Meet a Model: Lakshmi Menon

So naturally the comments in the Oprah/Ash/Abhi thread devolved into an argument about skin color. Naturally. It’s like the Godwin’s Law of all things desi-related.

Lakshmi Menon - Biba August 2008 2.jpg

I don’t know about you, but I’m heartily sick of the topic. But listening to dark-skinned model talk about it? A dark-skinned desi model? A famous international dark-skinned desi model?

[OMG. Before you even think about arguing whether she's dark or not, just. stop. She thinks she is, mmkay?]

From the MTV Iggy blog archives:

If you’re a non-white woman, how many skin whitening products have you come across? Quick, GO!! (You all thought of Fair & Lovely, didn’t you?) Want to know what a fabulous international supermodel thinks about this?

Meet Lakshmi Menon, runway star, fashion editorial darling, face of Hermès, and a native of Bangalore, India. When it comes skin color and beauty, she would know of what she speaks. And sweet heavens above, does she ever!! Post-colonial hangups, “wheatish” complexions, Lakshmi lays it out:

Poor Stylist Keegan Singh is as dazzled by her intelligence as we are, and can barely keep up! Thoughtful, articulate, and really, really nice (our Iggy production crew raved about how unfussy she was about lighting and makeup…speaking of which, I don’t think she’s wearing any. grr.) Lakshmi blows away the notion that beauty and brains can’t cohabit. We’re too impressed to feel jealous. Dammit.

If the embeded video of the interview doesn’t open, go here to see the full thing. In part 2, Lakshmi and Keegan talk about their backgrounds, fashion trends, and how they began their careers.

66 thoughts on “Meet a Model: Lakshmi Menon

  1. Indians of all shades and all eye color are all bona fide Indians. The answer to shadism is not reverse shadism. Don’t hate, appreciate all shades.

  2. Okay, you’re clever, we get it. Now would you please stop posting the same comment on all the threads? Thanks!!

  3. That Keegan does a great Zoolander! I am glad Lakshmi Menon is fighting the good fight against the obsession with fairness. It must take so much effort for her to muster the energy to do so, working as she is with just a meager 150 lbs weight and -5 oz of body fat.

  4. It’s like the Godwin’s Law of all things desi-related.

    Hmm. I find it pretty sinister that Godwin himself embodies the Aryan ideals of blonde hair, blue eyes, and light skin.

  5. LMAO – Lakshmi herself is pretty ‘fair’. I would not call her dark by any measure. I agree with some of what she said but it also seems like reverse discrimination to put down people who are born ‘fair’ and have no say in the matter. Should they feel guilty for oppressing darker skin brethren? IMO, she should focus on self esteem building rather than skin color. All shades are beautiful and even unconventional looking women can be appear beautiful with self confidence – think Sarah Jessica Parker.

    BTW, she is wearing makeup in that video which you can clearly see.

  6. The Indian fashion industry is actually quite representative of the colors and features of India. There are darker skinned models, and on some occasions I’ve seen black models on the Indian runways. But people like Carol Gracias, monikangana dutta, Nina Manuel, Vidisha Pawate, Diandra Soares, Tinu Verghese, Ujjwala Raut, Madhur Sapre are some examples. There are plenty more whose name I don’t know but have seen on the various Indian fashion shows.

  7. I was on the site earlier today and was so glad to not see the dark / light skin conversation on Aish Abhi article. Looks like things changed later on.

    There is something so calm and serene about Lakshmi Menon. I would die for that skin like that. Love how the Keegan looks like he has no clue what she talking about. ” Yea, its really scary, hmmm, yea, Totally ” LOL !

  8. Poor Stylist Keegan Singh

    Please tell me this person’s parents were fans of Kevin Keegan and Liverpool FC or something, I want that to be true.

  9. Lakshmi blows away the notion that beauty and brains can’t cohabit.

    I think many SM readers don’t have this notion. We have seen the pic of Anna :-)

    Please tell me this person’s parents were fans of Kevin Keegan

    I don’t know about that but Lakshmi Menon’s parents were fans of Padma Parvati Lakshmi. More traditional the name of the model, the hotter she is!

  10. I couldn’t watch part 2, I think because it won’t let me watch it in the UK. But Keegan looks so Flock of Seagulls and Zoolander, he’s so funny.

  11. I mean, he looks like a nice guy, but I guess Zoolander just nailed that stereotype of the fashion world so much in my mind. My bad.

