The Dark, The Dusky, Are Also Lovely

The Dark, The Dusky, Are Also Lovely

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other unarmed black civilians in the US have sparked a movement that’s spread like wildfire across the globe. Even in the midst of the ever burgeoning pandemic, people have come out in support of #Blacklivesmatter. There have been protests, demonstrations, sit-ins and marches across the United States, Canada, UK, Europe and Japan.

 India on the other hand has been quite quiet, as regards the matter except for a few jump on the bandwagon activists who’ve used the hash tag to remain relevant. Lip service really: for who actually cares about a fair skin bias. It’s a given. In this country of ours, fairness and beauty are synonyms, and everyone from babies to brides yearns for a ride. However, the #BlackLivesMatter movement proved epiphanic for Hindustan Unilever, who suddenly realized that their flagship fairness cream (Fair and Lovely) was grossly unfair and biased in its definition of beauty. And as a response, HUL decided to rename the fairness cream Glow and Lovely, which is grammatically as upsetting as it is morally.

Since 1975, Fair and Lovely has been very clear in its messaging. It’s told a country obsessed with fairness, that using its cream was the golden ticket to landing a great job, a great guy, and consequently a great life. Fair and Lovely women became successful cricket commentators, lawyers, beauty queens, not because they were talented….nope. Every stereotype in the book was employed to sell this myth, and sell it did, to become today’s Rs. 2000-crore behemoth. The fairness industry today boasts of some of the biggest names in the business, like Ponds, L’Oreal, Emami, each one carving up a slice of the Rs. 4000-crore pie. The product range today boasts of fairness sunscreens, fairness day creams, fairness night creams, fairness face washes, underarm lightening creams and even vaginal whitening creams. Seriously!

But it would be a tad unfair to heap all the blame on the doorsteps of these companies. No doubt they made money by exploiting feelings of inadequacy, or low self worth, or caste and regional biases. But if, they were the ones selling, weren’t we the ones buying? We, with our gora rang (fair skin) fetish are equally culpable for this malaise. In Fighting Poverty Together (2011), the writer Aneel Karnani, a professor of strategy at University of Michigan, cited HUL research that claims “90 per cent of Indian women want to use whiteners, because it is aspirational, like losing weight. A fair skin is, like education, regarded as a social and economic step up.”

Take for instance our mythology, that tells tales of the fair skinned devas (gods) being harassed by the dark skinned asuras (demons). The kala=apshukan (black=evil) theory is so strong that the colour is avoided at all auspicious events. Bollywood numbers sing of buying jewellery only for milky white wrists (Chittiyan Kalaiyan) or cautioning women to shade themselves in the sun lest they turn dark. Even, the ever powerful Lord Krishna needs to ask his mother why he is dark skinned, when the love of his life, Radha isn’t! (Yasomati Maiya Se Bole Nand Lala). Incidentally, Krishna who’s described to be as dark as a rain filled cloud in the Mahabharat was played by the lily white Nitish Bharadwaj in the B.R Chopra version and no one raised an eyebrow. A You Tube search will yield millions of videos promising instant fairness. Tutorials on how to make dark skinned brides look fairer on D-Day will have millions of hits. Matrimonial sites with their fairness requirements are an open secret. No one in this country of mine wants a dark skinned bride. We have actor Kajol changing skin shades over the past decade in a transformation reminiscent of a certain Michael Jackson. We have Shahrukh Khan’s Fair and Handsome pitch, attributing his entire success to the fairness cream that wasn’t even around when he became the Baadshah. We have a brazen Mulayam Singh Yadav, dismissing rape and sexual assault charges brought about by Dalit leader Mayawati saying “there wasn’t a dearth of women in the country, for someone to want to rape a kaali kaluti and baal kati like her”.

Until we keep feeding expectant mothers white objects in pursuit of fair progeny, changing the name of a brand will mean zilch. The acceptance of beauty needs to come from within, irrespective of which shade it is.  Dark dusky or fair, we are lovely, as it is. And HUL, if you really want to make up for decades of exploitation and bias, a dusky skinned beauty for your next ad campaign, will be the right step towards it.

