Miss America gets backlash in India for her dark skin

Posted at 6:45 PM, Sep 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-22 18:45:41-04

(CNN, Mumbai) The crown … then the controversy.

As the U.S. debates how “American” the new miss America is…irony in India

Mumbai reporter Mallika Kapur says “There’s as much racism in our country as there is perhaps in America.  Many say she’s too dark skinned to win here”.

Pictures of Indian beauty queens show the most popular ones usually have lighter skin. Unfortunately, in India they think looking better means you have to look fairer.

Dermatologist doctor Jamuna Pai says there is a major demand for whitening treatments. “People do come and ask. Younger girls, girls of marriageable age, girls before going for their jobs.”

The preference for fairness is deep rooted in India’s culture. Almost any matrimonial advertisement you look at will ask for a bride or groom who’s “fair.”

For Indians who are naturally darker skinned, there are plenty of products peddling an alternative. Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, says he achieved more success after using lightening cream.

India has a massive demand for skin lightening treatments and products. In fact, India’s skin whitening cream market is worth more than 400 million dollars.

A recent entrant to the market: a vaginal wash that promises freshness, protection– and skin lightening. Critics say it’s taking the fairness obsession too far, but the company says it’s simply giving women what they want.

“We had a very proactive consumer coming in and asking us for this product and I think it would be very irresponsible of us to not to provide that as a solution”.

Supporting a campaign called dark is beautiful – is trying to change things.

The prejudice precedes the product, there’s no question. The point is do we want to capitalize this prejudice and lack of self-worth and further perpetuate it or do we want to address it in a way and empower more women and make them feel good in the way they are?

The campaign’s gone viral…its Facebook page flooded with responses from people who say they want to feel comfortable in their own skin, whatever shade it may be.