India’s Color Complex: One Day’s Worth of Matrimonials

zoomed in image of two people holding hands and wearing traditional clothing

Marriage both gives and takes away: It provides both men and women with a measure of social capital, but it also puts pressure on women, more than men, to conform to normalized beauty standards to be considered marriageable.

These standards, globally, correlate with light skin.

Specifically in India, the country’s historic, complex relationship with colorism means that, there, beauty is synonymous with light complexion.Using a database of 1 day’s worth of advertisements from New Delhi’s Sunday Times, the paper explores the origins of colorism within India and specifically how this form of discrimination affects marriage choices and the institution of marriage.

Key Findings

  • Skin shade is described far more often in advertisements placed by prospective brides or their families than prospective grooms or their families.
  • Men’s advertisements only specified their bride’s complexion less than 20 % of the time; women announced their complexion approximately 40 % of the time.
  • Advertisements focused disproportionately on the physical attributes of women and their capacity to function as homemakers (through use of the adjective “homely”); advertisements for men focused primarily on education and occupation.
  • In total, it appears color capital is more essential for women than men, causing women to have a heightened sensitivity to skin shade because it influences their marriageability.
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