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Indian men seek whiter shade of pale

Increasingly, Indian men use skin-whitening products. Racism or fashion?

The app, which features actor Shahid Kapur’s photo divided into darker and lighter halves, has gotten anything but a smooth reception.

Cries of racism are all over the blogosphere. A women's rights website objects to the app that contains the "striking shot of Kapur's face divided into dark and light with the blatant suggestion that one is desirable and the other not."

Vaseline is unfazed by the barrage of criticism. Its products are tailored to meet the needs of consumers, said a spokesperson for the company. “Much like self-tanning products in North American and Europe, skin lightening products are culturally relevant in India,” the spokesperson wrote in an email, asking to remain anonymous.

The matrimonial pages of any newspaper are testimony to Indians’ fairness fixation. Darker-skinned brides and grooms are often described as having a "wheat-ish complexion," so as not to put off prospective matches.

Skin color is a sensitive subject because, historically, paler skin signified higher status in India’s intricate caste system.

So supermarket shelves are stocked with a confounding array of creams for lightening, whitening, brightening, freshening, anti-aging, cleaning and so on. The prices range from about a dollar a tube to $50 and upward.

Still, there are some Indians who resist the stereotype that fair is beautiful.

“Skin lightening creams are not for sophisticated, urban men,” said Prasad Bidappa, a Bangalore-based fashion and image consultant who grooms upcoming models and actors. “My lessons are never about fairer skin but about healthy skin,” said Bidappa.