Muscle Marie

Modern Mythmaking 12 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, May 02, 2011


Once upon a time Bollywood heroes were noble and pensive. Then they became delightful dancing heroes. Then they became angry young men. Then came the stud muffins, strong men who loved to flaunt their sexuality and gym-toned bodies. And now, slowly, one is witnessing the rise of the Muscle Marie: muscled macho heroes who sell fairness creams to young men, so that they do not get tanned in the sun. Takes metrosexuality to another level.

Indians have always been colorists: we love white skin. The most venerated beauty was called a-surya-sparshya, the one who has never been touched by the sun. It referred to women who were privileged enough never to work outdoors in the sun. Such women were highly prized and much in demand.

Today, we have broken free from such sexist attitudes. Women are stepping out to work in the sun and men are flaunting their fairness creams. Nothing wrong with that, except that color has always been a contentious issue in India. The child with dark skin always suffers, denied love and attention by family, society and now, media.

The British popularized the Aryan Invasion Theory that claims white-skinned chariot-riding hymn-chanting tribes rode into India and pushed back or enslaved dark-skinned natives, who moved south or were reduced to ‘lower’ castes. Their theory in some measure was based on the observation that Indians preferred light-skinned children over dark-skinned children. The former got more resources than the latter. In fact, members of the upper castes and classes were generally fairer, because of genetics, ensured by securing fair brides, and also because of the privilege of not having to work in the sun.

The British also observed that Hindus have a god whose names Shyam and Krishna means black, but who is always painted and described as blue. When asked, defensive and metaphysical explanations were always offered. They also observed that the frightening blood thristy goddess was called Kali, the dark-one, while the gentle form of the goddess was called Gauri, the fair-one. The happy gurgling river-goddess Ganga was described as fair while the unhappy mournful river-goddess Yamuna was described as dark. Shiva has two forms, the fierce Kala-Bhairava, who is offered alchohol and hemp and the gentle Gora-Bhairava, who is offered milk and sweets.

I wonder if advertisements celebrating fairness creams are prescribing color prejudices or simply profiting by reaffirming a deep seated cultural color prejudice? Is it ok to take advantage of cultural bias? Surely it is, in a capitalist economy? We are a country that has a long tradition of ‘snow and powder’ cosmetics.

Is it ok for Bollywood stars, worshipped by the masses, to endorse such color prejudice? Are they simply being professional, doing it for the money? Must they then be taken seriously next time they stand up for a social cause – against corruption or terrorism? Maybe they are also doing that for money? And why should they not do it for money? If they won’t someone else will. And why is the government which bans alcohol advertisements and cigarette advertisements, and taxes them heavily, not consider banning these ads or taxing them heavily? Is it because they believe color is too shallow an issue and so not injurious to health? Just speak to psychiatrists and find out.

  • Sandeep

    You are behind the times. Muscle Marie’s move on, Size 0 queens are have arrived.

    New crop of male celebrities will be – Size 0 with nearly 0% body fat. So fairness creams move on, the weight loss and protien shakes are new cashcows ready to be milked.

  • Deep

    with all due respect i disagree with you on the point that alcohol and cigarettes should be kept on same platform with fairness cream (please dont take this as my support for fairness creams)….

    but one thing is for sure…things like alcohol destroy whole family and communities..esp in lower economic strata of society….(one can also see publication in lancet,2009 that alochol is one of the most notorious drug)….

    While cigarettes on other hand causes its own health issues and burdens a family economically when compared to fairness cream….

    i agree that we indians are passive racist…but atleast its effect on society is not destroying it in the same manner as alcohol and cigarettes is doing…

    • Sandeep

      @ Deep,
      With due respect, I disagree with you.

      Smoking and consumption of Alcohol is definitely bad for health, but promoting discrimation based on colour of skin is far worse. It creates social, psychological, emotional and financial problems.

      Few day back I saw an advert for one of the ayurvedic fairness creams- where a dark skinned girl goes to airline office and is scorned off for being dark and the mighty dad compounds a fairness cream based on Ayurveda and voila the girl is white as a lily and lands the airhostess job. My question is – Is anyone ready to tell their 8 yr old dark skinned daughter or niece that they cannot succeed in life because they were born with high concentration of melanin? I was absolutely disgusted. Look what the advert actually does to the moral, self esteem, confidence of an impressionable mind.

      Now talking about Financial (in your words economic burden) implications, if the dark skinned people are not gainfully employed because we choose to discriminate on basis of skin colour, who is bearing the economic burden?

      Last, but definitely not least, smoking and alcohol consumption is a personal choice. You are not offered a job because you choose to smoke or NOT.

      • Deep

        Respected Sandeep,

        I agree with you that indians are passive racist.(but trust me its not as bad as western countries).but this is a problem only in upper strata or upper middle class of society….

        when major chunk of ur population is below poverty line…i would say we focus on the root cause problems..

  • hari krishna gupta

    I think we all are living in the commercial world and cigarette and liquors are considered as highly taxed revenue for the government and the more we give reason for banning it it will start selling more . lets take the example of Gujarat where liquors is banned and study shows its is most highly consumed states of liquors. ( there may another reasons to it also )

    I do not not know whether there is any medical treatment for cigarette & liquors are there or not which comes with out side effect

    Hari Krishna gupta

  • Sandeep


    Probably you can explain this: isn’t the drugs and comestics act 1940 actually bans anyone from manufacturing, stocking, distributing any drug or cosmetic which claims to modify (whiten) the colour of ones skin?

  • Sid

    I feel the social figures should be responsible enough to know the message they are preaching. the fairness cream ads i feel will fuel the color bias n will hv an impact on the confidence of dark skinned folks.but as blogged, its all about money honey

  • Balsu

    Dear Dev ji

    Good one, and the right question at the end. Believe me, this is the tone which I also take in my sessions. It helps making people think.

  • Aravind S Raamkumar

    the obsession for fair skin is so deep-rooted in indians!
    Even outside indian, there is a palpable north-south divide due to this same reason


    Well, Why do you guys think a Non Indian ‘Sonia Gandhi’ is preached so much in India…Simply her colour makes us INDIAN believe her more than our Indian Mid-Black counterparts !!!(While that should have been vice-versa as she is a Drug Cartels Daughter)

    Its Right INDIAN’S are the most Racist group of people in the World when it comes to Colour !!!

  • John

    Yawn !!!!!!!!!

  • Jasmine

    I loved the analogy from the scriptures…..The black and white