Indian Women Whiten Their Skin, Fight The Patriarchy

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Today's New York Times has a disturbing yet wholly unsurprising story about the expanding market in India for skin-whitening creams. Apparently global cosmetics companies like Avon, Garnier, Body Shop (?!) and Vichy (advertisement above) are taking on longtime market leader Fair & Lovely to cash in on the common perception on the Subcontinent that the lighter a woman's skin, the better her life will be. In fact, you could call the "perfect", Wonder Bread-complexion just another weapon in the war against gender inequality!

Fair and Lovely, with packaging that shows a dark-skinned unhappy woman morphing into a light-skinned smiling one, once focused its advertising on the problems a dark-skinned woman might face finding romance. In a sign of the times, the company's ads now show lighter skin conferring a different advantage: helping a woman land a job normally held by men, like announcer at cricket matches. "Fair and Lovely: The Power of Beauty," is the tagline on the company's newest ad.


The paper also reports that Unilever, the parent company of Fair & Lovely, "has drawn particular scrutiny because of its market dominance its ads and the parent company's image. Unilever also makes Dove products, whose "Real Beauty" campaign encourages women in the United States and Europe to embrace the way they look." (And Unilever would never be send mixed messages to its consumers!) But don't think that Western ideals of beauty have anything to do with the sixty to sixty five percent of Indian women who use such creams daily, says Didier Villanueva, a manager for L'Oreal India, who claims that the quest for fair skin among Indian women has nothing to do with cultural imperialism or the after-effects of colonialism. "It's as old as India," he says, and "deeply rooted in the culture." Kinda like being burned at the stake for adultery!

Telling India's Modern Women They Have Power, Even Over Their Skin Tone [NYTimes]

Related: Dove Tales



I just got back from Thailand, where I saw a lot of skin whitening products. In all honesty though, even men there seemed to covet milky-white skin, although I don't know that they'd go to the trouble of using creams! Of course, I was basking in the sun every day like the sun-loving American I am, and our Thai friends would literally tell us we looked uglier the more tan we got. It's truly a strange phenomenon. (By the way, Jen, this is Molly from your old work! I am loving Jezebel! You girls kick ass!!!!)