Yes…#DarkIsBeautiful @PONDS

‘Ponds White Beauty’ .”gives your skin a radiant pinkish white glow”

by Taimour Fazlani

In India resides an industry that in the year 2010 raked in £432 million from its invariably loyal and dependent customers. This industry, since 2010, has projected growth of 18% every year. This industry had 233 tons of its various products consumed in the given year 2010. In regard to this industry’s target consumer,  it seems the market is in the process of further diversification.

If one was asked to guess the nature of this industry, the usual responses would vary from soap, shampoo to even a wild,  educated guess of birthday cards. Sadly, this is not the case; the industry in question is the skin-whitening industry. An industry that essentially exploits and operates based on the age-old premise in South Asia, and around the globe that, darker complexions are physically inferior, ‘ugly’ and, ultimately, undesirable. Though these set of attitudes and per-conceived notions owe their origins to the caste culture in South Asia, the modern form of this discrimination is nothing less then unjust and disheartening.

I should stress that India is not unique in conforming to this premise; nonetheless it is here that such products are gaining eminence. From Bollywood actors to politicians, it seems everyone is jumping on the skin-lightening bandwagon..

pondswomanIn South Asia, discrimination based on skin-complexion expresses itself principally in two elementary ways. First in the form of how unfavorably an individual can be perceived in regard to physical attractiveness, which consequently can, and most often does manifest itself in deep psychological scars such as low self-esteem.

The second way in which this discrimination expresses itself is through the opportunities available to an individual in terms of their career and life. A textbook example of of this can be found in the professional field of acting, mainly in Bollywood, where actresses at castings have been plainly told their complexion is ‘too dark’ for the given role.

These societal attitudes have existed in South Asia for many generations. The full extent to such deep-seated bias can be historically placed upon the fact that in South Asia working class laborers tended to work in fields for hours upon end, thus making their skin complexion considerably darker than that of the wealthy ruling class.

In the end after generations of stark contrast in skin complexion between the haves and the have-nots, the affiliation of social standing based on skin complexion became complete.

It was Unilever that first took advantage and capitalised upon these attitudes in 1978 by introducing Fair&Lovely cream.

One product from the Fair&Lovely range called Fair&Lovely Advanced Multivitamin cream has the following description:

‘ANTIOXIDANT lightening action on dark circles

VITAMIN MASK lightening of skin color’

Although Fair&Lovely was the original product to be introduced as a way for customers to act upon such deep-seated beliefs, it is PONDS (another of Unilever’s companies) who made serious headway in further perpetuating this misguided bias.

For instance, in a recent marketing strategy PONDS undertook a series of short adverts with high profile and influential Bollywood stars, which could be described as nothing less then blunt discrimination.

As is observable within the advert and the product description the emphasis is firmly placed on the idea of fairness as a ‘characteristic’, to be sought and desired, regardless of the month of the year or situation.

Though the industry currently faces criticism from anti-discrimination organisations and medical experts, it is nevertheless expected to grow. This is primarily due to the fact that the Indian middle class is expected to grow to 583 million by the year 2025. Hence the belief that ‘fairness’ is synonymous with upward social mobility, and desirability.

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The skin-whitening industry faces condemnation from anti-racist organisations in India, one such organisation is the campaign Dark Is Beautiful. The campaign, which has various, significant figures behind its message, hosts Nandita Das as their lead spokeswomen. The organisation has undertaken activities through a variety of platforms ranging from an online blog, interviews and workshop/seminars in order to challenge, and ultimately, have their anti-discriminatory message understood and embraced in mainstream South Asian society.

Spurred on by the works undertaken by anti-discriminatory campaigns thousands of miles away, the author of this article, Media Diversified, and many other enlightened activists took to Twitter on 24th August, 2013 in an attempt to alert PONDS to their racist adverts. Though no response was received by any of the participants of this spamming campaign, one hopes that that the core principles of equality and celebration of all skin complexions guiding this campaign were understood by PONDS.

The world that my father and his father before him lived in was one in which division based on class, ethnicity, skin complexion amid many others reigned. One would hope in my time that some of these divisions are removed from the mainstream narrative due to the prejudices they maintain and spread.

Related

Dark Girls and Slavery’s Lingering Fingerprints

The Colour of Sexism

Taimour Fazlani is a student activist with with a keen interest in all subject matters, ranging from metaphysics to economic systems. Avid blogger born and raised in Karachi and lived in Glasgow and London. Tweet him @taimour_khan

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9 replies

    • Thank you Brother, although personal criticism would come in the fact that I now feel my writing came across here as somewhat elitist. Thus taking away from the piece an emotional connection.

