Consumer Pulse
- Fair skin in
India and the
UK: Two Sides
of the Same
Laura Woodward, Singapore

It is no secret that fair skin is aspirational in India (and many other parts of Asia) and tanned skin is aspirational in the UK (and many other parts of the West). Indian scriptures, epics and folk tales depict fair-skinned women as good and dark-skinned women as evil. Fair-skinned superiority was embedded in the psyche early on.

This attitude toward skin colour has been compounded over centuries by colonisation. Many conquerors throughout India’s history have been fair-skinned, which culminated in and ended after 200 years of British rule. However, India’s love affair with pale skin has endured – the desire for fair skin is driven by the need to display wealth and status.

Symbolic Episode from the Ramayana

In the UK, the ‘bronze’ age has come and gone several times – the popularity of tanned skin has mirrored Britain’s economic history. In the 1,000 years preceding the industrial revolution, fair skin was aspirational: the aristocracy were moneyed enough to be able to stay indoors. However, in the early 1900’s, the industrial revolution drove everyone indoors: to work in factories and to ‘play’ indoors, away from pollution.

Coco Chanel popularised the sun tan in the 1920’s but it wasn’t until the economic prosperity of the 1960’s when Britons could afford to travel to sunny countries like Spain and afford a suntan. Tanned skin is still a symbol of economic progress in the UK to this day.

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