I've recently ordered an issue of Vogue India on eBay to subject it to my most thorough analysis. As Indian culture is completely different from the European culture I'm used to, I wanted to see if that translates into a different Vogue too.

I was particularly interested in whether Vogue India - like the Western media - also promotes an extremely narrow standard of female beauty.


My most shocking discovery wasn't that Vogue India is absolutely guilty of the above crime. It was that many Indian people (mostly women) are so obsessed with fair skin they'll go to the ends of the Earth to lighten theirs. They believe dark skin is ugly and light skin guarantees more opportunities in life. For example, "in newspaper advertisements through which brides and bridegrooms are sought, fair skin is ranked as a more desirable attribute than a university degree" (source).

Vogue India fully endorses this mania by featuring exclusively light-skinned models and celebrities. Even some of the more "regular" people in society pages could pass off as Hispanic or Latino!

The magazine also advertises several skin-lightening creams:

L'Oreal skin-lightening cream, Vogue India L'Oreal skin-lightening cream, Vogue India

Garnier skin-lightening cream, Vogue India Garnier skin-lightening cream, Vogue India

Neutrogena skin-lightening cream, Vogue India

Quick background on skin color issues in India: Indian people from North India generally have lighter skin than those from South India because of different climates. The point is that the average Indian person is not as light-skinned as models, celebrities and Bollywood actresses. Many sources claim that the fascination with lighter skin stems from India's caste system. People from the higher classes were lighter and those from the lower classes were darker because they did a lot of manual labor under the sun. So lighter skin was associated with wealth and power.

The same mindset carried on after India had been colonized by Britain. Again, the ruling class was light-skinned. Many say the situation in India is much the same today, even with the British gone and the caste system officially abolished.


My opinion about using skin-lightening products is mixed. On one hand, I believe everyone is free to do whatever they want as long as they're not hurting anyone else. I therefore support fairness creams. If they produce good results that make people happy, that's amazing. However, it's sad the opinion that only fair skin is beautiful is so deeply ingrained into the culture. This means skin lightening is often not what Indian people do for themselves. They're pressured into it by society.

Foreign cosmetic brands' fairness creams have only a small market share in India (source). The most popular is a domestic brand called Fair and Lovely, notorious for this advertisement:

The advert was known as "the air hostess ad".
It showed a young, dark-skinned girl's father lamenting he had no son to provide for him, as his daughter's salary was not high enough - the suggestion being that she could neither get a better job or get married because of her dark skin.

The girl then uses the cream, becomes fairer, and gets a better-paid job as an air hostess - and makes her father happy. (source)

Way to convince people skin color is only relevant when it comes to judging beauty!


It bothers me that only light skin and an almost European look are good enough for Vogue (India). It bothers me to see magazines suggesting people have to change something about their physical appearance or personality. Vogue especially is supposed to be about beauty and art - which are never uniform - but it's all theory instead of practice.


Vogue India cover by Tanya Bipasha Ling

Vogue India cover illustration by Tanya Bipasha Ling

Vogue India likes thinness, too. Former Miss Universe gone famous actress (who looks white) complains in an interview that she needs to lose 6 pounds to fit into body-con dresses. Pages later, a celebrity cookbook author (who looks slightly tanned) shares her tips on how to lose weight. They're disguised as nice, telling you to indulge in "guilty pleasures" every once in a while, but it's a diet. Plain and simple.

Do people think they should lose weight before stumbling upon dieting tips in a magazine or after?


Vogue India is a licensed magazine, so the fact that it prominently features some of the more disturbing Western obsessions can definitely be attributed to that. Condé Nast has a say in the content of every Vogue edition and there's a whole lot of money in first showing you dream skin, dream weight, dream closet, dream spouse, dream lifestyle and then advertising whatever is supposed to help you achieve these things (but it really won't).

Not everything I've mentioned in this very "J'accuse" post is Vogue India's fault. Still, I feel incredibly disappointed that insane "beauty ideals" enforced by either the media or culture aren't going away but rather becoming omnipresent.

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