This post was written by guest contributor Emaan Majed.
On my grandmother’s dresser, there is a pink tube of cleverly marketed whitening cream. She applies it daily, despite being quite pale, despite claiming to hate the colonizers from whom it stems, despite being a health-freak and knowing that it contains hints of mercury. My grandmother is not unlike many Pakistani women in this aspect. My progressive, liberal, ‘I have never done a racist thing in my life’ aunts each own a bottle. The maids save up spending money to buy some in the bazaar. Then, they hope, if they can just get their hands on a bottle of Fair & Lovely, their lives will change. They will be desirable, marry well, have all the world’s luxuries, and no longer be unlovable dark girls.
Grow up on a diet of Pakistani culture and TV and you would likely believe the same thing. The commercials for products like Fair & Lovely, which have booming sales in Pakistan, follow an interestingly bold narrative. At the beginning, we usually meet a downtrodden, badly-off, dark-skinned girl with low self-worth. Within a few weeks of becoming whiter, though, her path takes a drastic turn for the better. She starts running into men who want her, and their approval is all that is needed to instantly validate her self-esteem. She gets a good job and is successful professionally. She laughs a lot. Everyone admires her for her skin tone, and she is finally happy. Products like Fair & Lovely don’t sell without a market for them. Pakistani pop culture thrives and feeds on shadism, discrimination between lighter skin and darker skin shades within a racial group. A more useful term for shadism is colorism, which emphasizes the internalization of these fair skin-superiority ideas. And as far as colorism in Pakistan, there seems to be no end to it.