In the midst of the Black Lives Matters movement after George Floyd’s death by a white police officer, another topic has cropped up. This has to do with Unilever’s skin-lightening cream known as Fair & Lovely.
Ever since the movement started, many people have taken to social media as an outlet for their rage at the injustice against coloured people known as colourism. However, this isn’t the first time such issue has been addressed especially in South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In these countries, both men and women have varying shades of skin tones from fair to wheatish to brown. Unfortunately the darker a person looks, the more he/she is repelled by society.
In India where Gods such as Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna, both of whom are depicted having dark blue skin are worshiped, one wonders why the prejudice in the community.
This is problematic especially for girls who are dark skinned. Right from the beginning, even the family members doubt that if the girl will be attractive enough get a good husband or not. Even matrimonial sites give preference to fair and wheatish complexions.
Ever since this brand was launched in 1975, it has conditioned people’s mind that a fair woman is more desirable not only for marriage but even for jobs. In the early years of bollywood, the actresses were all fair skinned. Whatever we watch on television, whether its a movie, ads or even news channels the women are shown to be fair skinned. This has made a hugh impact on people’s mentalities that a fair skinned woman is given a higher status.
This led to Johnson & Johnson declaring that it will discontinue its skin lightening creams Neutrogena Fine Fairness and Clear Fairness by Clean & Clear. Hindustan Unilever has also joined the list but it’s only dropping the brand name. It will also drop the words “whitening” or “lightening” used in promoting the promoting the products.
“We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this.” said Sunny Jain, President of Beauty & Personal Care division at Unilever.
“The brand has never been and is not a bleaching product.” Unilever added.
Bollywood which has already been blamed by the public for the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput has again been hit for its discrimination based on skin colour. Some of bollywood’s actors also responded against the discrimination. Indian actress Bipashu Basu wrote on Instragram that she was always known as a “dusky” girl due to her dark skin tone. However, she’s one of the few lucky people who have made their mark in bollywood as a sex icon. She also stated that “To me sexy is the personality not just the colour of your skin…why my skin colour only sets me apart from the conventional actresses at that time.”
However just changing the brand name doesn’t change the product. Shashwat Das, founder of Almond Branding fully expects HUL to drop their brands like J&J.
“In my opinion, it’s only an eyewash. I am looking forward to a complete ban on skin-tone oriented products. The very foundation on which these brands are built is flawed. We have known it for years and it took 45 years and a raging anti-racial movement to force this move upon certain companies. How come there is a sudden awakening? This is not a change out of self-realization. Had these protests not caught momentum, such a move by HUL would have taken a few more decades to come.”
Although HUL has declared its dropping the word “Fair” in the brand name, they would still be selling the same product. It’s just like selling an old wine in a new bottle.
Actress Nandita Das, who campaigns against racism in the world of entertainment welcomed the idea of renaming the brand but also added “So while this is certainly a step in the right direction, there is much more work to be done. However Unilever executes their rebranding strategy and new advertisement campaigns will be incredibly telling of their true intentions. And how bollywood reacts to this new era of awakening will be noticed – up until now, their silence has been deafening.”