwise stay far away from the ones on the grocery shelves. 


In the end, South Asia’s beauty standards are grounded in the systemic and historical racism of ignorant colonists from 80 years ago. The more you think about your skin tone, the more you are indoctrinated by the multimillion-dollar companies attempting to profit off your insecurities. There is so much to unpack in this complex issue, and it will take many years until dark skin gets the representation it deserves, but for now we can only hope that the voices of South Asians will finally be heard and understood.