Okay, Indian women, we will now glow and be lovely and not just be fair and lovely. Global consumer giant Hindustan Unilever said on Thursday it will rebrand its skin-lightening cream 'Fair & Lovely' to 'Glow & Lovely,' after facing backlash that the name promoted negative stereotypes towards darker skin tones. And to top it all its skin cream for men will now be called 'Glow & Handsome'.
I don’t know what has changed though. The chemical concoction inside the tube will remain the same I am guessing just ‘fair’ has been removed from the brand. It is still a skin-lightening cream. You will glow because you will become a shade lighter if you apply this cream, is my understanding from this rebranding.
Reason for change of heart
In India colour prejudice has been around for centuries. Read any epic, mythology, historical novel, skin tone of gods and goddesses, characters are bound to be mentioned. Look at our ancient medical and beauty scriptures all will have sections that tell how one can lighten the skin. So, what has made these consumer giants backtrack on what they have been pedalling for decades?
I look at the global #BlackLivesMatter movement. When George Floyed was killed by giving the knee treatment in the USA, by the police, it was alleged that he was dealt with extra cruelty because he was a man of colour. This campaign reached India and garnered support from celebs, and not surprisingly they were called out for their hypocrisy. These celebs were questioned as to why they didn’t speak up when people of a minority community, Dalit communities, women and children were targeted in their own country. Why don’t they speak up about nepotism in their industry and also when people with dark complexion are ridiculed? I believe these giants felt cornered and made them relook at what they are selling. This movement is a positive one that calls out discrimination on the basis of skin colour, which billions of people face on a daily basis.
Not just Hindustan Unilever but also Garnier, makers of L'oreal have said it too will gradually replace ‘white’ or ‘fair’ with ‘glow’ or ‘even’ for some products designed to help even out skin tones, while Johnson & Johnson said it will stop selling skin-whitening creams altogether. Shaadi.com, the matrimonial site has removed a skin tone filter as a result of pressure from users.
Regardless of how small, I welcome these small steps taken by consumer giants, they do send out a clear message.
Complexion causes complex
It’s sad but being born in a country which is predominantly dark-skinned but is obsessed with fair skin, I have been defensive and on the back foot so to say since my childhood. If there was any discussion related to skin tone or complexion I would scoot. It was later when I finished my studies and started working, did my confidence return. That was when I realised my skill, experience, education mattered and not my skin tone. But this realisation came after decades, till then I considered myself a lesser being.
I have had my set of ‘experiences’ due to my complexion, which I preferred to call ‘wheatish’. I remember bits of comments from my growing up years like, “She has sharp features, she’ll look charming when she grows up in spite of her skin tone.” I was ‘charming’ but never ‘beautiful’. I got unsolicited advice from all around about what colour will suit me, that I should not go out in the sun to what I should eat and not eat. I remember I gave up sports because that meant being in the sun and I gave up swimming as well because that meant being in the pool full of chlorinated water which caused skin darkening. I also stopped requesting my teachers in school to give me parts in plays and song and dance sequences because I was not given the best parts. Yes, my complexion made me give up many things in life, yet I have survived it all.
There have been some happy moments as well like when I was chosen ‘Miss Eve’ in a farewell party given by my juniors when I post-graduated. They chose me because they said I looked the prettiest that evening, my skin-tone notwithstanding.
Colour bias is deep rooted
Not everybody gets a partner like mine, someone who saw my qualities rather than my skin tone because my spouse is fair and he would have got a fair wife - the most preferred type. I was sure he will reject my proposal when he came to meet me, but we said ‘yes’ to each other and are happy since then. Am mentioning this because he comes from a state where ‘fair’ is considered ‘beautiful’.
Look at any matrimonial ad, ‘fair complexioned’ girls are in demand. Their light skin-tone is their passport to a good life. I have always seen fair girls get the lead roles in schools and colleges, they will be put in the front rows in group pictures and videos, they will be the envy of girls and preferred by guys as their companions. In offices they will be centre of attraction. All this even if they do not have features or skill or qualifications to match.
Our film industry - Bollywood has been biased towards fairer, brighter skin. In an industry which has talent powerhouses like Nandita Das and Konkona Sen Sharma, fairer actors without much talent have achieved super stardom. Leave alone female actors, even dark skinned male actors have faced bias.
Fair skin tone is an aspiration in India and our film industry has put it on a pedestal and consumer industry has benefitted from it. Why blame them, they were fulfilling a demand.
All the above notwithstanding, being an eternal optimist I want to believe that by replacing ‘fair’ with ‘glow’ they mean ‘inner radiance’ and not the superficial outward tone.