The crowning of first Indian-American Miss America Nina Davuluri may have highlighted some American xenophobia, but comparing her to Indian pageant winners has others discussing Indian prejudices. "What's interesting is Miss America Nina Davuluri would never win pageants in South Asia because she'd be too dark to be considered beautiful," journalist Anna John tweeted. Davuluri looks "too 'Indian' to ever be Miss India," Lakshmi Chaudhry wrote in First Post.
India's skin-color obsession drives a whitening-cream market valued at $432M in 2010. Beauty queens appear in skin-whitening advertisements; the pursuit of fair skin is pervasive, particularly in pageants. Chaudhry points to cultural anthropologist Susan Runkle, who followed contestants preparing for the 2003 Miss India pageant. Skin-lightening was part of the regimen:
I sat in on weekly individual sessions that dermatologist Dr. Jamuna Pai held with the contestants in order to examine their skin. Every single one of the young women was taking some sort of medication to alter her skin, particularly in colour, in the training programme in 2003. In a disturbingly casual manner, Dr. Pai emphasized the need for all the contestants to bleach their skin by prescribing the peeling agent Retin-A as well as glycolic acid and, in the case of isolated dark patches, a laser treatment.
Runkle's subjects recognized that India's fair-skin obsession didn't match international ideals:
When I asked Dr. Pai, who trained as a plastic surgeon in London, why fair skin was such a concern at the pageant, she offered the following explanation. "Fair skin is really an obsession with us, it's a fixation. Even with the fairest of the fair, they feel they want to be fairer. It isn't important anymore, because the international winners are getting darker and darker.You wouldn't notice our obsession, because you have such beautiful white skin, but I feel it's ingrained in us. When an Indian man looks for a bride, he wants one who is tall, fair and slim, and fairer people always get jobs first. Today, this is being disproved because of the success internationally of dark-skinned models, but we still lighten their skin here because it gives the girls extra confidence when they go abroad."
Yale professor Asha Rangappa noted that "most beautiful woman in the world" Aishwarya Rai — Bollywood star and Miss India contest alumnus — "has barely-olive skin, brown hair and green eyes, practically a mutation in the predominantly dark-complected subcontinent." Invoking Indian-American celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Rangappa argued, "For all the racist commentary following Davuluri's win at Miss America, the fact remains that America is way ahead of India in celebrating a realistic ideal of Indian beauty."
Pictured, from top left, clockwise: Nina Davuluri; Miss World 1994 Aishwarya Rai; Miss India-World 2013 Navneet Kaur Dhillon; Miss India-World 2011 Kanishtha Dhankhar; and Miss India-World 2012 Vanya Mishra.
Most Viewed Stories
‘Weed Dick’ Is the New Way for Men to Sexually Disappoint You
Portraits of Privilege: A Teen Demands Mac ’n’ Cheese
How to Get Out of Any Party Conversation
The Big Secret of Every Dating App: Tech Doesn’t Matter
Amber Rose, Populist Slut Hero of Our Time
7 Alternatives to Those Sold-Out L.L. Bean Boots
Staving Off Cynicism at Comme des Garçons, McQueen, and Céline
Adriana Lima on Boxing, Brazilian Beauty Secrets
Why Do I Jerk Awake Right As I’m Falling Asleep?
From Our Partners
The Art of Loving and Losing Female Friends
7 Asian Beauty Trends You Need To Try Now
The Day I Told The Ugly Truth About My Marriage
Here's What To Buy From J.Crew's HUGE 75-Percent-Off Sale!
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesInstagram Would Totally Free the Nipple If They Could
Blame Apple!Maybe Refrain from Tweeting 'Kill All White Men'
We know it's hard.The Unexpected Personal Connection Behind the DOMA Decision
In an excerpt from her new memoir, lawyer Roberta Kaplan describes how she first crossed paths with Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer.Lame U.S. Constitution Doesn’t Even Protect Sex Parties
What's the First Amendment even for, anyway?Even in Death, Grandma Will Not Stop Burning Alex Rodriguez
Never stop sassing.Chrissie Hynde Doesn’t Care If You Buy Her Book or Her Version of Rape
She's a rock star, not a spokesperson.Rihanna Will Never Settle
When it comes to men, she says, "I will wait forever if I have to ... but that’s O.K."Portraits of Privilege: A Teen Demands Mac ’n’ Cheese
It does not end well.Amber Rose, Populist Slut Hero of Our Time
She walked, she twerked — and she was pretty inspiring.This IUD Ad Is Actually About Staten Island
Even your birth control doesn’t want to take the ferry.
Think again.‘Weed Dick’ Is the New Way for Men to Sexually Disappoint You
It's like whiskey dick, but with weed.How to Get Out of Any Party Conversation
A helpful guide.Would You Date a Guy on a Hoverboard? A Survey
An important poll for our time.Americans Just Want to Eat in Peace — So They Hide It
We're a nation who hides our snacks.All the Ceilings Women Keep Hitting Their Heads On
There's a Rob-shaped hole on the new Cosmo cover.Queen Ronda Rousey Is the First Woman to Cover Aussie Men’s Fitness
She's flexin' down under.Astrology GIFs for the Week of October 5, 2015
This week's horoscopes.The Big Secret of Every Dating App: Tech Doesn’t Matter
Just like at bars, it's the crowd that counts.