The “fair” factor

First Published: http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2013/07/04/the-fair-factor/
Date: 04.07.2013 | 14:44

In newspapers there is a section called “personal ads.” When I was younger, I remember reading these personal ads, hiding from my mother since the content was explicit. Now, 25 years later, the language is the same: “Groom needed for a fair, pretty Muslim/Hindu girl,” or “A pretty fair bride needed for a businessman.” I wonder, even after so many years, why do women still have to be fair and pretty to be eligible for marriage?

I understand that to attract eligible bachelors you need to highlight certain qualities, but why are education and other acquired skills so low on the list of priorities? The media has played a big role in creating the demand for fair-skinned girls in the Indian subcontinent.

Skin whitening creams are one of the most consumed products available in the stores. There is an advertisement for the fairness cream “Fair and Lovely.” The groom’s family comes to meet the girl but they leave since the girl is not fair enough for their standards. A family relation advises her to use “Fair and Lovely” and within 4-6 weeks she becomes fair and pretty. She bumps into the suitor who rejected her, only this time he insists on marrying her and surprisingly, she agrees. I find this not only hilarious but also very dumb. Television ads have a huge influence on people’s choices and their decisions.

Dark-skinned girls are probably the most vulnerable as far as social prejudice is concerned. Being fair-skinned seems to automatically imply that a girl is beautiful whereas being dark-skinned is usually equated with being ugly and evil.

Dark-skinned girls constantly get bullied by people around them for the complexion they were born with. In rural areas of Bangladesh, if a girl is born with darker skin, the parents start worrying from day one about how difficult it would be to get her married off.

Her parents think about the dowry, which will be set on a high range as no man would willingly marry a dark girl. There was a girl who used work for us as a house help, as my son’s nanny for three years. Her name is Reshma. She was young, cheerful and hardworking. One day her mother came and told us that she wanted to take Reshma home for her wedding with a boy from the same village as hers.

I was very happy for her, but Reshma had tension written all over her face. She inquired immediately- how much have they settled the wedding for? Her mother said they’d settled it for 50,000 Taka, around 500 euros.

They both looked worried because this was a big amount to them. My big question to the mother was, “Why must you pay dowry, why can’t it be done without this? And if you can pay this much for her wedding, then what stopped you to spend that for her education?”

Maybe they thought I was some kind of a Marie Antoinette. The answer was very simple, “Have you seen her face,” the mother went on, “She is dark as coal. Who will marry her without the money?” The problem here is that the daughter too has accepted the fact that they have to pay for her dowry, that too pretty high amount as she is dark.

I tried to make them realize, men who will marry her for money, can’t be a good catch and she needs to look for an alternative where her qualities will be appreciated.

I know, whatever I say won’t work as this problem has entrenched itself deeply. Rich people directly don’t pay dowry but indirectly they shower the groom with gifts. Every bride-seeking ad says “Looking for a fair girl.” Do you ever wonder what happens to the girls who don’t have enough money to give dowry? They rarely have any luck where marriage is concerned.

It is very demeaning and insulting. When two people start living together, looks are perhaps the last things on one’s mind. Compatibility, educational background and other skills are the things that should carry value in setting the criteria for bride or groom. Every human in the world is fond of pretty or beautiful partners. Mass level of awareness is required to make the people realize that in this time or era, complexion shouldn’t be the only criteria for choosing partners.

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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