The issue of color and beauty is something that has plagued the fashion and entertainment industry in Asia for some time now. In a stark comparison to North American tanning beds, whitening and bleaching creams are all the rage in Asia. Most of the leading men and women on screen are generally several tones paler than their native counterparts – but they represent the ideal picture of beauty for their respective countries. As the world transitions economically and socially into a new world one would think that the situation regarding the color of skin and the presumed beauty of a person would have mulled over by this time; however, India, China and Vietnam are only a few of the many countries where the perceived value of white skin has not faded into the dark.
Recently, Vaseline launched a new skin-lightening application for Facebook users in India, which has once again launched the debate over the color of skin and perceived measures of beauty. The app, designed specifically for Indian men, invites them to upload their profile photos and digitally “Lighten my Skin.”
It is being used to promote Vaseline Men UV Whitening Body Lotion, a new product launched in India in June into an already crowded market for skin-lightening creams.
Many Indians have been upset by this application according to CNN , but Vaseline claims that the product is culturally relevant.
Vaseline issued a statement defending the application and the company’s promotion of the product in India:
“Much like self-tanning products in North America and Europe, skin lightening products are culturally relevant in India,”
While Vaseline does make a valid point regarding self-tanning products in North America, the comparison is not so pertinent seeing as being white, or tanned on this continent is not as important as it is in India where there is still stigma behind darker skin tones. Our celebrities can be pale or tanned and it won’t necessarily affect their fan base or how the media views them, whereas in India part of your celebrity is the fact that you’re pale and representing a coveted part of society.
How has India been reacting? Bangalore-based businessman Kunnath Santhosh set up his own Facebook page three months ago to campaign against so-called “fairness” creams in India. Why? “My son saw one of the ads on TV showing his favorite hero Shahid Kapoor (a popular Bollywood superstar) peddling a whitening cream and he told me that he wants to be fairer and that he is ugly,” Santhosh told CNN in an email.
After trying out the application myself, I understand the fuss. Skin color is a very controversial issue in India and the desire for “fairer” skin dates back almost before colonization. Not only is this a social issue, but there seems to be unknown health risks associated with whitening creams despite regulation.
It’s not only a cultural anachronism, it’s also advertisements connecting happiness and romance with fairer skin.
Shahid Kapoor is one of the most popular faces in the Bollywood scene, and it is easy to see how this cream encourages the already existing racist attitudes in the Indian dating scene. Take a look at the advertisement (it’s in Hindi, but nevertheless, the point gets through).
What do you think?