Is Fair Also Lovely? (Part 1)
Living in a world of commodities, more often than not, we tend to overlook the historical context, the cultural and social implications of, the impact on mentalities, and the impact on our lives (in general) of commercial products and the marketing techniques used to sell these products. Having recently seen or rather “properly” seen (this time critically viewing) the Fair and Lovely ads on youtube, I was forced to analyze them in several ways. This article by no means says that I have done justice to the topic but does leave enough room for other interpretations and opinions.
Whats and Whys of “Fair & Lovely”?
Fair and Lovely (a Unilever product) is a skin-whitening or in less-extreme words a skin “lightening” cream popularly sold in the Middle East and South Asia. Its ads are all based on the “fact” that women cannot succeed in romantic lives, with career ambitions or in being socially acceptable if they are not “fair” or “light” skinned. Hence, Fair and Lovely’s one and only clear message is that Fair = Beautiful.
Before reading on, click here to check out one of the ads for Fair & Lovely
What is being sold here?
In the ad above, although its in Hindi, the visuals are what the marketing team are aiming to get across and enshrine into the minds of the Indian public.
Quite simply, it shows a girl whose career dream is to be a cricket commentator but cannot get her dream because of her skin tone which is apparently not as fair as the society wishes it to be. After using Fair & Lovely, she is not only lighter in skin but also lovely to look at. Result? She makes a booming entry into the cricket commentary world and the male commentator next to her, although perhaps not so lovely himself, is swooning over her “beauty.” In the end it shows the mother in tears of happiness at how well her daughter is doing in her career all thanks to Fair & Lovely.
In short what is being sold is beauty and beauty = fair skin.
What is problematic?
There are various factors which are problematic with the series of ads that Fair & Lovely has produced across the region for several years. I have enlisted a few below:
1. Beauty makes sucessful – Upon checking out other Fair & Lovely ads on Youtube, one can observe a similarity. In all ads it demonstrates how ranging from romantic life to professional life, the only thing that can hold a girl back in her success is her beauty. The idea the ad is projecting is that beauty is the last key to success.
2. Beauty is in the skin tone – What makes the above situation more problematic is when beauty is equal to fair skin tone. It automatically puts whites above non-whites and justifies their success in the sub-conscious level.
3. Internalizing racism – If a society grows on ads such as those of Fair & Lovely and makes it part of their language and sub-conscious system, the society is continuing to live with racist connotations around it. It is justifying racism and making the consumers numb to the fact that prejudice exists on the basis of color and that there is something wrong with it.
Historical Context and Exploitation of the Colonized Minds
Why is this product sold in the Middle East and South Asia? It is for the women of the region who wish to be fair, hence automatically dividing them from their fairer counterparts in the rest of the world. It can be argued that the idea is rooted in colonialism and the decades of colonization by whites has engrained the concept in “brown” minds that white is better. In other words, it is quite sadly the weakness of brown skin’s aspiration to be fairer as a result of its slave mentality (from the time of the colonization) that the corporation, behind Fair & Lovely, is exploiting here!
What is sad is that instead of living in a time which can be “enlightened” enough to move on from the connotation of skin tone on beauty and success, the existence of the product is actually strengthening the concept further. It reminds me of Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism where he suggests that the concepts of “Other-ing” (in this case the browner skin tone being made as the “other” and the fairer skin tone the better one) have become so entrenched in society that people will not need outsiders to treat them as the “others.” In the same so-called racial/ethnic/national/local society, the mother will be sad that her daughter is not fair, the co-commentator will be pleased that his counterpart is fair skin toned, the husband will look for a fair-toned wife, and the boss will hire a fair-toned worker.
What is sadder is that human weaknesses have been commodified in today’s world and we are allowing it to be this way!