The fairness cream market in India was valued to be worth 450 million dollars in 2019. More than 6,277 tonnes of skin lighteners, including products marketed as anti-ageing creams targeting dark spots or freckles, were sold worldwide last year. Fair brides still remain highly sort after in the marriage market, in our country. If our fairness cream ads are to be believed then a fairer skin could increase your prospects of marriage, getting a job or even being cast in a film!
Fairness creams do nothing but exploit this deep-seated insecurity that arises from not fitting into that definition of beauty.
But why do fairness cream ads sell us this stereotypical dream of beauty? Whether we like it or not such advertising finds its roots in the reality of our society where the world is a much kinder place if you fit into the centuries-old definition of beauty, where fair skin sits right at the top.
Fairness creams do nothing but exploit this deep-seated insecurity that arises from not fitting into that definition of beauty. These companies rope in superstars every year to lure people into buying the promise of a better life, the key to which is a humble beauty cream giving you do shade gora nikhar. And boy do we lap this idea of transforming into a go-getter by rubbing a concoction of chemicals into our cheeks!
But in the past few days, the Black Lives Matter Movement has pushed these companies into a corner, making them highly uncomfortable about what they are selling and how. While being a movement that calls out racism in the US, it seems the entire world has connected to it on some level and using its context to raise larger questions on discrimination on the basis of skin colour, that billions of people face daily.
- Will dropping “Fair” from the name of a beauty cream stop people from buying it?
- While fairness creams play a big role in reaffirming outdated notions of beauty, can the customer base that created a 450 million dollar market call itself innocent?
- Can the discussion on beauty and inclusivity stop at fairness?
- Why does anyone need to be made feel that they need to use cream because how they look is not good enough?
As a result of this larger discourse, a few days ago, Johnson and Johnson announced that it was going to stop the sale of its skin whitening cream. Now, Unilever has announced that it is going to rebrand its skincare brand Fair and Lovely, and stop using the term fair, also ending references to ‘whitening’, ‘lightening’ or ‘fairness’, thus embracing a more inclusive vision of beauty. Read more about their announcement here.
Why should anyone have the agency to label a person less pretty or lovely or handsome and thus in need of a beautifying cream?
While it was about time that this association of beauty with fairness ends, one does wonder, if this is a mere tokenism? Even if the marketing strategy is changed, at the end of the day you are still selling a beauty cream? Can you talk about inclusivity in beauty, and then restrict the discussion to fairness? Why does any person even need a beauty cream? Why should anyone have the agency to label a person less pretty or lovely or handsome and thus in need of a beautifying cream?
But the onus of this discussion cannot just lie with companies that manufacture and market such creams. Will the very mindset of customers that have created a 450 million dollar worth market, change overnight if a product is packaged in a different way?
It is heartening to see that companies are rethinking their approach to advertising and packaging of their product, but let us face it, these are still products that cater to the stereotypical notion of beauty. They still make millions of people believe that they are not good enough, that there is a scope to improve their natural appearance.
Unless this very notion is squashed no amount of packaging or re-packaging will uproot discrimination on the basis of colour once and for all.
The views expressed are the author’s own.