Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Dark Cloud over Nina Davuluri's win


Courtesy - Indian Express
Nina Davuluri is the best publicity the Miss America pageant could have hoped for. A carnival of beauty that has been long shunned for parading women like cattle and judging them on the basis of genes inherited from their parents. It’s nothing more than a procession of Barbies in bikinis and high heels with perfect hair, flawless makeup and disturbingly white teeth and uniformly boring when they mouth rehearsed wisdom to the 25 questions they had prepared. Or like Jon Stewart of The Daily Show so eloquently describes as a wonderful mosaic of sizes 0 to 2.

Why just America, beauty pageants across the world are dull! I can’t remember the last time I sat through one.

In India the reaction to Ms Davuluri’s historic win came in stages. It began as a trickle of self-congratulatory posts on social media for sharing the same gene pool as the first made in India, Miss USA. A few hours later it turned into a tsunami of outrage after BuzzFeed shared a tirade of racist tweets directed at Ms Davuluri. It did shock a lot of us that the world’s most powerful nation had citizens with Geography so poor that they couldn’t differentiate an Indian from an Arab and had heaped unflattering epithets like Ms Al Qaeda on her!

Interestingly, a lot of us returned the favour in equal measure as we went around dissing America as a nation of dumb racists.

It was convenient for us to ignore the fact that there will be as many opinions as there are people and if you go looking for ugly underbelly kind of stuff, there are people who will collate and find it for you. So, why get upset over the riff-raff that is carefully screened and used as proof to dump on the whole nation! If a set of Americans found it impossible to accept that an immigrant was chosen as America’s most beautiful, there was also the panel of judges and audience that selected her to represent first New York and then their nation internationally!

Just like no single template can be used to describe a diverse culture like India, we cannot paint the world’s third most populous nation with the same brush.


Isn’t it as bad as branding India as a nation of rapists because certain men choose rape to spew hate and subjugate women. It’s like saying all men are chauvinists and women weak.

It’s another matter that had Nina Davuluri been based in India, she would have spent a tortured childhood fending off how-to-lighten-your-skin-tone advice from well-meaning aunts and hating the looks of sympathy for being so dark. In India having dark skin automatically relegates you to the poor girl, her future looks so grim category. Little wonder that Fair and Lovely and their assorted cousins, which are nothing but ghastly concoctions of chemicals and bleach, continue to outsell any skincare product in our country. It is a sad commentary that we now have a Dark is beautiful campaign to change our perception of beauty.

I doubt if Nina Davuluri’s win will stop India’s eligible bachelors earning a six figure salary from seeking fair and beautiful, qualified but obedient, working but “homely” brides. On the contrary, it has exposed India’s unhealthy obsession for the light-skinned. Because in India it’s not just a skin tone, it also signifies your class, caste and social status in a society that has yet to get rid of its obsession for hierarchy. And why just outrage over bias of skin colouring when we use family background, schooling, command over English, number of cars in the garage, the square feet area of apartments to slot people around us. Where our last names are not just surnames we were born with but a repository of information, some stereotypical, about our eating, spending habits, intellect, character or the lack of it.

It certainly didn’t stop me from judging beauty pageants as being derogatory to women. We are all constantly scrutinizing people on basis of how they look, their mannerisms, their funny accents, the extra tyre spilling out of their jeans, the brand of shoes they are wearing….why, we even judge people for judging us! It’s like a chain reaction where we subject others to what we are subjected to, without even realizing it. But it hurts, doesn’t it, when we are the receiving end of it. Because we don’t acknowledge that, to command respect from others, we must respect others in the first place.

I think it makes it easier for Ms Davuluri if we stop thinking that she won the title despite her coffee skin. She won the title because of her looks, intelligence, exceptional dancing skills and most importantly her incredibly sculpted body. Now this makes me voice another valid concern. In a world of women of all shapes and sizes, why should certain body types and dimensions be considered a prerequisite for beauty? If beauty is irrespective of your skin tone and beauty contests empower women as claimed, why should it hinge on the fat distribution in your body?

There, we got our next topic to outrage about.




96 comments:

  1. More likely than not, a very white and tall woman speaking Portuguese or Spanish will be judged the most beautiful in the Universe and order will be restored.
    Ms.D can have her few minutes under the sun, in the meantime. And she has no reasons to worry either. It's not as if she can get any more tanned than she already is.

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    1. I'm sure there are bigger and better things awaiting her - like doing an item number with Rajnikanth.

