‘Not So Lovely’: The business of ‘skin whitening’ cream

Midst of Black Lives Protests and other debates happening all over the world, Hindustan Unilever drops the word ‘Fair’ from its extremely successful fairness cream, ‘Fair and Lovely’ 

Consumer giant Hindustan Unilever recently announced it will remove the words fair/fairness’, ‘white/whitening’, and ‘light/lightning’ from its popular skincare brand ‘Fair & Lovely’, but will continue selling the product.

One question still remains, why isn’t the company dropping the whole product once and for all unless they believe that cream is going to make people lovely?

“We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’, and ‘light’ suggest the singular idea of beauty that we do not think is right, and we want to address this. As we are evolving the way we communicate the skin benefits of our products that deliver radiant and even-toned skin, it’s also important to change the language we use, ” said Sunny Jain, President, Beauty & Personal Care Division.

The move comes few days after the US multinational Johnson and Johnson declared that it would no longer produce or sell two of its creams which are popular in Asia and the Middle East in response to protest Black Lives Matter which sparked after the death of George Floyd. Floyd murder triggered the debate on racism worldwide.

The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020, aimed to make misleading advertisements that promote fairness creams, obesity reduction pills, improve height, etc., punishable by law. The bill didn’t stop brands from advertising for perfect and fair skin. In 2019, Fair and Lovely removed before-and-after shape guides and impressions to stop showing the transformation process of the skin.

Leading matrimonial site, Shaadi.com also removed a ‘skin colour; filter it had in its interface for users to ascertain their wedding counterpart choice as per their skin colour.

According to a report, Hindustan Unilever’s Beauty and Personal Care category in India is worth Rs. 17,000 Crore, of which its flagship ‘skin-lightening’ cream, Fair and Lovely alone had a share of over 2,000 Crore, more than half of total ‘skin-lightening’ business in India.  An assessment by ‘Research and Markets’ titled “India Fairness Cream & Bleach Market Overview, 2018-2023” suggests that women’s fairness cream category will achieve market revenues of more than Rs. 5,000 crore by the year 2023.

Fair and Lovely drops fair

Is it a ‘Lovely’ cream that brings out an ugly side in Bollywood Celebrities?

Now, let’s take a look where the hypocrisy begins. Recently, Bollywood celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Sonam Kapoor, Vidya Balan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Yami Gautam, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor to name a few came under the radar for expressing their support for #BlackLivesMatter protest in the US when they are the most guilty to endorse such fairness and brightening creams.

Read more: Amazon, Flipkart and other e-commerce companies to soon have ‘country of origin’ label

Not only this, but the beauty industry also came with a male version of the product ‘Fair and Handsome’, endorsed by none other than Shah Rukh Khan, Shahid Kapoor and many others as a means to finding love or a glamorous job.

Bollywood celeb lauds the cosmetic company

Bipasha Basu shared her journey on Instagram as a ‘dusky’ Bollywood actress and a model. She wrote, “Many skincare endorsements with loads of money were offered to me in the last 18 years (some were very tempting) but I stuck to my principle always. All this needs to stop. This wrong dream that we are selling that only fair is lovely and beautiful when the majority of the country is brown-skinned. It’s a deep-rooted stigma. It’s a mammoth step from the brand and other brands should follow in the same footsteps soon.”

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara actor Abhay Deol has called out Bollywood celebrities for endorsing fairness brands over the years. He slammed Sonam Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan for promoting such products.

He wrote, “It took a world backlash and #blacklivesmatter movement to give us a push in this direction. But make no mistake, all of you who have been vocal about the need for a cultural shift in regard to the sale and endorsement of fairness creams in our country contributed to this victory. We have a long way to go in breaking our conditioning of what constitutes beauty, but this is a small step in the right direction. It’s the starting point to a long road ahead. What a beautiful beginning!”

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