As an Indian-American woman, it’s been fascinating to see how the global conversation on racism and Black Lives Matter has been extended to conversations about colorism and the colonialist legacy within Asia. In no way am I saying that BLM conversations are the same, or that colorism within an Asian society is the same as systemic and institutional racism on a national or global scale. But it’s been an interesting conversation running to the side of the larger conversation, and there have been calls for various companies to stop selling “skin lightening” face creams, and for (specifically) Bollywood actors and Indian models and celebrities to stop promoting those skin-lightening creams. Well, now we have the first big change on a corporate level: Unilever, one of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world, is making a change. From Unilever’s press release:
Unilever announced today the next step in the evolution of its skin care portfolio to a more inclusive vision of beauty – which includes the removal of the words ‘fair/fairness’, ‘white/whitening’, and ‘light/lightening’ from its products’ packs and communication. As part of this decision, the Fair & Lovely brand name will be changed in the next few months.
Sunny Jain, President Beauty & Personal Care, explains, “We are fully committed to having a global portfolio of skin care brands that is inclusive and cares for all skin tones, celebrating greater diversity of beauty. We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this. As we’re evolving the way that we communicate the skin benefits of our products that deliver radiant and even tone skin, it’s also important to change the language we use.”
“We have been working on the evolution of our Fair & Lovely brand, which is sold across Asia, progressively moving to a more inclusive vision of beauty that celebrates skin glow. We have changed the advertising, communication and – more recently – the packaging in South Asia, and we think it’s important that we now share the next step that we have been working on: changing the brand name. We will also continue to evolve our advertising, to feature women of different skin tones, representative of the variety of beauty across India and other countries. We want Fair & Lovely to become a brand that celebrates glowing and radiant skin, regardless of skin tone,” adds Jain.
Unilever also says that they’ve basically known that this is a huge problem for years, and they’ve been phasing out a lot of their problematic colorism branding quietly since 2014, but now is the moment for even bigger changes. They also claim that the Fair & Lovely brand “has never been, and is not, a skin bleaching product.” Except that’s how the brand was marketed for years. But yes, so much of the skincare and cosmetics industry in India (and other countries) is marketed as “this will make your skin ‘glow’ and ‘glow’ means ‘lighten’ remember?”
While Priyanka Chopra never modeled for Fair & Lovely, she has done advertising within India for somewhat similar “glow” skincare products.
List of Indian actors who are speaking on BLM and their fairness cream ads, a thread : pic.twitter.com/yUeRNLch6U
— anti pigeon (@aluminiummaiden) May 31, 2020
Here's your rac*st Pri selling skin whitening creams in India pic.twitter.com/O5P7cwqIUt
— Ali Baloch ✌🏿✌🏾✌🏻 (@maXes_MB) June 3, 2020
Look at these f–ked up Fair & Lovely ads:
Photos courtesy of Backgrid.