Discrimination based on the colour of one’s skin has been prevalent in India for thousands of years. Its evil roots buried deep in the ancient Caste system, an abhorrent (and banned) practise that enables some to live a life of privilege and others to live out their days on the poverty line. The name for those at the bottom is self explanatory, Dalit or ‘The Untouchables’.
Dalit coming from the Sanskrit root to mean ‘broken or scattered’. And so Indians are born with this insider knowledge of the different castes. One can see how easy it is for the beauty industry to prey upon a nation’s insecurities, paranoias and fears. Whitening creams for the dark-skinned and tanning lotion for the light- skinned. In one part of the globe being lighter skinned than your peers gives you several advantages to progress in life. In another part of the globe showing off a beautiful tan hints that you have the means to holiday in exotic places.
The Black Lives Matter movement in the US has sparked some very real and necessary debate about race and the colour of one’s skin.
Brands that capitalise and profiteer from this are being called upon publicly to finally make a change. Growing up in India I remember Fair & Lovely ads, one of which showed a young dark skinned woman, spurned by her family for not being born a boy (lets sprinkle a touch of gender stereotyping for more flavour), applies for the position of an air stewardess. Worried her dark complexion will work against her she uses Fair & Lovely. An animated clock ticks away on the screen as her face remarkably becomes lighter. She swans into the interview with her new found confidence and gets the job. In those days the product came with a shade card to compare how light your skin was actually becoming.
Many years later (early noughties) I came across the Brand Book for Fair & Lovely that proudly stated the brand’s purpose – ‘Rescripting your Destiny’ it said prettily in fuschia and white. A mighty claim from a small tube.
Superficial, insincere and only skin-deep. So when Fair & Lovely says its changing its brand name to Glow & Lovely but won’t be changing its skin-lightening formulation it makes me wonder, again Fair & Lovely, why are you only going skin-deep? Does this mean you will now also feature dark skinned women with glowing skin? But that won’t work because it’s still a skin-lightening cream! Why not use this opportunity to spark a conversation around inclusion and diversity. When will you stop focusing on the surface and go deeper into the true nature of your brand? You are still well loved by many, you are an influencer, you have the power to make real impact, so why just a name change?
A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.
By Uttara Masting who as Group Strategy Director has spent 20 years in the industry working in Marketing and Advertising. The views expressed here are her own.