On June 25, global cosmetic conglomerate Unilever announced the decision to renew the image of its leading skin whitening product, Fair & Lovely ('Clear and Loving'), and to call it Glow & Lovely ('Glow and Loving'). This decision comes after the recent Black Lives Matter protests that erupted worldwide after a police officer killed George Floyd in the United States.
In South Asia, where skin color discrimination is present in the cosmetics sector, 'Fair & Lovely' has been popular for almost five decades. While celebrities raised their voices against racism with labels like #BlackLivesMatter (black lives matter) and #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd (justice for George Floyd), others quickly pointed out the hypocrisy of those who have endorsed skin whitening products.
Although Unilever argues that the rebranding is intended to “celebrate all skin tones,” activists and social media users opposed to colorism question whether the rebranding of the brand addresses the real problem.
South Asian Beauty Parameters
Although the Black Lives Matter movement exists in a specific context, its calls for racial justice have resonated with justice movements around the world. In South Asian countries – such as India and Pakistan – skin color is considered an indirect indicator of class and social position. This issue has been prevalent since colonial times, and many women have faced problems in getting married or having better job opportunities due to discrimination on their skin.
The product in question, Fair and Lovely, has been used by many women in South Asia since the late 1970s. Their merchandising techniques, with before-and-after images, work indirectly to beautifully match skin colors. lighter or whiter.
Indian journalist Barkha Dutt compares skin whitening creams to another indicator of racism in South Asia. He mocks Unilever's “Fair and Lovely” with a comment on how the brand has normalized racism in India and created misguided notions of beauty for millions of Indian boys of both sexes for five decades.
If Skin Lightening creams are going to be racism by another name that is neither fair nor lovely.
– barkha dutt (@BDUTT) June 26, 2020
If skin lightening creams are going to be racism by another name, then it is neither clear nor loving.
In a phone conversation with Global Voices, Pakistani psychologist Mirat Gul said:
This war of complexion has created a huge problem for our women. Even our religion has said that no one is superior to another on the basis of color yet these creams, advertisements, and mindset have effected women. South Asians are colored people and we need to accept them as they are instead of opting for these products. It's good that the word ‘Fair’ will be dropped but people too have to stop worrying and harassing people on the complexion.
This skin color war has created a huge problem for our women. Even our religion has said that no one is superior to another because of color, but these creams, ads and mentality have affected women. South Asian people are colored and we need to accept them as they are, instead they choose to use these products. It's nice to get the word 'clear' taken out, but people should also stop worrying and harassing people because of their skin color.
Same product, different name: Does Unilever's decision have any effect?
Many people in India and Pakistan have been working to change the skin lightening industry, and have asked manufacturers to remove whitening creams from the market. Indian actress Nandita Das, who has run the Dark is Beautiful campaign since 1994, celebrated Unilever's decision as an indicator that the mindset is slowly starting to change.
Wow! Words impact notions & they, the mindset. I want to believe that the campaign Dark is Beautiful & India’s Got Color played a tiny role. Many of you have too. Long way to go before things are truly ‘fair’, but we are on our way! #IndiasGotColour #AllShadesAreLovely https://t.co/lra7mlwqwq
– Nandita Das (@nanditada) June 25, 2020
We are committed to skincare products that are inclusive of all skin colors and celebrate variety in beauty. That is why they removed the words ‘clarity’, ‘whitening’ & ‘lightening’ from the products and changed the brand name Fair & Lovely.
Wow! Words impact notions, which impact mentality. I want to believe that the Dark campaign is beautiful and India has color played a tiny role. Many of you have also had a role. There is a long way to go before things are really 'clear', but we are on the way!
In Pakistan, advocate against colorism and diversity Fatima Lodhi has been running the Dark is Divine campaign since 2013. The campaign issued a statement on Unilever's decision to push more messages in order to “rehumanize ”Dark skin colors:
Rebranding of products to recognize multiple shades, shapes, and sizes of beauty should be followed by behavior change programs to re-humanize the dark skin. Promoting lighter skin tone is not only colorist but a racist act as well and further, giving pedestal to the fairer skin tones while treating dark skin as a disease is also a clear attempt at enhancing most people’s feelings of insufficiency.
