By AMAIAL MULLICK
Fairness products have once again demonstrated that they will continue to exploit the internalized colonialism of the masses as long as consumption prevails. The re-branding of “Fair and Lovely” has sparked a particularly multi-faceted debate regarding the cultural connotations of the whitening industry. Unilever and their subsidiary Hindustan Unilever Limited made a tactical decision in response to the current socio-political atmosphere to rename the brand “Glow and Lovely.” The companies have been under scrutiny for a significant period of time, but the action was propelled by waves of activism in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. The BLM movement created ripples, facilitating a conducive environment for introspection of current societal structures. As a Pakistani woman who has seen discrimination faced by the black diaspora in the country and by women of darker skin, it is imperative to demand structural change.
We are witnessing an uprising against remnants of colonialism and racial oppression, to which ‘Fair and Lovely’ has been rightfully subject. Unilever and HUL are amongst a number of corporations responding to racial injustice and the anti-blackness their products have promoted. Johnson & Johnson recalled whitening products predominantly distributed in Asian and African markets, alongside L’Oreal has vowed to strip commodities of buzzwords marketing fairness. The onus has fallen on the consumer to discern performative action from genuine effort. We are tasked with Fair and Lovely’s redesign, which is a failed attempt to silence criticism of the harmful effects perpetuated by their Eurocentric branding.
The whitening industry – which Fair and Lovely has monopolized in the Global South, profits off an industrialized insecurity. Post-colonial South Asia finds itself laden with colorism, where skin tone has been utilized for social stratification. Historically, value of existence has been inversely correlated with color. Communities find themselves confronting ingrained biases and caste legacies which permeate contemporary systems. Whether it is inherent discrimination in matrimonial traditions, marketing strategies geared to portray fairness as an archetype for beauty, or unsolicited judgment. Dehumanization of dark skin is prevalent in visual representation reinforced heavily by the cosmetic space. Growing up as a woman of color, I developed a strange relationship with my appearance, a notion to which many can relate. You find yourself unraveling the internalization of western ideals. South Asians are now recognizing their own prejudice, an integral component to decolonization.
We are beginning to see a growing movement amongst POC communities fueled by inclusive representation and self-acceptance. Constantly being fed Eurocentrism has left a generational imprint that will take decades to unlearn. Industries built on aestheticism are being challenged for inclusivity. The connotation behind this is to challenge cultures and mindsets through the lens of race. Anti-blackness manifests itself through fairness products, bleaching, and active campaigns waged at women to strive for a porcelain complexion. In Pakistan, these practices are normalised from a young age. Children find themselves at parlours removing unwanted hair and scrubbing away at layers of skin. Women of color have been long bombarded by narratives in the beauty industry that depict their existence as unaesthetic. The pressure to conform to westernized standards has a long-rooted presence in the subcontinent.
As communities call for authentic reconstruction of norms, rebranding is a tragic response, leaving their sentiments to fall on deaf ears. While the name has been morphed, the consumer will continue to utilize the product for the same end, continuously believing their worth is intrinsically tied to their skin. Engaging in this dialogue while recognizing the damage caused by the whitening industry, is a privilege. The targeted demographic continues to be women of lower-socioeconomic classes, who have internalized the false narrative whitening creams present. Deconstructing colorism and the reverence of fairness that has been taught to us requires a resilient effort. We must actively introspect our own prejudice and demand further representation. Glow and Lovely will remain a tool, if not met with empowerment and education. Changing names merely repackages a colonial artifact aimed at oppression. The rebranding fails to address how their portrayal of dark skin in a negative light, enforces a cultural bias and fortifies stigma. Glow and Lovely must be recalled, and the distribution of whitening products should be banned as a step towards dismantling current paradigms.
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