Capitalizing on India's Insecurities
Original ad can be seen here: Fair-and-Lovely-Cream-Report.jpg
The line of products under the "Fair and Lovely" name is produced by Hindustan Unilever (Unilever is an international conglomerate) and the products are mostly marketed in Asia, parts of the Middle East (Pakistan) but can be found in some Asian supermarkets in the West as well. The cream "Fair and Lovely" has been introduced in 1975, and it's quite popular, especially in India, in spite of there being quite a bit of controversy surrounding some of the ingredients in it, for example mercury and bleaching agents. The problem with this ad however, is not just what's in the cream but why is this cream so popular and how it is marketed to women. There are many injurious messages in this ad, including a general message that being of darker skin is undesirable and unattractive. There is a colonial mentality which has been propagated through the ages, one which led to the colonists dividing the conquered people and working with some to the detriment of others. The colonial mentality had Asians believe that darker skin meant being of lower class, working outside, working with one's hands, doing menial jobs, and conversely, being lighter skin suggested high social status. The colonists worked with those of higher social status (and lighter skin) because they saw these people as more like themselves and less like the Edward Said's "Others," and it is this mentality that marketing companies continue to use in order to sell expensive beauty products. The ad said that this cream has twice the bleaching/lightening power of previous creams, and the model seems very happy, flaunting an international symbol of "peace," "victory," but also "two" in order to send a powerful message with very few words.
The altered version of the ad, which can be seen below, deconstructs what is going on behind the idea of creating "fairness." Even though the word is not "whiteness," that's obviously what the company is trying to sell to women with darker skin tone: a chance to be whiter. There are many physical but also psychological implications of wanting to be "white," and it goes to show how much the media can influence people's self-esteem and self-perceptions. Although the effects of the cream on the skin are minute, millions of women worldwide are buying "Fair and Lovely" products. Why are they buying them, or rather what are they buying? They are buying into a colonial mentality that a darker skin is inferior, dirty, unattractive, and into the marketing idea that buying the right products will automatically give one access to a higher social status, a better class, a better life. In a country like India, with a rather inflexible caste system, getting access to even a little better social status - brought on by getting a better job or making an advantageous marriage - is very desirable. The idea that women of color have to be "cleaned" is also explored in this jammed version of the ad, because history is filled with stories of "civilizing" missions and actions of westerners. While conquered people couldn't be made physically whiter, they could be "cleaned" in the sense of being dressed in western garb, Christianized, and "civilized" by being forced to adapt to western norms of conduct. The exotic, darker woman, with its danger and mystique, must be cleaned and sanitized before she can join the western ranks in which whiteness is the symbol of status and civilization.