Why are we still grabbing a fairness cream…?

Tall, slim and "fair" are the watchwords for most Indians while hunting for a partner. Indians seem to be obsessed with fairness of skin, if fairness was not so much preferred by Indians; would these fairness creams have any chance of success? But with a flurry of whitening creams for just about every part of our body entering into Indian markets and catching the eye balls of millions is surely a cause to report for us!

Well, this is a deep rooted issue that prevails in our society. Dating back to the time when we were a British colony, our obsession with a light skin tone stems from the fact that we were ruled by the white race which was considered supreme authority. This would explain why the stigma surrounding dark people is not only specific to Pakistanis, as Indians and Bengalis share the same obsession.

Barring the fact that a fairness product can give you bit of a bleached look, according to many skin doctors most of the creams used for lightening skin have steroids in them which can cause acne, facial hair and wipe off epidermis completely, making the skin more vulnerable to ultraviolet rays of the sun. Forget the complexion; these creams bring irreparable damage to the skin.

An advertisement for Clean and Dry Intimate Wash, a Midas Care product that promises to bring “fairness and freshness” to a woman’s private parts, began attracting attention on the Internet after journalist Rupa Subramanya tweeted out a link to the commercial.

It’s common knowledge that India has a fairness obsession, and that manufacturers play on it by promoting fairness creams for the face. However, it seems they’ve gone a step too far this time.

Described as ‘unique’, the product is apparently designed to keep the skin ‘fresh and protected from infection all day’ with the added bonus that it will ‘brighten darkened skin in that area…making it many shades fairer.’

It’s interesting that according to the ads we see on TV, whitening is a problem that is increasingly faced by women who are modern and independent.

Nowadays, the person who needs fair skin is the woman who wants a job, the athlete who wins a tournament, the consummate professional that stands on her own two feet. The woman in a sari, on the other hand, appears in the advertisement for a moisturizer that promises softer skin. It’s almost as though we’re so uncomfortable with the idea of a liberated, independent woman that we feel the need to slip a few insecurities into her psyche.

While Fair and Lovely tapped in on our inherent racism with its early ad campaigns, the intent of products like whitening deodorants, moisturizers and “hygiene products” seems more insidious now. They show working women who are successful and tell the viewer that the critical component of their success is that their appearance is acceptable to men. How the woman sees herself is entirely irrelevant. What matters is how she’s viewed by others.

The cosmetics industry, traditionally believed to target women, has a new target segment: Men. No longer do cosmetics represent a `women only' market. Many players are coming up with skin care products for men. Men account for about 25 per cent of fairness cream use across the country and the figure is growing.

In absolute terms, it works out to about Rs 200 crore in sales. According to an HLL spokesperson, about 20 per cent consumers of Fair & Lovely - one of HLL's mega power brands - are men. Given that sales of Fair & Lovely are estimated at Rs 500 crore, men contribute Rs 100 crore. But while Fair & Lovely leads the fairness creams pack with an estimated market share of 55 per cent, CavinKares  'Fairever’, which occupies the second spot, does better with male consumers.

Fashion has moved on to the 21st century, middle class India has not. And they are the target audience for campaigns like Clean and Dry.

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