In early June, a petition by former Miss America Nina Davuluri garnered over 4,000 signatures requesting Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson to ‘put an end to these whitening creams and toxic messaging.’
As a result, Unilever announced renaming famous skin-lightening brand “Fair & Lovely” as “Glow and Lovely” following widespread criticism that it promotes colorism. However, many people on social media expressed negative reviews over the announcement as the company will sell the same ingredients to look fair, but only with a new name. Renaming the products doesn’t diminish discrimination based on color.
Advertisements for these skin lightening brands also reinforce colorism. They portray women with darker skin as not good enough or unwanted, whereas women with lighter skin will gain attention and praise from society. Not to mention, skin lightening and whitening products are a multi-million dollar industry in India, at an estimated $500 million and Fair & Lovely alone makes up 70% of the market share for skin-lightening products. This is a likely motivation to simply change the name to ‘Glow & Lovely’ and not discontinue the product, unlike Johnson & Johnson who has discontinued the products altogether in Asia and Middle East.
Colorism has prevailed in many societies for centuries. Even online dating websites like Shaadi.com (a popular dating website amongst South Asians) included (they recently removed it) a section that has skin color as part of the profiles where singles are asked to define their tone amongst fair, wheatish, dark and more.
So what is colorism exactly, and how did it begin? According to Wikipedia, ‘discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination usually from members of the same race. People are treated differently based on the social implications from cultural meanings attached to skin color.’ Colorism often happens within a racial group, as lighter skin tones are often portrayed to be more favorable.
The perception of being fair as beautiful has been inculcated for many centuries. Thanks to those like Nina Dalvduri and other activists, we can start to dismantle this notion of ‘fair is beautiful’ and stop equating fair to lovely.