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  3. Nina Davuluri even fought with obesity some time back! And look what she won for losing those calories. I was so taken aback with people ranting on twitter about her win. Mostly Americans. I mean, what was it about calling her Arab !! ?? Even toddlers know India from Arab countries.
    If Nina was brought up in India, she would have died a slow death (like most of us are) by being judged each and every single day of her existence. Also she would have become a doctor or an engineer, and married at 22 with a heavy dowry in compensation for her complexion. And of course the complexion will always be seen like a birth defect and pitied and sympathized upon. She would never be selected for any movies, albums or even ads, or any beauty campaign or pageant or anything remotely related to show business in India.Even though she now dwells among a country of haters, it is far better than being in India with that kind of talent and beauty.

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    1. Well, we have a good example like Smita Patil who was selected on her merit and not colour.

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    2. Which is anyway ONE example. ONE.

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    3. She is studying to be a Doctor. And how are we any better? We can't even differentiate "Madrasis" from Andhraites, Malayalees and Kannadigas!

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    4. Progressive movies have always focused more on talent rather than skin-tone.

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    5. :D I can differentiate Madrasis from others, because I am a Malayalee, and most of my relatives are Madrasis. I also know Andhraites from Kannadigas :-) Thanks to Bollywood, I know Punjabis also..and from where I live I know Gujjus too well! And hence the comment. Yes progressive movies with sound scripts may have looked out for talent, but they are few and far far between among a sea of multi hundred crore earning commercial cinema who casts only fair skin. And if a dusky skin is hired, they make sure it is painted white.

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  4. Thanks for writing this.
    Only now I am feeling like, I am what I am. If others don't like it, then I don't care for that as well.
    If people consider me fat, dark and ugly, let them as they have all rights to think the way they want :-D

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    1. Aww c'mmon! You are a beautiful girl.

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  5. lol, I don't care Coffee skin color, I likes :P just kidding, superb punch as usual! Miss Ray! (y)

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    1. Thank you for making me single again.

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  6. Bikini Baribies. How apt!
    Jay Leno says Nina's win is the best thing to happen to the pageant. At least Americans will remember the name of the winner and the plummeting viewer ratings would improve. Though I am not sure how we would have reacted if an American Indian had won Miss India.

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    1. Like we treat our Italian motherboard.

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  7. The fairest people are often the unfair-est ones. I think I've had enough of debasing and praising Nina, I am not benefiting from either praising her or demeaning her as anything that some people have branded her. Suffice to say, I am content that she's won. I'd still be content if she didn't. I wouldn't even have known that she had happily or unhappily existed all these years had there been no fuss about her winning the pageant for Americans (apparently white Americans).

    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. Had it not been for the racist remarks her win invited, she wouldn't have become so famous.

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  9. I really enjoyed going through your blog. It is no doubt a pain to be dark skinned in India and its hard to imagine that changing in the near future.
    I really admire the tone in which you write your blogs, the sense of humor put across to the readers is simply wow! I write a couple of blogs too:
    http://truebluereveries.blogspot.in/
    True Blue Reveries!

    http://relationsofthepoliticalnature.blogspot.in/
    Relations of the Political Nature!

    https://prachipreaches.blogspot.in/
    The View from The Great Wall!

    It would be great if you consider featuring in my blog as a guest blogger. :)
    You can reach me at: luoyinhua89@gmail.com
    Hope to hear from you!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your links. Will be checking them out soon.

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  10. Ah! Purba! What do all the people do who find nothing in their character or life worthy of respect? I mean, if they cannot even feel good about being more fair than the next person, slimmer than the neighborhood auntie, richer than that handsome hunk, or being born in country z instead of country y, how can they find life worth living? :)

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  11. Despite aberrations, or not knowing geography well enough, this can happen only in America where the talent takes one far be it a beauty pageant or winning Nobel prizes!Our bias for fair skin is unlikely to go away sometime soon having been ruled by fair skinned for long,Sigh:(

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    1. Sadly, our colour coded bias reeks of low self-esteem.

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  12. Purba,

    Read 3 current posts and about your experiment with Mallu. Your sarcasm is as good as ever. On this posts, well it takes all kinds of persons to make a country. I think that just some comments of some persons have been blown out of proportion.

    Take care

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    1. The Mallu experiment is a guest post. Thanks for reading though.

