Of Fair Skin and Borrowed Identity

It was the universal story. Beauty was skin deep, or light skin deep. The dark skin meant losing the battle – getting rejected by a prospective groom, being denied a job, getting sneered at in college and ultimately losing self-esteem.

And, after decades of peddling misguided sense of beauty, Unilever decides to drop “fair” from its leading beauty product range, Fair and Lovely. How fair! How Lovely!

For decades companies fed on this fair skin obsession, making billions selling us quack formulas and concocted remedies. And we were unfailingly surrendering to the mythical allure of a fair skinned beauty. The advertisements continued to demean its intended audience, yet they flocked to get redemption. The story had gone on for too long.

The cosmetics industry thrives on the concept of making one look good. As if, without the layers of make up a person is not good enough! They create a false sense of insecurity and a convoluted sense of appearing beautiful. Is my identity dependent on a few drops of beauty lotion?

Unilever, while magnanimously vowing to refrain from patronizing reference to fairer, whitening, lightening skin claims, “The brand’s advertising has been changing since 2014, to a message of women empowerment.”

Really, empowerment comes from how I look?

Their press release goes on to state “As part of this journey to embrace and reflect a more inclusive vision of beauty, the next significant step is to update its brand name,” And, with this, the saga of a fair lady conquering the world with shine of her skin comes to an end! Touche!

A man being laughed at for his grey hair, children being discriminated for their height, sanitary napkins as confidence booster – advertising mastered the art of creating fear. Not to mention commoditizing women in those ‘oomph’ pedaling deo ads.

And, there were more subtle ones. Decades ago, there was a campaign “Mera Sapna Meri Maruti”. Asian paints declared “Aapka ghar aapki pehchan”. How easy it was to reduce a person’s identity and dream to a commodity. Products took liberty to define the extent of our dream and dared to define our identity. And, we happily took insults, devouring each blow with renewed fervor.

And, brands went farther in their exploit. It took some very strong voices to raise a counter narrative. Advertising slowly started toning down its patronizing voice. A new era of storytelling emerged and a new narrative was crafted. Social issues, personal space and gender equality made an appearance in quite a few commercials. The tone started changing.

Yet, the fixation with lighter skin, whitening miracles and shiny hair continues. Brands still feed on our social insecurities. Products still sell on a artificial sense of need. Why can’t a chocolate be a chocolate and not be a statement on my persona? I am yet to figure out.

Coming back to Unilever deciding to drop fair from its brand name and refraining from patronizing reference to whitening, lightening and all such crap – it is a welcome step, no doubt. But like the promise of every beauty product, is this change in heart, just skin deep?

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