NYTimes: “India’s Women, Power over Skin Tone”

By Malena Amusa May 31, 2007

(One of many Fair and Lovely skin-lightening commercials that promise dark women career and relationship success upon bleaching their skin.) Commercials in India selling Western products to lighten skin are under scrutiny in a New York Times article published Wednesday. The blogosphere hopped on this issue a while ago, but the NYTimes recycled some stuff and talked to cosmetic companies such as L’Oreal and Unilever about the hazardous messages their adds send, such as the Fair and Lovely, Unilever add that shows a skin-lightened Indian woman getting a man and a job over her darker, former self. The NYTimes reported:

The modern Indian woman is independent, in charge — and does not have to live with her dark skin. That is the message from a growing number of global cosmetics and skin care companies, which are expanding their product lines and advertising budgets in India to capitalize on growth in women’s disposable income. A common thread involves creams and soaps that are said to lighten skin tone. Often they are peddled with a “power” message about taking charge or getting ahead… Fair and Lovely, with packaging that shows a dark-skinned unhappy woman morphing into a light-skinned smiling one, once focused its advertising on the problems a dark-skinned woman might face finding romance. In a sign of the times, the company’s ads now show lighter skin conferring a different advantage: helping a woman land a job normally held by men, like announcer at cricket matches. “Fair and Lovely: The Power of Beauty,” is the tagline on the company’s newest ad.

Sadly, the NYTimes, like it does so well these days, buried other important news in the the last paragraphs of the article. And this pertains to Uniliver, a global cosmetic giant, being an even bigger hypocrite. The same company that tells Indian women their lives are meaningless until they become beautiful by lightening their skin, also launched a campaign "for real beauty" two years ago that sells creams using everyday women as models and that sets out to help women embrace their true selves. Problematic? You bet. And a spokesman with Unilever had the nerve to say:

Taking offense at the products is “a very Western way of looking at the world,” said Ashok Venkatramani, who is in charge of the skin care category at Unilever’s Indian unit, Hindustan Lever. “The definition of beauty in the Western world is linked to anti-aging,” he said. “In Asia, it’s all about being two shades lighter.”

Even if that’s the case, are you buying it?