For decades, Indians have been fed the notion that only fair is lovely. Regularly advertised products have always associated fairness with successful marriage prospects, a job, or admiration in society.
Brands promoting lightening creams have had a huge role to play in this. So, it comes as a triumph for majority Indians when consumer product giant Hindustan Unilever decided to drop the word ‘fair’ from its skin-whitening product “Fair & Lovely”.
On Thursday, Hindustan Unilever took to its website to announce the removal of the word ‘fair’ from its premium lightening cream.
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.https://t.co/W3tHn6dHqE
— Unilever #StaySafe (@Unilever) June 25, 2020
What is colorism?
Colorism by basic definition is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone.
It is the most commonly accepted and used form of racism in Asia.
In a country with various skin tones of brown and black, a person’s shade remains an important factor in their marriage and career. Almost all movies in the Indian film industry differentiate between the lead actors and the junior or background artists based on color. ‘Kaalu’ is usually an accepted term for people with dark skin tones.
Over the years there have been multiple popular Bollywood hit songs hinting ‘Gori’ meaning fair to be the most obvious and desirable choice. Magazines and television show always photoshop their actors to look pitch white in ad campaigns and on screen. India is marred by the blatant preference of white skin over brown or black skin tone as much as the United States.
While Hindustan Unilever’s decision to drop the word was met with appreciation from all over, there is still a vast majority that remains cautious about assuming a real change.
Nina Davuluri won the Miss America title in 2014. She is the first woman of Asian descent to ever win that title. In her conversation with Indian Express, she said, “This is a big win, but it’s only the beginning. While Unilever removing words such as “fair, white, & lightening,” and changing the Fair & Lovely brand name is a step towards inclusion, it’s only one piece of a much larger fight to end colorism. We can’t forget that there are many groups of people that have benefited immensely from this archaic notion of colorist.”
Other role players like 22-year-old Chartered Accountancy student, Chandana Hiran also filed an online petition against the company just two weeks ago.
Speaking to NDTV, Hiran also mentioned that the ongoing Black Lives Matter had impacted her to take action. “When so many Indian celebrities started to support the BLM movement in Western countries, people started to question the practice of colorism within as well,” she says. And it’s everywhere. Be it Bollywood films, songs, poetry or event art, fair skin has always been idolized in India, despite being a nation of brown people.
“It’s absurd. So many girls of my skin color find almost no representation of their skin tone in popular culture. I find no leading actresses of my color, I find no magazines or ads endorsing my skin color,” she rues. “Even filters on social media platforms and photo editing sites constantly focus on making you look fairer.”
Activists and celebrities have been celebrating this little win against colorism in India. But they all
know its a long fight against dismantling the mindset completely. Actor, director Nandita Das has been a strong voice in campaigning against racism. She said that HUL’s decision may have taken so long but it is a move in the right direction.
Welcoming their decision, she said, “Today is not the day to complain about that. Better late than never for HUL. While brands can only use the existing prejudice to their advantage, changing the narrative will spark the much-needed conversation around the issue of colorism.”
Whether Hindustan Unilever’s decision holds any true meaning will be decided after they execute their rebranding strategy.
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