In India, skin-whitening commercials raise questions of racism
Commercials are sending a not-so-subtle message to men in Asia: Get whiter skin, and you’ll get the girl and the job of your dreams. Or at the very least you’ll be noticed. But in a country where most people have brown skin, the message being sent to men and women has some people outraged.
Cosmetic advertisements in Asia are targeting men with blunt campaigns aimed at skin color that one lawmaker labels racist.
In one TV commercial, two men, one with dark skin, the other with light skin; stand on a balcony overlooking a neighborhood. The dark skin guy turns to his friend and says in Hindi, “I am unlucky because of my face.” His light skin friend replies, “Not because of your face, because of the color of your face.” Suddenly the light skin guy throws his friend a cream. It’s a whitening cream.
It is one of several television commercials aimed at men in Pakistan and India. In the end the darker skin actor is shown several shades lighter and he gets the girl he was after. Most of the ads end up that way. The commercials are sending a not-so-subtle message to men in Asia: Get whiter skin, and you’ll get the girl and the job of your dreams. Or at the very least you’ll be noticed.
Skin whiteners were once targeted only to women. Now the products are a hot commodity for men. Many of the brands being advertised for men are well known around the world — including Nivea and Garnier. Sales for skin whitening creams have jumped more than 100 percent in rural India and sales for male grooming products are increasing 20 percent annually.
Hindustan Unilever, one of the largest consumer products companies in India, noted in recent annual reports that “skin lightening continues to be a major area of emphasis” for its skin care division. And the company which produces “Fair and Handsome,” sent CNN an email saying: “Fair and Handsome is a market leader with almost 70 percent market share in India and doing extremely well in Gulf countries and the Middle East as well.”
But in a country where most people have brown skin, the message being sent to men and women has some people outraged.
“Basically if you need a job you have to have white skin. If you want a good partner, a companion you need white skin and you always seem to get it once you’ve used the fairness cream. Basically I think it’s completely racist and highly objectionable,” says Brinda Karat.
But the product makers say they are simply giving the public what it wants, and a few Indian consumers agreed. Deepak Rajput said: “Everybody wants to look handsome and beautiful, why not me?”
Extracts from a CNN article by Sara Sidner, published 9 September 2009 (original)