The hashtag ‘#FairandLovely’ was trending on Twitter on Thursday and piqued my curiosity. Obviously.

For the uninitiated – ‘Fair and Lovely’ is a widely popular skin whitening cream in India. It promises to make dusky women ‘fairer’. If only it were that easy. A quick google check and the reason why it was trending was apparent.

‘Fair & Lovely’ cream rebranded ‘Glow & Lovely’ – screamed some headlines. Unilever, the company that owns the cream thinks that ‘Glow and Lovely’ sounds more ‘inclusive’. But who the fuck are they trying to kid? It’s still a bloody skin whitening cream.

A product that promises to make your skin light, is a lot different than a product offering you a healthy skin. This superficial tokenism to change names and ‘re-brand’ themselves is not fooling anyone.

There are a lot of people arguing that even if fairness creams like these were banned, it’s not going to end the prejudicial attitudes Indians have towards people with darker skin tones. Sure. I agree. But that also doesn’t change the fact that the existence of these creams helps re-enforce and strengthen those attitudes. These products are basically telling you – FAIRER IS BETTER.

A lot of us are starkly aware that products like ‘Fair & Lovely’ only feed on the insecurities of young women and girls, making them believe they are not enough. And I feel so strongly about this issue because I have grown up hearing people say shit like “oh, she is not as fair as her mother” or “poor thing, she gets her skin color from her father”. Chatty Indian aunties do not know how to whisper discreetly. And their words stung. Thankfully, I was always a pragmatic child. So after the first few seconds of feeling hurt, I would just decide that they were ‘mean bitches who were better off ignored’.

Although, all the hoopla over the cream does remind me of little things I never really paid attention to. Like how my maternal grandmother whose skin tone was a lot lighter than mine would always use ‘fair and lovely’. There were times when she asked me to use it too. It was always in good humor, she would never comment about my skin color.

But I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been times when I wished I was indeed ‘fairer’. What with all our Bollywood songs, ads, poems and pretty much everything in the world subtly telling us that ‘lighter skin is prettier’. But those insecurities have long died. I have never paid a dime for skin lightening creams and never will.

With increased awareness over these beauty products, Unilever has been trying really hard to change the image attached to its best-selling cream over the last few years. They’ve tried changing their ads. While earlier they would feature dark women, who would slowly transform into ‘fairer’ ones. These days, the ads show women who are already fair, glowing like a tube-light after using the cream. I am not even kidding.

Sample this old ad of the same cream, where from the left to right is the supposed skin color transformation. (After usage of the cream, of course)

Now look at one of their newer ads. The woman is already pretty light colored on the extreme left, but at the right, it’s just photoshop. Nobody’s skin glows like that. Give me a break. Those guys are STILL trying to feed on the insecurities of young women and selling them horse-crap.

Our skin color or it’s glow level does not define us.


P.S – On a completely unrelated note – I published my second book ‘Love, Loss, Lockdown’. It’s a collection of short stories, so check it out.