  12. LMAO – Lakshmi herself is pretty ‘fair’.

    exactly. She is “fair” by any desi standard. Yes she is “dark” by western standards but dark by desi ones – no way. The ones mentioned above are all “not dark”. I hav enot seen a single dark female model – male models are common and so are dark male actors but the females – very rare. Even Nandita Das is light skinned by desi standards

  13. She is “fair” by any desi standard. Yes she is “dark” by western standards but dark by desi ones – no way. The ones mentioned above are all “not dark”. I hav enot seen a single dark female model – male models are common and so are dark male actors but the females – very rare. Even Nandita Das is light skinned by desi standards

    I have seen her from very close; trust me she is about ‘average’ as far as desis are concerned (maybe even on the ‘darker side). People generally look lighter than they actually are on camera (b/c of lighting etc.); anyone who has worked on a film set will tell you that. So all this talk about her being not ‘dark’ are bunk.

  14. People generally look lighter than they actually are on camera (b/c of lighting etc.);

    i was going to go with the people who suggest that she isn’t very dark at all, but yes, this is also my experience. i’ve done some web video for bloggingheads.tv, and when the lighting is high key or harsh it way washes out my brownitude. several friends have commented on the effect. other people have said the same about ashwairya rai. she’s much browner in person than in film or photos (though i can’t attest to that obviously).

  15. yes, friends who have worked on movie sets have noted repeatedly that most of the bolly actors & actresses are not half as ‘fair’ as they look (there are exceptions obviously; the kapoors, for instance & asrani is another one). Do this experiment; go out on a very bright day (there and take a video of yourself; you’ll find yourself (looking) half as dark.

  16. Do this experiment; go out on a very bright day (there and take a video of yourself; you’ll find yourself (looking) half as dark.

    perhaps mother-in-laws should only teleconference with their daughter-in-laws? :-) i kid.

  17. yeah, that guy is really funny. it seems like she’s smirking at him about him near the end too. but that might just be my interp.

  18. She is “fair” by any desi standard. Yes she is “dark” by western standards but dark by desi ones – no way. The ones mentioned above are all “not dark”. I hav enot seen a single dark female model – male models are common and so are dark male actors but the females – very rare. Even Nandita Das is light skinned by desi standards

    Wow, if Nandita Das is getting hammered for “fairness”, I am developing an inferiority complex because I’d probably be considered an albino. What shade is it politically correct to be if you’re an Indian? Apparently any shade of brown is not “good enough”. Colorism sucks in both directions.

  19. Colorism sucks in both directions.

    the magnitude of the vector differs. this has been discussed. it is a little unseemly when the haterade comes out for the fair & comely, but it is trivial compared to the slights which are simply the norm for the kala. sometimes in forums people talk about how models need to be fed and are anorexic. it can be ugly, but at least at the end of the day they won’t be called a lard-ass on the street on a regular basis. in any case, after looking at some pictures of nandita das, i think MD’s assessment is right, she is probably is in the lighter 50-percent. there’s public median skin reflectance data which can you can also cross-reference with the von luschan scale. brown people a dark folk. some groups, such as south indians and bengalis are a very dark folk, and there are many of us. of course there are many light-skinned brown people. and with higher birthrates in the northwest quadrant of the subcontinent the average south asian is getting lighter!

  20. I consider myself dark skin and I have the same color as Lakshmi. She’d be considered dark among my family so it’s strange to hear that she wouldn’t be considered dark. Photos with lighting can make you look lighter, and so can of course being in colder weather zones. In South India where the sun is out everyday and if you work outside or outside a lot people generally get darker. Lakshmi may have just been modeling and been out of the sun, but to me she is the darker tone of South Asians. I’ve posted pics of her in India Vogue in a bikini where it clearly shows her dark skin.

  21. She’d be considered dark among my family so it’s strange to hear that she wouldn’t be considered dark.

    It depends on where someone’s personal norm of ‘darkness’ is. I have family dark as the night who would kill for LM’s skin tone. I also have cousins who are on their fairness high-horse that wouldn’t blink to snark on LM as a ‘kala’.

    Like everything desi, there is no right or wrong answer to this question – it’s all shades!

  22. Can we stop talking about all this ‘colorism’ its SO BORING

    We need to talk more about Keegan Singh.

    We need more Keegan in the world.

    The whole world needs it.

