Across India, one might say that there is sort of an obsession with being white-skinned throughout history and which is still prevalent even in these modern times.
Why do you ask? Well, ever since we could comprehend the difference between black and white, it was instilled in us that the fairer we are, the lovelier we get and the superior we feel. It was almost as if like it was a curse being born dark-skinned.
As we all know, before India got its Independence, the subcontinent was invaded and partly ruled by the Mughals in the 16th century, and colonised by the British from the 17th century onwards. All these foreign “visitors” were of relatively fair complexion, and many claimed to be superior. Therefore leaving an impact on us as associating our skin colour with power, status and even desirability.
Ever since the 1970s when it first hit the market, millions of the Fair & Lovely tubes were bought every year by teenagers and young women in a country where lighter skin is routinely equated with beauty. Even today, there is still an urge among people to be a shade lighter and in that process do everything they can to achieve their desired colour to ultimately be more accepted. And so, it is no surprise that the country’s “Fairness” business is booming. So much so that the fairness cream market is estimated to be earning over 24bn rupees ($317m; £256m) in annual revenue. When one talks about fairness products, the one name that almost immediately comes to my mind and I’m sure it comes to yours too is Fair & Lovely. It is safe to say that Fair & Lovely has been the undisputed market leader, with nearly 70% shares and a loyal consumer base. Even with various campaigns against them, they were on the top.
Having said that, controversies around ‘fairness’ products has raged for decades, with darker skin shades variously described as “dusky” and “wheatish”, whereas lighter tones are sold as more attractive. Even in an industry as huge as Bollywood for example, it is quite apparent and unfortunate that a lighter-skinned Actor gets the bigger roles, contracts and finally become more successful than the one with says the better talent just because of the colour of their skin. The debate has been going on for ages and it is time we put an end to it. We are currently living in the 21st century and with all the discrimination going around in the world we should not let an issue such as the difference in our skin colour get in the way of us.
There has to be a time when we as consumers stop buying into the idea that a particular shade is better than others. Therefore, it was a highly regarded and welcomed move when Unilever and its Indian subsidiary Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) announced to the world that it was going to change the household famous name Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely. Earlier, I have noticed that their ads have also evolved with time and no longer depict dark-skinned girls as sad and depressed unable to achieve their goals. Instead, they are promoting the use of the product for glow, oil-control as well as an anti-pollution agent which to me is a great sign. Similarly, the brand has started replacing words like “fairness”, “whitening” and “skin-lightening” with “glow”, “even tone”, “skin clarity” and “radiance”. Fair & Lovely also stopped ads that showed transformation in skin tones and shade guides. With the product also being sold in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan and elsewhere in Asia, the company promises to feature women of all skin tones in future advertising campaigns which is indeed a great first step.
While some may say that at the end of the day no matter what the name, it is still a fairness cream with the same ingredients and aiming for the same market, other like myself argue that it is a great first step towards inclusivity and there’s still miles to go for us to really change our mindset with the evolving world and embrace the many culture and races that call India their home.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelloPost.)