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      • I understand the need for personal criticism. In my opinion, the topic of an article can often speak for itself, so while there is a need for articles that emotively delve into the subject of skin-whitening, I also believe there is a need for articles that tackle the issue objectively, and present the facts “in the cold light of day”. This article didn’t lack an “emotional connection’ imo, and it certainly didn’t come across as elitist, but like I said, nothing wrong with critiquing your own work!

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  1. A multiple-pronged approach is needed to end this travesty. Unilever is the parent company of Ponds. Direct communication to them demanding a stop to all those skin lightening products. At the same time, a huge effort will be needed to focus on significantly decreasing the demand for those same products. Unfortunately, money talks, and products like these are million dollar industries.

    How do you change a culture, a society? Promotion of “Brown Is Beautiful”! Casting directors, hiring divisions, the gate keepers of those entities that are feeding into “lighter is better” nonsense need to change their practices and policies. The people need to communicate to them that what they want to see, is a more accurate representation of themselves.

    They need to back that communication with action. Refusal to buy those products. Shop owners must refuse to stock them in their stores. These things are not easy, and will take years of consistent effort. It kills me to know that the vast majority of the planet are People Of Color, and yet all this effort, money and time is spent to twist our minds into thinking we must be like and look like the minority.

    Focused, and consistent communication is a place to start. Active and streamlined boycotts of Unilever products. Grassroots teaching and encouragement of pride in one’s self, love for one’s culture and skin tone. Apply pressure on those industries perpetuating the self-hate. Seek out those within those industries willing to join in and be allies in the fight from the inside. The actors, the directors, the casting directors, the producers, the owners. There has to be someone who will stand up and begin to help implement changes.

    As an American, I can’t pretend to know Indian culture, and cannot offer more than generalities. I DO know one thing. Ponds does not sell THOSE products here in America. Advertising like that doesn’t fly over here. Not because the US is so awesome, but because there is no profit in it. There is a strong hypocrisy in our culture that likes to think of itself as just and fair and on the surface, will not abide with having blatantly racist advertising and products – anymore.

    It is possible to change a society. Even if it is merely lip service to keep the veneer of equality and sensibility intact. Start at the grassroots level. Every person must know one person, family member, co-worker, loved one etc who uses those products. Talk to them. Find out the root of their self-hate. Find ways for them to begin to love themselves just as they are. Each person who stops putting their hard earned money into the coffers of Ponds and Unilever will grow into hundreds and then millions.

    Coupled with the multiple-pronged pressure approach, and sustaining that activism, over time, systems of white supremacy can and will be dismantled. Thanks for listening, I hope this helps. I answered the call put out on twitter. Keep up the amazing work!

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    • I know exactly how you feel maurice, the fact that the companies are able&encourage to undertaken such activities however worries me further as it shows deep potholes in our society,media&corporate world. Such attitudes provide further barriers as I mentioned previously, this idea of set ideas of what is ‘good looking’ ‘beautiful’ etc I feel are damaging to all humans and especially the minorities that do are not seen as those symbolic desired words.

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    • I totally agree with your multi-pronged approach recommendation. I, much like yourself also believe that not only communication (agitation) is required but furthermore what is required is education of such products to the consumer on the health issue’s they cause. When the consumer will feel that their direct interest are at risk due to such a product I am sure that such products will see a decline in sales. Though the moral argument against such products based upon the argument of such products further perpetuation colonial mind-set etc can be employed I feel the health point of entry in the argument is best.

      Yes exactly that, as I and you have mentioned, such changes are all dependent on the people&I hope that recently enacted campaigns are able to pursue this, much like yourself and I.

      Exactly, the fact that the majority of the people on this earth are coloured however the twisted web in which we find ourselves in is one, which is vast, and spurs hundred of years.

      There is a campaign which has undertaken the use of a petition to stop such products being marketed, I would tweet you it if you wish?! I feel that the current is changing on such products purely due to the fact that grassroot communication against such products of self-hate is being examined under the spotlight.

      I would say more however you have already provided an action plan for the sustained effort that is required to fight such evils. I should mention that one way to do this is to bring to the mainstream arena a celebration of all complexions and their respective heritages in order to push into the mainstream narrative the message that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, forms& colours!

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  2. ‘Beauty’ companies should be concerned with promoting the health and well being of their customers. Instead, they prey on their insecurities and nurture discrimination. Shame on Ponds!

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