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Darker Shades of “Fairness” in India: A Critical Analysis

Sun, March 25, 10:10 to 10:40am, Sheraton Grand Chicago, Michigan Room A

Session Submission Type: Paper


With a methodology informed by multimodal analysis, critical discourse analysis, and advertisement analysis, the present study investigates eight Hindi television commercials for men’s skin lightening products in India to critically examine how this kind of advertisements are encouraging the discriminatory practices of colorism in Indian society.


The skin lightening products for men in India and their mode of advertising have been shaping the concept of attractiveness for Indian men by portraying lighter skin tone as the most fundamental quality of being attractive, always desirable, and successful. However, such a change in the defining characteristics of modern Indian men is contradictory to India’s own cultural beliefs. Although women’s skin lightening products in India have received attention by a few scholars lately, men’s products are still under-researched. Hence, this study aims to investigate the issue of colorism augmented by television commercials for men’s “fairness” (commonly used alternative to “skin-lightening” in the Indian context) products in India. The primary data for this study are eight Hindi television commercials for men’s skin lightening products which were broadcast from 2005-2015 and were available on YouTube during data collection. The commercials are mostly by one popular brand, Emami Fair and Handsome. The target commercials are significant for their categorical distinction in directness as well as for their nature of storytelling that helps facilitate the discourse of colorism itself. Since the target data is multimodal and the issue of colorism presupposes an ideological stand point, the methodological repertoire is a combination of multimodal analysis, critical discourse analysis, and advertisement analysis. The present study also investigates how some linguistic/semiotic/socio-cultural (discourse) elements are naturalizing this notion of “fairness”, and how this problem can be foregrounded and unpacked as far as applied linguistics is concerned. Since discrimination based on skin color creates an unequal power relation and the commercials are using language to encourage this discrimination, the study surely falls within the realms of applied linguistics. Therefore, the overall goal of this study is to bring visibility to this subtle and multilayered problem of colorism in Indian society which is being fueled by men’s skin-lightening products.