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other unarmed black civilians in the US have sparked a movement that’s spread like wildfire across the globe. Even in the midst of the ever burgeoning pandemic, people have come out in support of #Blacklivesmatter. There have been protests, demonstrations, sit-ins and marches across the United States, Canada, UK, Europe and Japan.

 India on the other hand has been quite quiet, as regards the matter except for a few jump on the bandwagon activists who’ve used the hash tag to remain relevant. Lip service really: for who actually cares about a fair skin bias. It’s a given. In this country of ours, fairness and beauty are synonyms, and everyone from babies to brides yearns for a ride. However, the #BlackLivesMatter movement proved epiphanic for Hindustan Unilever, who suddenly realized that their flagship fairness cream (Fair and Lovely) was grossly unfair and biased in its definition of beauty. And as a response, HUL decided to rename the fairness cream Glow and Lovely, which is grammatically as upsetting as it is morally.

Since 1975, Fair and Lovely has been very clear in its messaging. It’s told a country obsessed with fairness, that using its cream was the golden ticket to landing a great job, a great guy, and consequently a great life. Fair and Lovely women became successful cricket commentators, lawyers, beauty queens, not because they were talented….nope. Every stereotype in the book was employed to sell this myth, and sell it did, to become today’s Rs. 2000-crore behemoth. The fairness industry today boasts of some of the biggest names in the business, like Ponds, L’Oreal, Emami, each one carving up a slice of the Rs. 4000-crore pie. The product range today boasts of fairness sunscreens, fairness day creams, fairness night creams, fairness face washes, underarm lightening creams and even vaginal whitening creams. Seriously!

But it would be a tad unfair to heap all the blame on the doorsteps of these companies. No doubt they made money by exploiting feelings of inadequacy, or low self worth, or caste and regional biases. But if, they were the ones selling, weren’t we the ones buying? We, with our gora rang (fair skin) fetish are equally culpable for this malaise. In Fighting Poverty Together (2011), the writer Aneel Karnani, a professor of strategy at University of Michigan, cited HUL research that claims “90 per cent of Indian women want to use whiteners, because it is aspirational, like losing weight. A fair skin is, like education, regarded as a social and economic step up.”

Take for instance our mythology, that tells tales of the fair skinned devas (gods) being harassed by the dark skinned asuras (demons). The kala=apshukan (black=evil) theory is so strong that the colour is avoided at all auspicious events. Bollywood numbers sing of buying jewellery only for milky white wrists (Chittiyan Kalaiyan) or cautioning women to shade themselves in the sun lest they turn dark. Even, the ever powerful Lord Krishna needs to ask his mother why he is dark skinned, when the love of his life, Radha isn’t! (Yasomati Maiya Se Bole Nand Lala). Incidentally, Krishna who’s described to be as dark as a rain filled cloud in the Mahabharat was played by the lily white Nitish Bharadwaj in the B.R Chopra version and no one raised an eyebrow. A You Tube search will yield millions of videos promising instant fairness. Tutorials on how to make dark skinned brides look fairer on D-Day will have millions of hits. Matrimonial sites with their fairness requirements are an open secret. No one in this country of mine wants a dark skinned bride. We have actor Kajol changing skin shades over the past decade in a transformation reminiscent of a certain Michael Jackson. We have Shahrukh Khan’s Fair and Handsome pitch, attributing his entire success to the fairness cream that wasn’t even around when he became the Baadshah. We have a brazen Mulayam Singh Yadav, dismissing rape and sexual assault charges brought about by Dalit leader Mayawati saying “there wasn’t a dearth of women in the country, for someone to want to rape a kaali kaluti and baal kati like her”.

Until we keep feeding expectant mothers white objects in pursuit of fair progeny, changing the name of a brand will mean zilch. The acceptance of beauty needs to come from within, irrespective of which shade it is.  Dark dusky or fair, we are lovely, as it is. And HUL, if you really want to make up for decades of exploitation and bias, a dusky-skinned beauty for your next ad campaign, will be the right step towards it.

Featured image: Joshua Rondeau/Unsplash


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