Fair & Lovely

Washington Post published a survey by the World Value Survey, which measured social attitudes of people in different countries. The survey asked citizens what types of people they will refuse to live next to, and counted how many chose the option ‘people of a different race’ as a percentage for each country. Jordan came out as the country with the highest proportion of ‘intolerant’ people with 51.4% and India with 43.5%.


Look at the Fair & Lovely ad in India and it will prove one aspect of intolerance for the dark complexioned, especially among the fairer sex. The ad shows a miraculous change in the complexion of a girl from being dark skinned to very fair. The effect in the ad must have been achieved by the ‘digital touch-up’ and also by the effective use of light during photography.

Manufactured by Hindustan Lever, Indian arm of international giant Unilever, Fair & Lovely claims to offer dramatic change to fair complexion in just six weeks.  The packing of the cream displays one face six times, in an ever-whitening progression, and includes ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of a woman who presumably used the product.

Do you think Unilever will ever market or package this product in US/Canada the way they do in India?

As per Indian laws, since Fair & Lovely is not categorised as a pharmaceutical product, Hindustan Lever is not bound to prove efficacy of the product. In India, litigation for not achieving advertised effect or social effect of the advertisement will take a long time and may not get the desired judgement.

Indian media is now trying to establish itself and is in the process of maturing. At this stage, to most the revenue matters and hence are ready to air ‘irresponsible’ news, discussions, advertisements, etc for ensuring better Target Rating Point (TRP) and raking in a few more bucks. Responsibility for ensuring that advertising is truthful is a shared responsibility among advertisers, agencies, and the media. The best regulation is self-regulation and one can expect it from the Indian media houses in the times to come.

Fair & Lovely is the largest selling skin whitening cream in the world, and was first launched in India in 1975. It held a commanding 50-70 % share of the skin whitening market in India. The product is marketed by Unilever in 40 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with India being the largest single market. One can see them in the shelves of many Indian grocery stores in Canada too.

Our children, both schooled in Canada, their friends with complexions ranging from the darkest to the fairest, have been dismayed with the Fair & Lovely’s television commercials aired on the Indian channels. The ad typically contains the message of a dark complexioned depressed woman, becoming fairer and getting a job or a husband. It also depicts the women becoming happier and more confident after the change of her complexion. The question from our children was as to how come no one is suing them in India for racialism.

The discussion further went on to belief in India that the skin colour is very powerful unlike in North America where the emphasis on a deep and glowing tan. The majority of Indian society still feels that a lighter color skin tone reflects a higher status and is more attractive. This gets further strengthened with the bride searching ads put up by Indian men mostly seeking out fair skinned women. Hence the target market for Fair & Lovely is predominantly young women aged 18-35.

As expected, the discussion moved on to their cousin Anita, an engineering graduate, now working with an IT firm in Trivandrum, Kerala. Anita is a dark complexioned girl and she is well aware of that. Heard her saying to her mother that it was not her fault that she was born with a darker skin.

Our daughter Nidhi always felt that Anita was trying to appear fair and hence was using all unhealthy products. This had a telling effect on her skin. Nidhi, during her visit to India in February 2014, decided to give a few tips to Anita about carrying herself confidently and beautifully with her natural complexion. She had seen many of her dark complexioned friends using cosmetic products and procedures to look beautiful.

The first lesson Nidhi gave Anita was that being dark complexioned is also beautiful and hence there is no need to look fair. Then she took Anita to the local cosmetic store and based on the ingredients, selected cosmetics which suited her skin tone and ensuring that it had no bleaching agent. It was followed by a lesson on how to apply the cosmetics and makeup tips to enhance her facial features.

In June 2014, I got a call from Anita, then a student at the Engineering College and she said that she wanted to run for the post of the Chairperson of the College Union. I felt that she had become really confident and appeared to have come out of the ‘complexion problem’. She won the students election and became  the Chairperson.

10 thoughts on “Fair & Lovely

  1. Dear Reji,
    As usual a very thought provoking article and written in a very fluid ease of understanding. Despite its overall goodness for a cause i do not agree with the whole summation. The concept of white being pure and black being evil/darkness was never an Indian value sysytem. Have you seen any Christian weddings with black wedding dress or a white worn during mourning….in fact hindu culture wore white during death…so few influences are not India specific but religion induced…dont blame the Gods own country for that..keep the good word coming regards jaswal


  2. America and Canada are hardly paragons of virtue in respect of colour…Look at the way America looks at Mexicans and Cubans…How it handled its Blacks till very recently and you get the plot…The handling of Red Indians in the American Continent per se has also been abysmal and that is indeed sad… So Jordan and India are just two of the world’s nations that segregate on basis of colour…But so do the American/Canadian brood, no? They ridicule Russian complexions/East European complexions, dont really want brunettes around as opposed to blondes and redheads…After all, going on racial and face, Germany exterminated 50 lakh European Jews… The article pokes fun at just India, though written sincerely…That is worth considering.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In India we like fair skinned people but dont discriminate is professional side based on the skin color. But In N America do any immigrant can say this based on their experience ?
    What ever said & done all Indian have this color complex & wants to be more fair
    Beauty lies in the mind of the people. As long as we dont realize this Fair & Lovely will continue to make money

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thought provoking post with a personal touch. Amongst others two points clearly emerge. The first, whatever be the mindset elsewhere, there is a need for a social movement here in India to get over this age old prejudice. The problem is that it is so deeply ingrained in our DNA that perhaps it may take a few generations to get over the problem. There are so many individuals / organizations that work on the social front. Why is it that that no one seems to be taking up this issue? As compared to other issues , is it a lesser social evil? What Nidhi could do for her cousin, could some one take on a campaign for society in general?
    The second, HUL is clearly indulging in unethical advertisement, if not unlawful. They continue to reinforce a prejudice which is clearly a social evil. Besides, the Ad is based on falsehood. How do we sensitize one of the NGOs working on the social front to sue them ?
    Thanks Reji, for highlighting an important issue which lies dormant and which no one seems to care about. I feel the Dagger 19 comment is an unkind cut! True that historically all kinds of evils existed in the Western World. But today most of them have evolved into modern societies, where prejudices are are far lower than what exists in the developing world. The ‘complexion’ of the French football team is some food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing has changed – only the name of the product changed. Sales is as it was.
      A slew of cosmetic brands came under the scanner for promoting skin fairness for stereotyping racial types that intensified further in the wake of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in the West.
      Companies like Johnson & Johnson discontinued their fairness cream whereas Hindustan Uni-Lever went in for a change of name – A real COSMETIC change with business as usual.


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