Dark and Lovely: Padma Lakshmi posts about colourism, Diet Sabya demands ban on Fair and Lovely
Over the past few weeks names and words like George Floyd, police brutality, racism, Black Lives Matter, Derek Chauvin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery have taken over the news channels and sites, and the prevalent problem of systematic and institutional racism have taken centre stage. This has been spurred by George Floyd’s death, an African-American man who was killed when white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for about 9 minutes. Video footage showed that on May 25, 46-year-old Floyd breathed his last, pleading, ‘I can’t breathe’.
Floyd’s death was one of the many that have taken place in the African-American community at the hands of police violence and brutality in the United States of America, more so in the past few years. However, Floyd’s death sparked protests all over the world, with people taking to the streets despite the coronavirus pandemic. People protested for police reform, against racism, and some protestors even defaced and toppled over Confederate statues, and also statues of slave traders and colonialists, including those of Edward Colston, Winston Churchill, King Leopold II and Christopher Columbus. And since the protests, several police reforms have been made.
Dark and Lovely
Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities also expressed their outrage and showed solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Indian fans didn’t take it too well when actors including Deepika Padukone, Tamannah Bhatia, Sonam Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra expressed solidarity with the movement, and they were called hypocritical for promoting skin lightening and fairness creams on one hand, while supporting the Black Lives Matter movement on the other.
Calling out colourism and how women’s self worth is evaluated on the basis of their skin colour, others including self-appointed fashion industry watchdog Diet Sabya, chef, reality show judge and former model Padma Lakshmi and illustrator Ayush Kalra have been calling out brands that sell fairness creams, products and market the idea that being fair is what makes one ‘lovely’, demanding that such products be boycotted.
Ayush Kalra captioned his illustration, “Didi’s flying jutti to all the FAKE FAIRNESS BEAUTY PRODUCTS and people who sponsor them! Can’t dark skinned people be beautiful? Does being fair imply being lovely? These Racist Fairness Ads Need to be Stopped. Rise above Hate. Spread Love!!”
It is not unknown that colourism (or shadeism) is a huge problem in Indian society and not only are girls taught not to play in the sun, not drink too much tea, not swim and wear covered clothes to avoid tanning, but matrimonial ads are always looking for a ‘fair and lovely’ bride, which can automatically dent anybody’s self esteem.
Talking about shadeism, Padma Lakshmi posted a photo that said: For years I’ve been saying that “Fair & Lovely” needs to pack their fake cosmetics and GO!! Anyone else out there sick and tired of being told that fair=lovely? Because I sure as hell am. I’ve been hearing that crap since my girlhood and it did a number on my self-esteem. She captioned the post, “For those who don’t know, “Fair & Lovely” is a skin whitening cream marketed to POC. Colorism is a persistent social force in India, and many South Asian countries. I know it made me feel insecure growing up. We need to dismantle this harmful relic of colonialism through representation for all skin-tones.”
Ban Fair and Lovely
Self-appointed fashion industry watchdog which has taken up quite a few social issues in the recent past, reposted both Ayush Kalra’s post and Padma Lakshmi’s, talking about shadeism in Indian society, asking people to come forward with their stories, demanding that products like Fair and Lovely, which demean women (and men too, now that we have Fair and Handsome) be banned.
Here are some of the stories shared by Diet Sabya on their page, including those of Alan Jope, who is the CEO of Unilever, the company behind Fair and Lovely:
Writing, “Sharing because — not matter how uncomfortable — these stories matter!” Diet Sabya shared several stories. One of which story read: “My sister is extremely fair and I’m not. My parents never made a big deal out of it. At my sister’s wedding, my granny introduced me to her friends and said” you can’t say she’s the bride’s sister because she’s very dark “ it hit me like nothing before. I was 17. It took me 8 years to realize I’m far better than anyone else. But those 8 years of my life were the worst because I lost my confidence and put on yon lot of weight because I thought I was already ugly and it wouldn’t matter if I got fat too. It’s a struggle not many people understand...”
Another post read: “When I was a kid, one of the guests who came to my house asked me why are you dark as coal when your sisters are fair and pretty? The 6 year old me learnt that fair is always lovely and dark skinned girls like me can never be pretty. In all the pretend and play games I used to pick Aishwarya as my name (because none can beat Aishwarya Rai in terms of prettiness) and used to tell my friends that I am the fair one and prettiest in this game. In my school days, for annual celebration teachers used to pick flower girls for welcoming chief guest. My sister being the fair one always used to get selected. Seeing this once I asked my teacher can you select me?? I heard no reply from her. Because dusky isn’t pretty. In fair and lovely ads you can see being a fair lady ensures a high chance in ending up in a dream job. It happens in real life too. Most of the consulting firms, for a client facing role they will prefer skin over brain...”
Since this article’s original publication (on June 12), Hindustan Unilever Ltd, the company behind the brand Fair & Lovely, said they would be dropping the word ‘Fair’ from the brand’s name in their efforts and commitment towards inclusivity in beauty. They will also be announcing the new name for the ‘Fair & Lovely’ Foundation, which was set up in 2003 with the aim of offering scholarships to women pursuing their education. However, the brand name change awaits regulatory approval.
“We are making our skin care portfolio more inclusive ... a more diverse portrayal of beauty,” Hindustan Unilever Chairman Sanjiv Mehta said in a statement.
In a separate statement Sunny Jain, President of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division said, “We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this.”
The brand Johnson & Johnson also announced that they would stop the sale of skin-whitening creams.