India Debates Skin-Tone Bias as Beauty Companies Alter Ads

“While movements like Black Lives Matter have had a profound impact in the West, in South Asian countries it is still a long-drawn battle,” she said.

Ms. Emmanuel said that skin-tone biases had the greatest impact on marriage and social issues but that in some fields, including entertainment, hospitality and modeling, “the qualification goes without saying that you need to be fair-skinned, particularly for women.”

Other commentators, though, insisted that colorism in India is different from racism in the West.

“The preference for lighter skin is largely aesthetic and does not have structural economic or power consequences,” said Dipankar Gupta, a well-known sociologist.

“It is not as if a policeman would routinely harass darker-skinned people,” Mr. Gupta added. “Indians can recognize class and status through a number of markers, but skin color is not one of them.”

Still, across India, there is great social pressure for people to seek light-skinned spouses.

Mohinder Verma, a businessman, defended placing an ad in a newspaper in which he sought for his son a “tall, good-looking” bride with “fair skin” who has a university degree but prefers to be a stay-at-home wife.

Mr. Verma, 72, said parents in India felt pressure within their social circles to find brides for their sons who look “gori,” or fair, although he agreed that “this thinking needs to change.”

“It’s somehow ingrained in our minds,” said Mr. Verma, who lives in the northern Indian state of Punjab. “When you have a dark-skinned daughter-in-law, people talk behind your back. They ask what wrong had we committed in our previous life.”

A 2017 study of 1,992 Indians found that more than half said they were influenced by TV advertisements to appear lighter-skinned.

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