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Fair & Lovely Changes Its Name, But What Changes For Dark Skinned Women In India?

Posted: July 6, 2020

Will the recent rebranding morphing of Fair & Lovely into Glow & Lovely solve our colour discrimination problem in India?

As a culture obsessed with fair skin, women in India face the constant pressure to lighten their skin tone. Fair skin seems to be the one true solution to finding love, getting married, or getting a glamourous job.

So, does being fair really make you the prettiest of them all? That’s definitely what Indian girls grow up believing. No wonder in 2019, the Indian fairness cream market was reportedly worth nearly Rs.3000 crore, according to the India Fairness Cream & Bleach Market Overview.

Fairness cream ads have always been problematic; since the very beginning, fairness cream advertisements show dark skinned women unable to find jobs, husbands and any happiness in life until they apply the fairness cream to become lighter and find their bliss. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) did issue guidelines in 2014, which prohibited ads from portraying dark-skinned people as disadvantaged. Fairness creams in India have faced criticism for the longest time for perpetuating colourism and selling their products by attacking the insecurities of women.

Why the rush to remove promises of fairness?

The recent anger generated by the Black Lives Matter Movement has sparked protests throughout the world around judging people over their skin colour and has resulted in a major backlash against these fairness creams that actively promote fairer skin tones. A number of these companies have therefore taken steps to rebrand their product, and avoid perpetuating the ‘fairer is better’ notion.

Fair and lovely has been India’s largest selling fairness cream, ever since 1975 when it first hit the market. Since then, girls and women of all ages have bought millions of these tubes in the hope of lightening their skin. Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), the brand’s owner, recently announced that it will be rebranding Fair and Lovely by removing the word ‘fair’ from its brand name, and renaming the product as ‘Glow and Lovely’.

“We’re committed to a skin care portfolio that’s inclusive of all skin tones, celebrating the diversity of beauty. That’s why we’re removing the words ‘fairness’, ‘whitening’ & ‘lightening’ from products, and changing the Fair & Lovely brand name,” a press release from Unilever, HUL’s parent company, announced. The rebranded products will be on the store shelves in the coming months, though it is still unclear if the ingredients of the cream are likely to change. In the past few years, the brand has made a few other changes as well, like removing the shade card that came along with the packaging to compare one’s skin tone before and after using the product.

Johnson and Johnson, another health care company that sells skin-lightening products, will now no longer sell its products in Asia and the Middle East. Its Clean and Clear Fairness line and Neutrogena Fairness line of products will no longer be available in India. The health company released a statement saying, “Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our dark spot reducer products represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone. This was never our intention – healthy skin is beautiful skin”.  

However, some other companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G) and L’Oréal that also produce fairness creams under their respective brands Olay and Garnier have yet to comment on the issue. Indian skincare companies such as Himalaya, Boutique, and Lotus Herbal too have a range of fairness products that are also extremely popular among the customers. As of now, these companies have taken no steps to rebrand or stop the production of their fairness creams.

Will it help?

The question here is, will rebranding or even a complete ban actually solve the problem of colourism in India?

Even though this might be a smart move for HUL to keep selling its product without letting the recent backlash against fairness products affect its brand, this still isn’t a very effective strategy in combatting the deep-rooted problem of colourism in India. After all, they will be selling the same cream, with the same ingredients, for the same purpose, only with a different name.

So, is Johnson and Johnson’s strategy more appreciable in terms of dealing with colourism? Also no, because these creams and products exist because people have a demand for them, given that many consumers do want to lighten their skin tones. Of course, their advertising to further attack the insecurities of women, and forcing them into believing that being dark skinned is undesirable is definitely wrong, but for those who wish to use these products nonetheless, the complete unavailability could be difficult.

The actual problem that needs to be addressed is that of colourism, and discrimination against women on the basis of skin tones. The ingrained belief that fairer is better needs to be challenged. These fairness creams sell in the first place because fairer girls are considered prettier, every man wants a fairer wife, the bullying because of one’s skin colour starts from a very young age and affects women’s self esteem even when they are much older. It is because society subtly and sometimes blatantly, tells women their dark skin is shameful that they resort to these fairness creams.

Nonetheless, this is a first step towards inclusivity. What needs to change is the narrative of ‘fair’ being superior, and I feel, this rebranding has given a strong statement against the toxic obsession with lighter skin, which these companies promoted in the past. When young girls grow up with the media telling them the need and importance of being ‘fair’ in this world it shapes their self-esteem. This is a good step towards breaking this toxic culture in India.

It may not solve the problem of colourism completely, or repair all the damage that has already been done but these companies can be given some credit for finally realizing the toxicity they promoted and taking a step towards change.

Top image is a still from the movie UnIndian

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Anjika is a student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, pursuing honours in English

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