The name change of products to recognize multiple nuances, shapes and sizes of beauty must be followed by behavior change programs to rehumanize dark skin. Promoting lighter skin tone is not just a colorful action, it is racial as well, and putting lighter skin tones on a pedestal while treating darker skin colors as a disease is also a clear attempt to increase the feeling of insufficiency of the majority.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLF9GBPfv4E (/ embed)
Social media users are also questioning whether Unilever's new product, 'Glow and Lovely,' is mouth-watering for the real problems of colorism in South Asia:
SW… @unilever is still going to sell skin lightening cream in South Asia and will just call it “Lovely” from now on? https://t.co/6R5LrhHIn9
– fatima bhutto (@fbhutto) June 25, 2020
‘Fair & Lovely’ skin cream will stop using ‘Fair’ (clear) in its name, says Unilever Indian unit.
So Unilever is going to continue selling skin lightening cream in South Asia and will only be called “Lovely” going forward?
‘Fair & lovely’ to be rebranded dropping the word ‘fair’.
While the attempt is fair (no pun intended), is it really enough? Using the words glow and brighten doesn't really change what the product was built for.
”… A rose by any other name ……”
– Avni Raja (@avniraja) June 25, 2020
‘Fair & lovely’ will change its name and will leave out the word ‘fair’ (of course).
Although the attempt is fair, is it enough? Using the words sparkle and shine doesn't really change what the product was created for.
“… a rose with any other name …”.
So Fair and Lovely will now be called Glow and Lovely? C’mon Hindustan Lever. For years you’ve been profiting by destroying our nation’s young girl’s self worth by making rude comments about dark skin.
Now prove your ‘intentions’ by having a dark skinned girl on your packaging.
– Shekhar Kapur (@shekharkapur) July 2, 2020
So now Fair and Lovely is going to be called Glow and Lovely? Come on, Hindustan Lever. For years, they have made money by destroying the self-worth of our country's girls with rude comments about dark skin.
Now test your ‘intentions’ and put a dark-skinned girl in the packaging.
Is there a change coming?
In addition to creating toxic psychological pressure, bleaching creams contain mercury, an ingredient said to be carcinogenic in nature. Zartaj Gul Wazir, Pakistan's Minister of Climate Change, made an official statement in July 2019 regarding the Government's promise to crack down on bleaching creams that have more than 1% mercury. The ministry found that 56 of 59 samples of rinsing products contained more than 1% mercury. On July 4, 2020, in a Facebook message from Dark is Divine, Zartaj Gul Wazir reiterated his commitment to take action against mercury in bleaching creams when the Minamata Convention on mercury is ratified.
Anum Chandani, Hira Hashmi and Marvi Ahmed from Pakistan started the petition to ban Fair and Lovely. They also have an Instagram account.
This is a petition I wish no one had to make because Fair and Lovely is a cream that shouldn't exist. Nevertheless, @Unilever please stop making it and selling it. https://t.co/6lqH2LPHtD
– fatima bhutto (@fbhutto) June 11, 2020
This is a request not that I want anyone to have to do, because Fair and Lovely is a cream that should not exist. However, please, Unilever, stop making it and selling it.
There was another victory when the Indian marriage website Shaadi.com, known to have a skin tone filter, removed it from its website after recent complaints from many users.
Although the changes are being made slowly, Ipsita Chakravarty notes that there is still a long way to go:
The packaging of the creams may have changed but not their substance. And while Shaadi.com will no longer ask for your skin tone, you can still search for prospective partners by caste, which is what skin color stands for in India.
The packaging of the creams may have changed, but not their substance. And although Shaadi.com will no longer ask what your skin tone is, you can still search for possible partners by caste, which is what skin color represents in India.