I would always hate getting a tan during the summer. Ever since I was a young girl, I had this idea ingrained in me that having light features was a beautiful thing – only the lucky few Indians had light skin, light eyes, and light hair. So I would try to stay out of the sun in the summer, trying hard not to become a darker version of myself.
But as I got older, I began to question why this was. It was in freshman year of college that I took a sociology class and began to really understand that my own perception of beauty was merely an echo of what the media put out there. And the problem with the media is, it reinforces the racial hierarchy of the world. That’s right – the media may be great in many ways, but in certain matters, it can be dangerous.
Beauty is a concept that is produced and reproduced again by media. Celebrity culture and channels of media determine what is beautiful, trendy, and acceptable. And this often becomes a social problem. For example, in American society, the association between “beautiful” and “thin” has become so overemphasized that eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have stemmed and spread like an epidemic throughout the country. In this way, the values that media produces are instilled in people’s minds and later reproduced in society.
In Bollywood (India’s equivalent of Hollywood), all the actresses and actors are light-skinned, with light eyes, and light hair. And if an actress or actor does not naturally have light features, they appear to have them on-screen. They will dye their hair from black to a lighter shade of brown, use blue or green contacts, and use lighter foundation to cover their dark skin.
It doesn’t end with whitening features either. As innovation and technology make the world a more connected place, cultures are able to interact with one another. As a more global society is born, media allows values and beliefs to flow across borders. In recent years, attire in Hindi cinema has moved drastically away from its conservativeness, and has become much more revealing. With actresses dressed in low-cut, skimpy clothing, the attire worn in Bollywood movies has become even more revealing than the clothes worn in Hollywood movies.
Bollywood music has also had its fair share of influence. Many of the songs that have been released lately have English lyrics, and often contain rap, differing from previous classical Hindi songs.
This “whitewashing” of Bollywood is, without a doubt, a reproduction of the racial hierarchy with dominant white culture being the top rung of the racial ladder. Hindi cinema is recognizing (perhaps subconsciously) that not only is white culture dominant in global society, but that Indian culture is inferior to white culture. And through the process of social reproduction of the racial hierarchy via media, this inequality is naturalized, and a very systematic racial hierarchy is promoted.
It’s not just Bollywood and Indian culture. This is prevalent in many parts of the world. But it’s time we stop letting media determine our perceptions. Challenge the concept of beauty in the media. Challenge social customs. And above all, challenge culture – because if we don’t, society will continue to be brainwashed by mechanisms like the media, and as intelligent human beings, I think we’re better than that.