90’s children, while growing up, have often heard phrases like, “Don’t drink tea. It will make the skin dark’, ‘Drink milk, it will make you fairer’, ‘You should take better care of your skin. Who will marry a dark-skinned girl?’ and many such phrases. It has been engrained through movies, ads and shows that one must aspire to have a lighter skin colour; that dark skin is ugly and light skin is beautiful and superior. These skin colour biases may not be as extreme or violent in today’s date. But they are there.
Indians are obsessed with fair skin colour. The fairness cream industry in India is worth between 5000 to 10000 crore rupees. Fairness creams have been depicted as a step to personal and professional success in the country. It is one of those rare standards that is applied to men and women alike. Ever since brands discovered that there is a market for fairness products for men, the marketplace has been bombarded with such products.
The fairness cream ads often play upon insecurities of people and materialise on them to increase the sales. This colourism is a special kind of racism which has been highlighted recently in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter campaign. Taking cognizance of the strong stand that people are taking against colourism, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has announced that it will remove ‘Fair’ from its popular product ‘Fair & Lovely’. In fact, it has agreed to remove ‘fair/fairness’, ‘white/whitening’, and ‘light/lightning’ from the sales pitch of all of its products.
In addition to the move by HUL, Johnson & Johnson has decided to discontinue sales of skin lightening products under the brands Neutrogena and Clean & Clear. Yesterday, the world’s biggest cosmetics company, L’Oreal, decided to remove words referencing “fair”, “white”, and “light” from its products.
The move has been long overdue. In fact, many activists have demanded this from the companies since long. Many celebrities such as Kangana Ranaut, Swara Bhaskar, Ranbir Kapoor, Randeep Hooda among others have turned down lucrative ad contracts to avoid endorsing skin lightening products. The popular opinion among them all was that such products give rise to racial divide and hits the confidence of dark-skinned people. Therefore, the move is welcomed by the world. However, that is not enough.
Importance of skin colour has been ingrained in society for a long time. It is something that everyone believes in strongly with every fibre of their being. Consciously, a person might convince themselves that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of skin colour. But subconsciously he/she is most likely to act as always. In this case, how do we fight against the white skin supremacy in the world?
The answer is to unlearn things. The brands have decided to take a stand for what they believe in irrespective of costs. It’s time for us as a society to unlearn some of these values and ideals that have passed on for generations and accept all skin tones to be beautiful. As they say – charity begins at home. Therefore it is important at this stage to educate ourselves and to inform others of why and how colourism works. A more aware population would mean a more sensitive one.