  23. Lakshmi blows away the notion that beauty and brains can’t cohabit.

    Um, of course she has beauty and brains! She’s desi, isn’t she? It’s practically a foregone conclusion!

  24. Joolz, you can’t see part 2? Really? The site’s supposed to be internationally available, so that’s a problem. Crap. What does it say?

    Is anyone else having a problem watching that? Let me know please — I’ll embed the second clip in a new post for you guys. It’s even better if you want more Keegan in your life… he talks about his family (v.e.r.y.s.l.o.w.l.y.) and about his modeling days (whoever first called Zoolander — gold star for yoouuu!) and the banter between the two is even more hysterically funny.

  25. cicatrix!

    I am touched that you worried I would not be able to see part 2 and it turns out that the fault was entirely at my end and this heap of junk that laughably calls itself a computer that I was using. Thanks for your concern! Part 2 is very good and I am a fan of Keegan. Please use him again whoever decides these things.

  26. Some facts about Keegan Singh.

    (1) He is from California

    (2) It is unlikely he was named after English soccer legend Kevin Keegan.

    (3) His father is half-Indian.

    (4) He is a mixture of Finnish, Swedish, Irish, English and Indian.

    (5) His family donated the land in northern California for the local Sikh temple.

    (6) His mom was an artist and his dad was a rice farmer.

    (7) At the end of the interview he says to Lakshmi “We should do something together”, and its so Manhattan, like a caramel ‘Sex and the City’ or something.

    In short, I propose that we demand that Keegan be given further employment on this channel and other media, without delay. The people and the community (whom I represent), demand it.

    1. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking.
  27. “Fairness vs Darkness is a post-colonial hangover thing”. LM says that in ENGLISH (and DBDs cannot miss the put-on accent there). Oh the irony!

    Really – her very profession is something that originated in the west. The clothes she wears and the presumed lifestyle she leads are all western. So is she really saying “let’s emulate the west as much as we can – except w/ regard to skin color. Because I am not very fair skinned.”?

  28. Booyakasha Um, what? You got all that from the interview? She still lives in Goa, her accent is hardly put on, and fashion/fashion shows are hardly the exclusively the provenance of the West. How do you interpret any of that as emulating the West? I don’t want to start a huge back and forth about this, so suffice it to say that I disagree.

    Joolz, I’m so glad you enjoyed him! He was supposed to be the interviewer, and the shooting team started sweating bullets when he turned out to be, uh, tongue-tied in front of the camera. Luckily Lakshmi spoke enough for both of them. He’s hilarious though, isn’t he? So California. And so so so pretty.

  29. Is Keegan “Indians are so beautiful… yeah totally” Singh gay or straight? I love how he’s trying to impress her and she’s totally not giving a shyt…

    He seems totally oblivious that the ‘light-skinned’ standard of mediocrity that she’s railing against is embodied by HIM.

    ahahaha…. I’ve watched this clip 15x time now… LOVE IT!!!!

  30. He seems totally oblivious that the ‘light-skinned’ standard of mediocrity that she’s railing against is embodied by HIM.

    that’s because if he’s only 1/4 brown he probably identifies as white, and for a white person he’s quite dark (e.g., compared to his suomalaiset relatives).

  31. Cicatrix – if you think fashion shows (obviously not fashion itself) are not a western concept, then we definitely disagree. And LM is the face of Hermes, as quoted by you, not some Indian product. I do agree my viewpoint digresses from the main topic a bit, but this fascination in India about lighter skin is only a small part of the overall ‘western wannabe’ culture that prevails today – that is what I was trying to convey.

  32. Wow, if Nandita Das is getting hammered for “fairness”, I am developing an inferiority complex because I’d probably be considered an albino

    mate dont you know that being fair is the epitome of beauty in the desh :) a ‘fair’ aishwaray is prettier than a ‘dark’ nandita. Being dark or fair is highly subjective and depends on the person to whom you are standing next to. Apologies if I came across as a sniper. As I have commented earlier on this site pink nipples are yummm ;)

  33. Keegan Singh looks like somebody of whitish (as opposed to wheatish), but indeterminant ethnicity, that would have been sent by Central Casting to play an Indian in a Euro or American movie circa 1967. He’s a tad more desi-ish than Peter Sellers. Just a tad.

  34. W/o my progressive lenses (tell me there’s a pun here) I totally thought it was Sean Hayes.

    BTW, Keegan, like Gagan?