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  13. Sad but true. Irrespective of Dark is beautiful campaign, the cosmetic industry will thrive. These beauty pageants will become more bigger and popular. Even our Goddesses are portrayed to have curvy and perfect figures....and, people will be more dumber.

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    1. It's what we choose to believe. And as long as women will continue to be objectified, they will have to bear the brunt of unrealistic expectations.

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  14. I liked the point where you mentioned that rather than looking at the few who made racist comments lets look at the judges who selected her. As a kid I used to be fascinated by beauty pageants looking at all the glamour and glitz. Now they top my list of 'dumb' things on earth and I can't help think of the participants as dumb too though it's not fair of course. While we have the winners talking about world peace and women leading balanced lives I doubt if those would be present in any of the teeniest corners of their heads ! As u rightly said there is too much stereotyping of anorexic sizes as beauty !

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    1. I think the interest in beauty pageants peaked when Aishwarya and Sushmita won the crown. In India women use Miss India contest as a stepping stone to Bollywood.

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  15. If anything, this win may just help beauty pageants find some following. Like you, I haven't watched any beauty pageants in a long, long while. The entire hullaballo was quite baffling. The only take out from this is that no matter what your success (real or perceived), people will find a way to pull you down.

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    1. Most of the outrage was manufactured for the sake of social media.

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  16. Purba your thought provoking post is unfortunately as true as you meant it be. Only God knows when this fair versus dark skins theory will end!!

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    1. It's up to us, Usha. We give too much importance to a girl's beauty.

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  17. Even I stopped watching those stupid beauty pageants. Really its marathon of Bikini barbies...
    I'm also victim of that fair and dark skin comparison..my mother in law always compares her son's fair skin with my dark skin ...:)

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    1. Every Mom thinks that her son is the brightest and the handsomest :D

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  18. "Isn’t it as bad as branding India as a nation of rapists because certain men choose rape to spew hate and subjugate women. It’s like saying all men are chauvinists and women weak." - The only sensible thought I have read related to this episode. I wish everyone who reacts at the drop of a pin had the mind to think like this.

    I also ditto the 1st paragraph. Couldn't have hit the nail on the head any better! :)

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    1. I think it hurt our self-esteem that those Americans can't even differentiate an Indian from an Arab :p

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  19. Indeed your Post remind me of a Korean Movie--200 hundred pounds beauty...
    But seriously no matter how this contest are organised,the first thing come is your body and then your intelligence

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    1. I'm sure our perception of beauty will become more realistic with time.

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  20. Really good post Purba .. I was smiling and nodding my head when I read the paragraph about how we Indians draw our inferences based on a person's skin colour and second name :)

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  21. A very strong post. I really liked it. Alas, our perception is often formed by what people think of us. However, different and courageous are those whose confidence in themselves define their perception of life. Because the truth is , there is beauty inside us all. COngras to Nina Davuluri!

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    1. Unnecessary controversy over some tweets by a bunch of nitwits.

      And thank you :-)

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  22. I am totally bowled over by your satires. And I would like to share an award with you. You might have won a lot..and here is another small one from me.. :)

    Congrats.

    To know more: http://koncern.blogspot.in/2013/09/and-award-goes-to.html

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    1. Thank you so much for the honour.

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  23. I think stereotyping people is the real crime and racism is only one of the many manifestations. But human beings seem always wanting to categorize and stereotype people and make out that they are better than every one else.

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    1. It's so much more convenient in slotting people according to skin colour and their accents! Why waste time in complexities :/

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  24. Without a doubt she would never have won in India. There are even several "Indian-American" pagents where all the women are fair skinned. Aishwarya Rai herself is some kind of mutant by Indian standards. In short, the Indian version of beauty is someone who does not look like us!

    We're even ashamed of our gods being dark - so we paint them blue! Krishna was supposed to be jet black. In fact, the meaning of the word Krishna is Sanskrit is black! But when I was discussing this with some friends in the past they were shocked and even offended by the idea of a black Krishna.

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    1. According to Devdutt Pattanaik, renowned mythologist, we were introduced to the politics of colour very early in life, in the most surprising of places; in children’s comic books. We had Gods who were always pink, demons who were always brown and dark gods who were always blue (the colour of divinity). Colours convey the deeper truth – while white stands for domesticity, knowledge, ascetic transcendence: black represents wantonness, desire in all its rawness, nature in its primal elements.

