Models Claim Racism in India's Fashion Industry

Lakme Fashion Week Summer/ Resort 2011

A model on designer Pria Kataria Puri’s runway during India’s 2011 Fashion Week.

Models in India are fighting mad — at their own industry. In particular, dark-skinned models are complaining that India fashion shows are hiring disproportionate numbers of light-skinned models — a symptom of the Indian fixation on pale skin that dates back to the country’s British colonial rule.

As Indian designers gain a stronger foothold in the market — drawing interest from buyers in Europe and the U.S. — the world has begun paying far more attention to India’s Fashion Week. But while Indian shows are becoming major events, the number of Indian models walking in them remains low. And now India’s fashion models are claiming that when they do manage to land a job, they’re paid less than white models.

The model turned television host Carol Gracias notes that most top Indian models are paid around 500 to 600 pounds for shows, while Western models receive higher fees on average.  Meanwhile, the model/actress Dipannita Sharma points out that, “One could have understood, if it was about getting supermodels of international fame or to work in India [sic] but that’s not happening — it’s just they want fairer skin on the Indian ramps.”

Indian model Lakshi Menon, left, has made her mark as the face of Western brands.

As research begins to reveal that, at least in Western countries, women respond better to advertising featuring models who look like they do, how long will it take to reverse this trend toward white skin in India?  The modeling agent Pranab Awasti, of Delhi’s Glitz Modelling agency, said the trend toward light skin is fueled by Indians themselves — the customer base craves “fair” complexions: “Indians in general have that inferiority complex, we have had a hangover about fair skin, since the British left India… It is an inherent thing in Indians to see white as beautiful and black as ugly…we have this concept in our minds that only fair-skinned people can be models.”

So while there’s a rapidly expanding middle class in India, with a growing amount of disposable income, unfortunately the pale-skin preference has far deeper roots than, for instance, the West’s heavily pop-culture-influenced inclination toward thinness.  Turning this around, or at least getting more Indian models onto Indian runways, could consequently be a huge challenge.