This ad was taken from Fair and Lovely’s online page as one of their headers in June 2019. Fair and Lovely is a brand of skin-whitening product, marketed by Unilever and sold in many countries, but India in particular. The brand consistently uses the same “style” of ads – using a before and after picture of a woman becoming more fair-skinned, as seen in this advertisement. Although originally marketed for middle-class Indian women, the popularity of the brand’s products has reached rural villages and is profiting from women of different social classes as well (Shevde, 2008).
India, similar to many other countries, has a lot of problems with colorism – discrimination of people based on the social meaning behind skin color. In India, lighter skin is praised and considered desirable, beautiful, and is associated with a higher social class. Darker skin is considered less desirable, dirty, and is associated with a lower social class. This pyramid caste system is thought to stem from the first nomadic Caucasian Aryan group when they arrived in India around 1500 BCE, and further fueled by the British rule in India which resulted in the idea that fair skin signifies superiority, while darker skin represents the inferior masses (Shevde, 2008).
The main problem that I see here is the promotion of this colorism that was established during India’s colonization mostly on women. By promoting “skin whitening” products, the brand is further perpetuating the class differences associated with skin color, and marketing fair skin as being superior and desirable. By marketing their products to women, they are promoting the unrealistic standard put on women to always be beautiful and desirable. This does damage to the large number of Indian women with dark skin – telling them that their skin color makes them inferior to these beautiful fair skinned models who adhere to the western standard of beauty. We even see that women with barely any disposable income are spending their money on this product rather than necessities because that is just how valued “fairness” is in Indian society.
To address the issue I mentioned, I have jammed this ad to even out the skin tone of the model on either side of her face (to the best of my abilities). By doing this I want to show that light skin does not equal to beauty. The woman does not become more beautiful after lightening her skin, but rather remains beautiful for embracing her darker skin. I tried to reinforce this idea by writing “Your dark skin is beautiful as it is” in large letters. There should be no expectation for women to alter their appearances to be able to fit the norm in society where lighter skinned people are more beautiful, successful, and of higher standing. I want this ad to challenge the need for companies like Fair and Lovely which exploits the caste system and the unrealistic expectations of female beauty for profit.
Under the main slogan, I also wrote “decolonize the Indian standard of beauty” to address the colonial roots behind the colorism that drive this ad. In this case, decolonizing the Indian standard of beauty refers to stripping away the white standard of beauty from the social expectations in India. We want women to stop thinking that the ultimate achievement of beauty is to be fair skinned because Indian people possess that beauty regardless of their skin color. It is understandable that with the pyramid caste system, women want to be perceived as more successful and more beautiful because they want to feel better, or because it is expected of them from society to be good enough to marry, get jobs, etc.
These types of ads are very common, not just with this brand, but with other beauty brands who decide to sell skin lightening products. By seeing an ad that subverts that message and challenges the consumer to question the expectation of beauty, I hope that it would become a catalyst for women to start discussing and dismantling the colorism-driven beauty standards as well as the need for any beauty standards in India.
Shevde, N. (2008). All’s fair in love and cream: A cultural case study of fair & lovely in india.Advertising & Society Review, 9(2) doi:10.1353/asr.0.0003