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  25. Well expressed!! Loved reading. I also don't like the concept that "certain body types and dimensions are considered a prerequisite for beauty"

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    1. Exactly and pageants like these propagate such ideas.

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  27. If you account for the amount of money each contestant spends on 'getting ready for the contest', including straightening their teeth, augmenting their chests, liposuction, teeth whitening, nose jobs, body sculpting etc etc, I doubt whether any of this is actually exceptional! No doubt the beauty companies once again want to cash in on India, as they did when we won the Miss World/Miss Universe pageants!

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    1. It's all a big business, isn't it? And there will always be someone gullible enough to fall for it.

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  28. If there is an award for 'Real beauty' that comes from real strength, I believe it should go to every mother. Sorry for being off track, but I've never related to beauty pageants after understanding the dirty economics of brands sponsoring them. But, yes, this is a post that highlights the ever existing parameters for beauty that women are subjected to. We can keep outraging one after the other!

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    1. Again, why burden Moms with unrealistic expectations. As if its not bad enough that most of us spend our motherhood feeling guilty for not doing enough for our children.

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  29. Well done, Nina. Hope you don't feel compelled to prove you are more American than the Americans.

    Here's something telling. When I was a typical untravelled desi and (in those days) didn't hear foreign opinions (except through pc books and even more pc BBC) I used to notice people's sense of humour, expressions on their faces and little else. After travelling to places like London etc, I came back conscious of "dark skin, light skin". Now, after being settled in NZ for over twenty years it is back to noticing expressions on people's faces. It took a while but I'm glad I'm where I am now - back to square one :).

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    1. But have gotten rid of "where are you originally from" , queries?

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  30. I have always refrained from watching or musing over these beauty contests, since I know there is no advantage I gain directly.

    About beauty, that you have talked about here, has always been an undefinable word to me. I completely depend on others' definition rather than creating my own.

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    1. Hahahaha! Really? I thought beauty is that undefinable thing that makes your heart beat a little faster :-)

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  31. It is indeed sad that we see discrimination in the form of racism, casteism, etc but feel offended only when we are at the receiving end. It is as if we all are so eager to get offended. A true worth of man is how to treats the most weakest and vulnerable person. There is lot of introspection that all of us need to do and overcome our own prejudices and as you rightly pointed out we are not even aware of the faults within.

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    1. Wonderfully put, Robin. Reiterating what I have mentioned in the write-up - To command respect from others, we must respect others in the first place.

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  32. This is a brilliant post. I too felt that before showing our angst on americans we should think about our own reactions on fellow Indians. When an outsider shouts we naturally get united which does no good anyway. Dark is bful had to be a campaign to imbibe sense in to ppl which is sad. Anyway great post !

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Afshan :-)

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  33. If a set of Americans found it impossible to accept that an immigrant was chosen as America’s most beautiful, there was also the panel of judges and audience that selected her to represent first New York and then their nation internationally!

    I admit i had not thought of this.But then Indian girls have previously been chosen as beauty queens to further commercial interests of some countries or companies.

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    1. I second that! In fact rumour has it that a profusion of Miss Indias won international beauty pageants because foreign investors were eyeing India as a prospective market. However, Ms Davuluri is more American than Indian :-)

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  34. Why are we even bothered about some comments by probably some uneducated school drop outs? Looking for validation from USA, for acceptance in the marriage market from society, for elite circle of the peers...and the list goes on through the entire life. Where was the time or space to discover oneself and live life? A thought provoking post Purba.

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    1. Exactly! Like you mentioned, we are always looking for validation from people who mean little or nothing to us.

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  35. You know what I find funny? The fact that an American who had Indian genes won the Miss USA title and Indians world wide start beating their chests in pride. Sometimes I wonder if social media was a good invention; giving people anonymity that allows them to troll unafraid of repercussions.
    The way way people act, it seems the world is not a stage. Rather it is the set of an Ekta Kapoor series filled with vamps and gossip mongers.
    Anyway, welcome back to blogging - the place you really belong to :-)

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    1. Prats, you need to pen down a spoof comparing social media to an Ekta Kapoor serial, ASAP!

      And thanks for the warm welcome :-)

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  36. Bikini barbies they certainly are. And don't worry, Ms Davuluri will soon be at the backseat when some nice white skinned will be adjudged Miss Universe and she will be sauntering down to India to try her luck in movies .

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    1. I think she has a degree in Medical studies. Should do better than that.