  35. And yes, she uses Fair And Lovely, or else Photoshop is an industry unto its own:

    It’s photoshop and all the bright lights, but I still don’t think she’s truly dark. Nothing against her. Personally though, that’s the darkest I’ve seen her. No need to say either dark or light since there’s medium too.

    Considering how what dark or light is subjective and relative, what many consider medium –a tan –color is actually skewed towards lighter skin. White mainstream foundation scales show the lightest white woman down to a milk chocolate black woman and we the public think of medium as mid-range between the two when the scale is incomplete. To be accurate, if one starts with the whitest white person then the spectrum should end with the blackest person and then one would see that “medium” is actually a solid brown color.

    I enjoyed and agreed with her opinion. She’s no bimbo for certain but what model is? I don’t know of any. Oh, Naomi Campbell who I was disappointed with when I head how she speaks. Lakshmi reminds me of Yasmin Warsame

  36. I do not want to downplay the cultural effects of colonialism, and I am no kind of expert whatsoever on art history. But isn’t the “fair = beautiful” trope something that both pre-dates European colonialism in India and something that has occured within European societies as well?

    I mean, I have seen the idea that fair skin is more desirable for a woman in European/American literature and art, too. I figured it had to do with class: having fair skin meant you were not a laborer — you did not work outside in the sun, but could sit indoors and be fed peeled grapes all day or whatnot. Obviously, that’s changed in the past 60 years or so, since blue-collar and white-collar workers often work inside factories and office buildings, and the wealthy can afford a life of leisure wearing bikinis to the beach and the tanning salon, but for a long time white women were also supposed to be as pale as possible to be thought feminine and beautiful.

    Obviously, class issues get tangled up with racist beauty standards in a colonized or slave-holding society, and there’s probably no way to dis-entangle them. But I sat up a little when she said “post-colonial” because I think class is mixed in there too.

  37. lizzie (greeneyed fem)

    Having fair skin meant you were not a laborer — you did not work outside in the sun, but could sit indoors and be fed peeled grapes all day or whatnot.

    It’s amazing how some people don’t have common sense. If you hadn’t noticed Lizzie, Indian’s dark skin isn’t from working outdoors but is natural just like it is with blacks. If all Indians were to say indoors they would still have dark skin because they’re born with it. If I sound irritated it’s because someone always makes that stupid correlation which doesn’t apply to people of color.

  38. gem: Jesus Christ, of course I know that brown people (Indians, blacks, Hispanics, etc) are not brown from working in the sun.

    I was talking about how class has (perhaps) affected beauty ideals within ethnic populations (a white woman being deemed fair in comparison to other white women, or a brown woman being deemed fair in comparison to other brown women). Unless you’re claiming that all Indians are the exact same shade of brown, or that Indians don’t get darker from being out in the sun regularly, you’ve missed the point I was trying to make about the spectrum of skin color within ethnic populations and how a preference for fairer skin might be related to class (in addition to racism or colonialism).

    Again, I don’t know enough about pre-colonial Indian art and literature to make a judgment, but the interview clip above made me wonder if pre-colonial India really did have any beauty ideals of dark(er) skin, since I see a historical preference for fairness in other societies that seems related to class.

    I mean, obviously, shit like the “paper bag test” in African-American culture had to do with racism and the history of slavery in this country. I’m sure colonialism in India left a nasty stamp on what’s culturally considered “acceptable” beauty. At the same time, in 18th and 19th century England, for example, upper-class women were supposed to avoid the sun because a fairer complexion was thought to be more beautiful than a tanned one — white “fairness” was prized in comparison to the complexions of lower-class white women who might have had to work outside.

    So my comment was me wondering if there was a similar celebration of fairness in pre-colonial Indian art — that is, fairness of complexion in comparison to other Indian women. Any art geeks wanna weigh in?

  39. Lizzie you’re still missing the point. Since Indian’s don’t all have the same complexion one complexion can’t be associated with working outdoors or low class over any other. For example, say you have three high-caste Indian ladies each born with a different complexion: one caramel, one fair, and one chocolate. For simplicity sake we’ll say that these are the only high-caste women that exist in the area. How would the lower-caste Indians who also have a variety of complexions value one over the other? Or associate one complexion with being more high-bred? It’s a toss up! That’s why saying this fair-skin obsession is from class is baloney.