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Digital whitening sparks controversy

If you’re thinkin’ of being my baby… it don’t matter if you’re black or white… I said if you’re thinkin’ of being my brother it don’t matter if you’re black or white

Clearly the message in this Michael Jackson song from the ‘90s has had little effect on skin care companies like Vaseline, at least judging from their latest marketing application targeting Facebook users.

‘Transform your face on Facebook with Vaseline for men.’ And what happens when you use this application? If you’re brown like me then your profile photo is basically Photoshopped to a white one. And it’s promoted by Bollywood star Shahid Kapoor shown with his face divided into two halves explaining the before and after effects of the product.

As long as I can remember, Indian television has been always full of advertising for these types of products. The ancient Fair and Lovely ads for women kicked off the concept that a fairer skin could led to better career options like that of an air hostess, a journalist, or even a model. And it didn’t stop there, ad campaigns also promoted the idea that a fairer skin meant marriage was eminent.

Then it was time to shift the focus, so they introduced the Fair and Handsome creams for men. These advertisements have even featured Indian film stars like Shah Rukh Khan in the north and Surya in the south. Many more such products by different companies followed. And this time it’s the Anglo-Dutch company Vaseline going a step further by promoting their product on Facebook.

It’s an idea that has provoked a largely negative response, be it in the blogosphere, or on Facebook. South Asia Wired spoke to some regular Facebook users who shared their first reactions to the application.

Amit Shrirao, a software engineer from India says it’s bizarre to use Facebook for marketing a skin lightening cream.

“ How does skin colour even matter? We all obviously know that these products have no effect on our skin tone. I also don’t think using Facebook helps in increasing sales of such products as people are aware of the realities of these various new means of beautification.”

Anirudha Maitra a PhD student, couldn’t control his laughter when he first saw this application pop up on Facebook.

“It’s unfortunate that whiteness is still valorised as a virtue. It’s interesting how whiteness is always the added incentive…together with no pimples, sunspots etc”

And Nirmal John, who’s in the business of advertising himself thinks: “It’s unfortunate that highly qualified and sensible people with fancy marketing degrees have to do this to justify their salaries. It’s time marketing became about making people comfortable about themselves than feel inadequate.”

1 Comment on “Digital whitening sparks controversy”

  1. #1 sarla
    on Jul 20th, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    This obsession about being fair-skinned is pretty wide spread in North Indian psyche. Perhaps it goes as far back as the Aryans’ arrival on the subcontinent of India. Somehow the term “good looking” has come to be an equivalent of being fair-skinned in India, particularly northern India. Movie actors too often seem to be chosen for being fair-skinned and in India movie actors are often the role models less for the roles they play more for how fair looking they are as portrayed on screen and film magazines.
    As far back as I can remember, often in the past many women in India used talcum powder for the faces which looked strangely different from the brown necks on which such faces rested. Well, currently if the creams and other cosmetics products promise fair-skin to make folks feel good,skin colour based bias will be exploited, unfair as it may seem.

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