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  37. You know...makes me think... What if our Miss India was a Indian bought up but proper Firangi? Like no Indian relatives what so ever. What would we be saying? 'Look the judges chose a foreigner!! They are promoting fairness' and hell would break loose. Not that I confirm to such thoughts but still. Wouldnt it have happened? But offcourse we let them into Bollywood, so Plus 1 for us!
    Lovely post this!!

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    1. Double speak as always! We are the nation that hires firangis to titillate our men through item numbers in movies.

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  38. oops...lots of typo error...but you get me!!

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  39. I think humans are racist in nature. We find solace in our own kind. But I believe we are improving. Remember how we treated women and 'coloured' people 50 years back? I think we will be bearable in a century or two.

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    1. And it's hope that keeps us alive.

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  40. convent educated, slim, tall, fair is what the matrimony columns are filled with.. look at the fairness cream adds!! so derogatory.. it will take another zillion of years for Indians to come out of this fair is beautiful mode...dusky or dark is good if you are a model or an actress of certain calibre

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    1. I'm hoping there will come a time when women will not be treated as weak and beauty will have nothing to do with the colour of our skin tone.

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  41. It's true, I watched a debate on a news channel where most people gave pious homilies about the 'racist' Americans. Did they miss out on the fact that she did win in America, judged by Americans. Do we forget the 'Fair & Lovely' ads that seem to crowd the TV channels back home? And just like Barbie has her Ken, F&L has 'Fair and Handsome', just so that men don't miss out.

    The truth is that racism exists in all of us but at varying levels of tolerance. It's not just about colour, caste system anyone?

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    1. Why surpass such a golden opportunity to outrage. And who the f&^$k has the time to analyze their own follies?

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  42. A chastening post that not only kicks open the can of worms but puts a few things in perspective too. Now, it may just be me but I had a feeling that Nina D's crown may have been influenced by Robert Galbraith, aka, J K Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling.

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    1. This reminds me, I have yet to read "The Cuckoo's Calling".

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  43. Nina.. Ms US - I seemed to have missed the event. But I can very well imagine the noise.. congrats on the accolades. I took the opportunity to read a few more posts.. did I read something on porn. tcchh .. the blog has gone adult :-)

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    1. Isn't Porn more juvenile than adult?

      Thanks and all that :-)

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  44. Am reminded of the old song where Krishna in a pained voice asks his mother why he's so dark when Radha is so fair . So even our Gods could not escape the color bias :)

    BTW, a bird called Twitter told me that they are going to rope her for the next "Fair and Lovely" ad . Is it true ?

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    1. And BTW I am a big fan of you and your blog although I don't comment here much :D

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    2. I have no idea about her being signed up by Fair and Lovely.

      And thank you, I'm feeling much flattered by your appreciation.

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    3. I only hope that is just one of those rumors :)

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  45. When I do introspection, I am guilty as well. Sometimes I don't like myself for being fat. Sometimes I don't like certain castes because they treat their women as dog. Sometimes I don't like people with certain position at work because in my experience, most of them have been a********. I am no better than those racist Americans. :(

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  46. Introspection is scary. It makes us realize, we are not as perfect as we had imagined ourselves to be :-)

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  47. You so totally nailed it! Those lines - "Because we don’t acknowledge that, to command respect from others, we must respect others in the first place." are often ignored. And ever since the rise of social media, the impulse to react without much thought has taken this 'I am right and you are wrong' syndrome to a whole new level. Even in a normal debate on a social forum, people get intimidated very soon. And you have pointed out very rightly in these lines "It was convenient for us to ignore the fact that there will be as many opinions as there are people and if you go looking for ugly underbelly kind of stuff, there are people who will collate and find it for you. So, why get upset over the riff-raff that is carefully screened and used as proof to dump on the whole nation! " In fact, most of the discussions, forums, debates and peace processions carried for whatsoever reason only add more fuel to fire rather than bringing a solution to the countless issues we have.

    We Indians, get offended when Mallika Sherawat called India regressive in an interview and most lot pounced on her verbally (of course, just because she said, doesn't affect the country in any way, and could have been ignored, but media, you know!), On the other hand, we also tweet around the world about the horrible things like rapes and honour killings that happen in our country, and the same sad things are replayed continuously on news channels for their trps.

    We are a democracy. So is America. But what people from both countries fail to realize is, we should use our privilege cautiously and not abuse it.

    A very good post! The best one, that I read on this topic!

    God bless...!!

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