Skin tone and self/state identity in India: The North/South question

  • Hélène Kessous


Regarding images medias are showing, Indians, even in the South, are “white”. The gap between these images and reality is so deep, that a strong feeling of “self hate” has grown among the youngest. In response to this massive whitening campaign, a reaction is now coming from the South and Dravidians are organising themselves as the “black power” of India.

It is not a secret that in India it is better being « fair and lovely » than « brown and ugly ». But the craving for white skin is not only a question of beauty; it is also a matter of domination and self-determination. The whiteness issue takes place at multiple levels in India. Love of white/light skin is firmly rooted in ancient classifications such as class, castes, but also in the North/South distinction.

The North/South distinction is particularly interesting because, not only is it one of the key drivers of whitening products’ consumption dynamics in India, but it is also a way to question “states and ethnic identities”. How do Indians see themselves and their skin tone? How does skin tone establish your position in society and your state belonging? Do South Indians use whintening products to look like North Indians? Why do North Indians want to be even whiter if they already are the dominant group? Who are they attempting to look like? How does skin tone affect the construction of one’s identity in India? These are some of the questions we will attempt answer in this paper.

Author Biography

Hélène Kessous
How to Cite
Kessous, H. (2012). Skin tone and self/state identity in India: The North/South question. The South Asianist Journal, 1(2). Retrieved from
Session 2: Bodies and Consumption