Not White Enough? There’s a Facebook App for That!

Vaseline markets digital whitening to Indian men.

By Daisy Hernandez Jul 13, 2010

It’s another day in the land of "Only White is Beautiful."

Vaseline is offering a Facebook app in India that allows users to whiten their profile pictures on the site. Apparently with just a few clicks, brown faces can turn progressively lighter. Think Michael Jackson or Sammy Sosa but faster. Much faster.

Now please don’t think Vaseline is doing this to promote white supremacy in India on purely ideological grounds. There’s profit to be made from a racial hierarchy that places white at the top. The Facebook app is part of Vaseline’s summer campaign to promote their new skin-lightening cream —and here’s another twist— for men.

Traditionally, these "make-me white" creams have been targeted at women in India and elsewhere. Commercials have promised brown and black women that they won’t just get white faces with the creams but that the lighter skin will result in nabbing a good man and even establishing a career.

In 2005 Indian cosmetics giant Emani realized that men are no less vulnerable to the script of "white is better." Emani launched the first skin-whitening cream for men, called "Fair and Handsome." (Women get Fair and Lovely). Now, there’s at least six companies selling whitening creams for men including Garnier, L’Oreal and Nivea.

For its new cream and Facebook ad, Vaseline hired Bollywood actor Shahid Kapur as the spokesperson. The ad featuring the actor’s face in two halves–dark and obscure and light and clear– tells Indian men to "Transform your face" offline in just one minute a day.

This ad like the commercials aimed at women leave out one crucial piece of information: these products often contain ingredients that are so hazardous they’ve been banned in the European Union and a few other countries. One study found that 90 percent of the women entering Arizona clinics for mercury poisoning were Chicanas who had been using skin-lightening creams. A Harvard medical school professor notes: "These women had tried so desperately to whiten their skin color that they had poisoned their bodies by applying mercury-based ‘beauty creams’."