A collage of this year's Miss India beauty pageant finalists has sparked criticism of what critics have called the competition's lack of diversity and the country's obsession with fair skin. A number of social media users have argued the beauty pageant's 30 finalists all appear to have the same fair skin tone in a collage of headshots published by the Times of India. Critics accused the pageant of perpetuating Eurocentric beauty ideals despite the country's rich diversity.
"Miss India contestants. 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," one Twitter user wrote in a tweet featuring the Times of India's collage of headshots. "So much for India being a 'diverse' country."
In the photos, the 30 finalists appear to all have long dark hair and fair skin. In fact, some critics have argued this year's class of Miss India finalists all "look the same."
"Why do all the finalists 'look the same'?" Canadian journalist Natasha Fatah asked on Twitter. "One of most ethnically diverse countries in the world, but India is still obsessed with being 'fair and lovely.'"
According to CNN, however, other photographs and videos taken of this year's Miss India contestants "reveal them to not be as fair-skinned as the Times of India's image." The cable news network noted that both the Times of India and Femina, the organization which hosts the Miss India beauty pageant, are owned by Bennett, Coleman & Co.
Shamita Singha, the "grooming expert" for the Miss India pageant, appeared to confirm that photos of the finalists had undergone at least some editing in remarks to the BBC. "This is not the skin tones of the actual pictures," Singha said, adding that the original photos had required retouching as the contestants had looked "like plastic" in them.
However, Singha claimed the Photoshop team was directed not to change or modify any contestant's skin tone and ultimately blamed a tight deadline and the newspaper's print for the change, the BBC reported. "These are just some of our girls in the last year," she said. "Everyone's skin color is kept as is."
Still critics claim India has long been obsessed with fair skin. In fact, according to the BBC, skin whitening cosmetics such as "Fair and Lovely" (reportedly the first to be marketed in India) have continued to be popular sellers since the 1970s.
But critics argued that pageants such as Miss India, which some have suggested favors women who fit into Western or Eurocentric standards of beauty, perpetuate that fair-skin obsession. Indiana University Media School professor Radhika Parameswaran told CNN that Miss India winners are traditionally "groomed for the global stage" where they may compete in international beauty competitions such as Miss Universe or Miss World. "There is a perception they have to emulate Western beauty standards to win," she said.