Brown is Beautiful: How “Fairness Creams” Got a Major Makeover in the Country

In a country where diversity is celebrated in its constitution and dialects change every hundred kilometres, an obsession with the fair-skin in India’s melting pot was one of the last-remaining thorns in the sides of woke Indians. But this regressive narrative that has come into full public umbrage for decades now, seems to finally be on its last legs. Or so it would seem. 

Who is the Fairest of Them All?

Over the last few days, beauty and skin-care companies in South Asia have been on a spree of emergency image makeovers as majors such as HUL, P&G, L’Oréal, Nivea, Olay, Pond’s, Dove, Neutrogena and Garnier went through a moment of reawakening to declare war on fairness creams — reportedly a Rs 3,000 crores market. As per the last report by India Fairness Cream & Bleach Market Overview this market was on a steady climb to a projected Rs 5,000 crores market cap by the year 2023, before it was stopped dead in its tracks. Why one would wonder?

What could well be mistaken as Black Comedy (excuse the pun) for those living under the rocks, the (super?)facial skincare companies have decided to drop the words ‘fair’, ‘lightening’, ‘whitening’ from their promotions, advertisements and brand names following the global movement in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.

Brown is Beautiful. 

The change of heart, as some of the companies’ press releases would attest is to tide over the damage done by the negative stereotypes that these products perpetuate against darker skin tones. The impetus stems from the woke #BlackLivesMatter movement which has caught America squarely in its cross nets.

Yet, look closely and some pundits would nudge towards a draft proposal slated for an act by the government that first came to light in February. As per the Health and Family Welfare Ministry’s said proposal, which would be an amendment to the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements Act 1954), advertisements for magic remedies and fairness creams would come under the scanner. The punishment for flouting the new rule in the making would be a jail term of 5 years, and fine of up to 50 lakhs. Optimists well wondered whether this was the reason behind the beauty industry getting creamed. 

As per a study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2019, lightening products take up above about half of India’s skincare market. Over the last several years, products such as these have found endorsements in B-wood celebrities and sadly today many social-media influencers. Back in the day, an advertisement with B-Town celebrities Priyanka Chopra, Neha Dhupia and Saif Ali Khan caught a lot of flak for creating regressive stereotypes that might well be aped by young, impressionable minds. A few woke influencers during that time had called the whole series out winning affections with their legions of aspiring fans. 

Kiss and Makeup

As things stand though, old face wash is all set to undergo a big eye wash. While HUL announced that ‘Fair and Lovely’ would be rebranded as ‘Glow and Lovely’, several others have joined the fray. L’Oreal, Neutrogena and others have rolled back their product offerings. But the narrative remains to be changed. In a Rs 3,000 crores industry, where beauty may just be skin deep, perceptions may take a longer time to change. Maybe an act of good karma that these companies could undertake is to change the narrative for the better by re-positioning their overt messaging that all-skin types are welcome. Instead of being body shopped, maybe the answer lies in strict enforcement by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to curb such internalised racism. 


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Brown & Beautiful: Coz Beauty isn’t Skin-Deep.
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#trending The beauty industry in India and the world over is pegged for a major makeover as skincare manufacturers and beauty labels from L’Oreal, Unilever, P&G, to Dove, Olay and Ponds, have all taken a decision to drop words such as ‘fairness’, ‘whitening’, and ‘lightening’ from their promotions and advertisements. The ₹3,000 (some numbers suggest ₹5,000) crores skin-whitening market has decided to shed the decades-old regressive ‘fairness skin’ narrative on the backs of #BlackLivesMatter movement. Earlier a draft proposal by the #governmentofindia in Feb proposed a hefty ₹50 lakh penalty and a stiff 5-year prison sentence for those brands promoting fairness products. . . In a country where women battle colourism and internalised racism from unexpected quarters in daily life, this move could help shift the tide for the better. Several celebrities have earlier been called out for promoting the archaic mindset through their endorsements in advertisements. But what does this change in narrative mean for young India? We went inquiring. Stay tuned, as we peel the covers, article drops shortly. .
In Frame: Illustrator @manal_mirza_ shares this creative titled ‘Badass and Lovely’ that fights the coloured stereotype as a resonance to the times we live in. #darkisbeautiful #brownskin #darkskin #brownskingirls #melanin #antifairness #fairandlovely #fairnesscreams #beauty #unfairandlovely #blm #blacklivesmatter #colorism #anticolorism #antiracism #thevibe

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Colourism as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker once described is ‘discrimination on the basis of skin colour within your ethnic group. Much attributed to both colonial and caste hangovers, this deep-rooted obsession is rarely ever subtle. Indian media though must play its part of gatekeeping and not allow the perpetuation of this stereotype. Beauty is more than just skin-deep. In a progressive country, one needs to be valued for character, individuality, strengths and values.

In India, where such messaging impacts women of all colours, this must be the pervading message — you are beautiful (period). An act of redemption that these companies need to embark on after all as Vir Das once famously quoted during a stand-up show, these creams were ‘just racism in a tube.’

Time for more action, less lip service. Don’t you agree?

Cover Image: “Dark is Divine” by Naresh Nil.

© 2020 Gut and Flow Media Pvt Ltd.

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