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Fifty Shades Of Same? Why This Beauty Pageant Is Being Slammed

It is the contest that discovered Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra, but this year it's faced a storm of criticism over allegations the contestants all look similar and have the same light skin tone.

The Miss India pageant has come under fire for lacking diversity after a newspaper (which runs the contest) released a head shots of the finalists that looked eerily similar.

The Times of India published a full-page collage of the women who will compete on June 15 for the spot to represent their country at the Miss World pageant.

But critics said the photo is proof that the contest is obsessed with fair-skin, despite many Indians having darker complexions.

Miss India 2019 contestants IMAGE: Getty Images

It was pointed out on social media it seemed all the finalists looked much the same, specifically with fairer skin, and lacked true representation of the country’s women.

"What's wrong with this picture?" one Twitter user asked.

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“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,” another user replied.

Top Bollywood actors and actresses have endorsed skin lightening products, which have become among the highest-selling products in India.

Beauty pageants have been serious business in India since the 1990s, with many contestants including Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra going on to have lucrative careers locally and abroad.

The pageant is now being accused of highlighting the fair-skin obsession.

However, Shamita Singha, the pageant’s grooming expert, told the BBC the original pictures were retouched because the contestants looked “like plastic” but insisted the editing team was not told to alter skin tone.

"This is not the skin tones of the actual pictures,” she said, adding some of the show’s past winners like Nehal Chudasama, Srinidhi Shetty and Anukreethy Vas had darker skin.

“These are just some of our girls in the last year,” she said. “Everyone’s skin colour is kept as is.”

Organisers pointed to previous winners Nehal Chudasama, Srinidhi Shetty and Anukreethy Vas and said their skin tone was darker.

Skin whitening cosmetics have been among the highest-selling in the country -- with 'Fair and Lovely',  India's first fairness cream, introduced in the 1970s.

In 2014 the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory body for the advertising industry in India, released a set of guidelines for the advertising of skin lightening and ‘fairness’ products.

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After seeking industry and public feedback, the ASCI said its new guidelines will “go a long way in ensuring that advertisements of products in this category do not depict people with dark skin as somehow inferior to those who are fairer”.

A World Health Organisation study found 61 percent of the dermatological market in India consists of skin lightening products.

It stipulated that ads should not depict darker-skinned people as "unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned" and said that they should not be shown as being at a disadvantage when it came to "prospects of matrimony, jobs or promotions".

The Miss World pageant will be held in Bangkok, Thailand in December.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au