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Chandana Hiran, Who Inspired #AllShadesAreLovely, Talks About Rising Energy Of Indian Youth

  • IWB Post
  •  October 15, 2020

“When will fair mindsets become a preference of our society more than fair skin?’ questions 23-year-old Chandana Hiran. When Hindustan Unilever made a decision to drop the word ‘Fair’ from its brand Fair & Lovely after an astounding number of more than 24,000 people signed in favor of #AllShadesAreLovely, Chandana proved the power of youth standing up for just and true. How much has really changed since then as with the onset of the wedding season we can overhear the trade of the fair skin still billing high in designer lehenga showrooms and the corner parlors and salons?

“I wanted to do this I think around two years back but I did not go forward with it at that time because I thought Fair and Lovely was a huge brand. I really did not believe that Fair and Lovely would change its narrative but now since so many people have started talking about the Black Lives Matter and racism has come into the limelight, I thought it was a good time to address our own issues and how we are being sold an extremely racist product,” recalls Chandana. But why does Chandana feel so strongly about this issue? “Being a brown girl myself I have always felt a little under confident and insecure looking at these ads. They present a very toxic narrative saying that you cannot achieve anything in life if you are dark and if you use that one cream and become fair everything becomes magically perfect. I have always had a huge problem with such ads.”

Well, in all fairness there have been plenty of debates, discussions, and opinions around equating fairness or skin tone to’ true’ beauty and confidence. The taboo of dark skin has always been a talking, rather whimpering point for generations of patriarchal mindsets. This is why Chandana’s petition of campaigning for fair mindsets has struck a chord with thousands of people from across the country. Her petition is succinct, well researched, and touches the readers for her genuine, yet forward, feministic and humanistic approach. And it has become the face of change that has finally been able to clear the dark narrow-mindedness allowing for a glowing intelligence and rightful placement of holding dignity and self-confidence over ‘toxic narratives’ of consumerism and patriarchal societal beliefs that have fuelled each other for ages.

But this change in perspective, though long-pending has also taught us a thing or two about self and collective will. “Before I started this petition and even after the first two weeks I had a lot of people questioning that, ‘Do petitions really work and if we signed is anything going to happen?’ quips Chandana.  “I think what Unilever did is a response to our collective voice and our speaking up against the brand. What I really wish is that people don’t underestimate their power and their voice. We are ultimately consumers and we should get the kind of product, content, and narrative that we deserve. I want people to believe that you can bring the change you want. You don’t have to be so skeptical about it.” Frankly, we couldn’t agree more!

In conversation with the young Chandana Hiran who talks about her personal journey, her thoughts about gender equality, and more.

Can you walk us through some incidents or personal experiences where you were targeted or discriminated against for your skin tone and color?

Chandana: I have always felt under-confident. I always felt that maybe I was not as pretty as the other fair girls.  I was also insecure about wearing brighter colors because people would comment saying it doesn’t suit me. Then there are always relatives telling you to put multan ki mitti, ets. So this has always been there and it is very subtle because people don’t mean to make you feel bad, but then it does happen.

Skin color has been a blatant way of categorizing women. What do you think are other very obvious regressive societal standards that women to date have to adhere to or accept and how would you like to bring about a change in these, too?

Chandana: We have idolized this single idea of beauty. So just a few days back I was talking to someone and she was saying how the mannequins we have in stores are of just one single size! Even if you see in Bollywood movies, in songs and advertisements, there is only one standard idea of beauty.  The beauty pageants have certain criteria of a certain height and a certain weight and a certain complexion. In fact, I came across this information around a beauty pageant in India where all the finalists looked the same. They had the same complexion, the same features, hair texture, etc. But India being such a diverse country, where is the representation then? Why is only a certain kind of beauty represented? There is a lot that needs to be changed and I think brands need to start making these changes. Brands and mass media need to be more inclusive in their approach and narrative. One cannot go around demeaning and calling one thing better than the other. The people in power need to be more conscious of what they are selling because they have been selling insecurities.

We are seeing many instances of the young taking it upon themselves to break stereotypes and treading where older generations are too scared or skeptical to step in. What are your thoughts around this youthful energy that understands and differentiates between right and wrong and has the courage to demand and bring about change? Do you think this is because of changing times, because of the Internet and social media, education, upbringing?

Chandana: Social media has a huge role to play because I think we are much more aware today. As youngsters, we have a wholesome view of the world and I don’t think we view the world from one lens. We have the option of viewing it from a lot of different perspectives. And there is this one very beautiful thing I heard a person say that the generation before us lived for survival and meeting their needs, but this generation, so many of them, we live for bringing change. Not just survival but we want to make a better world. I have met so many people, people who are younger than me, in school and colleges who are doing so many wonderful things and it makes me really happy to see a better world.

As a young woman, how do you view gender equality? Do you think we are almost there or do you think there is a long way to go?

Chandana: I feel we have a long way to go. We are nowhere to achieving gender equality, especially in South Asian countries. I think patriarchy exists very clearly on various levels in our country. We see sexual objectification of women, the wage gap, harassment, rape etc., every day. There are so many issues. I think we have only started the conservation now in trying to achieve gender equality.

The color bias in India is very much a part of the cast oppression. Will the Black Lives Matter movement be able to shake the old and rigid mentality of casteism? What do we need to start an effective conversation?

Chandana: We have a long way to go before a change in mindset happens because racism is so deeply ingrained in our country and it is on so many levels. The constant conversation is going to help us undo the damage that has already been done over these years. On a broader level, we need to start talking about how we shouldn’t be discriminating against people based on race, caste, color, etc.

Which other social or feminist issues do you plan to focus on going forward?

Chandana: I want to focus on gender equality and body positivity. These are the two things I have felt strongly about and I think I have a better drive when it comes to these. In the future, once I am financially independent I would also want to be a catalyst in making a lot more women financially independent. That is one thing that can help bridge gender inequality in India.

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