'What is wrong with this picture?': Miss India finalists spark conversation about country's 'Western beauty' obsession

Participants  at the fbb Colors Femina Miss India East 2019  on April 23,2019 in Kolkata,India. (Photo by Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Participants at the fbb Colors Femina Miss India East 2019 on April 23,2019 in Kolkata,India. (Photo by Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A newspaper's photo collage featuring the finalists of Miss India 2019 competition has sparked conversation online regarding the country's obsession with Western beauty standards – namely, an obsession with fair skin.

The collage, which was published in the Times of India and shared on social media, features 30 contestants who advanced to the final stages of the annual beauty pageant. Many were quick to notice that all 30 women look relatively identical.

One social media user, Prasanna Ratanjankar, tweeted, "They all have the same hair, and the SAME SKIN COLOUR, and I'm going to hazard a guess that their heights and vital stats will also be similar. So much for India being a 'diverse' country."

The contestants for this year's competition, which previously helped launch the career of actress Priyanka Chopra and sent six ultimate winners of Miss World and two winners of Miss Universe into the global competitions, highlighted an issue that India has struggled with for years.

Women in the country are constantly faced with the notion that fair skin is beautiful, resulting in a thriving bleaching market, with products full of dangerous ingredients such as steroids, hydroquinone, and tretinoin. Even men are now buying these products, which Bollywood stars regularly endorse.

"There is a perception they have to emulate Western beauty standards to win," Radhika Parameswaran, a professor at Indiana University's Media School told CNN.

It is believed that the photos shared in the newspaper and subsequently on social media were photoshopped to give the depiction of lighter skin on the contestants.

"This is not the skin tones of the actual pictures," Shamita Singha, the pageant's grooming expert, told the BBC. Singha says that the Photoshop team was ordered not to alter the skin tone of the contestants, but says that a tight publication deadline resulted in the strikingly similar images.

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