“Is every girl’s vagina dark in colour or is it just mine? I'm really worried. And I’m not sure if my husband will like my vagina being so dark. What can I do?” For women that share this lady’s concerns, the solution has come. A new fairness cream especially developed for a woman’s private parts has caused quite a stir. Critics have branded the latest fairness product “the ultimate insult to a woman”.
Buying a better life
For many Indian women buying skin-lightening products is something they don’t give much thought. There is a reason why the market for these 'fairness enhancing' products is growing by more than 10 percent a year. Ridding your skin of what the adverts portray as hated dark spots has become a natural part of taking care of your body.
As the disposable income of middle class women increases they’re willing to spend more on their appearance. Apart from creams and scrubs, pricier laser therapy is also gaining popularity.
Most of these women see little harm in associating success and happiness with a lighter skin. As most of the companies suggest in their advertisements. To them it’s only a beauty issue.
“It is pure classism,” says Anjali Monteiro of the Tata Institute for Social Science. She strongly refutes the idea that fairness creams only cater to a beauty ideal.
“It’s not a beauty issue at all. Beauty is a construct in and through social relations of power. In every society what is considered beautiful would be related to what would be the most powerful look,” she says.
The colour of your class
Dutch-owned Hindustan Unilever was the first company to introduce a fairness cream on the Indian market in 1976. But even long before that, women would treat their skins with homemade concoctions of turmeric powder, lemon juice and other natural products.
India, known for its caste system, has an obsession with fairness that dates back long before fair vaginas became an issue, and even before the British colonial rule, as some people suggest.
Having a lighter skin suggested you weren’t part of the working class and therefore weren't obliged to struggle outside in the blazing sun.
Until very recently the same preference for fair skin was also prevalent in Europe, but it slowly evolved into a tanning compulsion. Showing off your tan now implies you have the time to indulge yourself with leisure.
Although dusky models are gradually making a way for themselves in the industry, the trend for the indigenous look hasn’t really caught on. Skin tone is still a factor Indians - maybe unconsciously - use to judge social class.
“Within many sections of Indian society inequality is naturalized because of the caste system. And that inequality is also linked to skin colour as a signifier of inferiority or superiority,” says Dr Monteiro.
According to Dr Monteiro this class system is responsible for the insecurity many Indian women feel about their complexion. The class system and a lack of education are two things Dr Monteiro fights against to empower Indian women.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of brainwashing people into thinking something else [dark skin] is better. But I think it’s a matter of getting the dialogue started,” Dr Monteiro says.
Answer to your question
The quest for fairness has now reached a point where women start worrying about the fairness of their private parts. Online sexual health forums fill up with questions like: “My vagina is darker than the rest of my body. Is this some kind of disease?”
Dermatologist Hendry de Vries of the Amsterdam Medical Centre says the skin around your vagina is healthy even if it looks a bit darker.
“The skin is very thin and elastic, that’s why it can look unnaturally dark. If you stretch it a bit you will see it becomes lighter. But in places where it’s folded the skin is not stretched out and therefore looks darker,” Dr de Vries explains.
The producers of Clean and Dry claim in their advertisement that their product is an antifungal cream with an added brightening effect. Dr de Vries isn’t familiar with this specific product, but he is hesitant about its producers claim.
“As dermatologists we are extra careful when we prescribe creams used on genitals,” he says. “Because the skin is so thin it gets easily irritated.”
And ladies, it’s not only your private parts that look darker. According to doctor De Vries the skin has this quality, because male genitals need to be flexible for an erection. So if you're worried about what your guy might think of you, maybe you should take a closer look at his privates.
This story was originally published on 22 May 2012