The beauty industry and (it’s) fairness: Addressing the grey matter

Najooka Javier
Monday, 22 June 2020

Micheal Jackson famously said, “And I told about equality, and it’s true. Either you’re wrong or you’re right. But, if you’re thinkin’ about my baby. It don’t matter if you’re black or white.”

The last few years have seen a lot of revolutions in the beauty industry. Right from body positivity to shunning colour discrimination, the industry is moving towards being more accommodative and holistic in general. As you come to think of it, this was much needed... wasn’t it?

As Indian, our skin colours range somewhere between dark to dusky, usually. But the unrealistic standards that the media and the beauty industry have been setting in the past have been exceptionally difficult to attain. Flawless skin, natural glow, ageless and radiant skin – all have been the most common of the beauty standards. Come to think of it; they are also the most used words in any skincare product.

These are often associated with being confidence boosters and eye-catchers. Ad films often talk about how beautiful glowing skin could be the reason why you get a job. Has the talent and skill of a person got nothing to do with it? Like most, even I wonder.

Another highly set beauty standard, which is also essentially very racist is that of being dark-skin. Fair skin is often related to being a sign of being beautiful. Surprisingly, fairness creams bring along with them the guarantee to find you your dream job, pursue a passion and find a suitor. 

Matrimonial sites and ads still mention “The girl should be fair.” Though this may make the application process easier, it could still be a demotivating for people who have a darker skin tone. 

Also, one thing I have always wondered is how a fairness cream for the face could change your entire body’s skin tone? 

But as Micheal Jackson famously said, “And I told about equality and it’s true. Either you’re wrong or you’re right. But, if you’re thinkin’ about my baby. It don’t matter if you’re black or white.”

Does it really matter? 

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The good news is, the beauty industry is working towards making a difference. In a recent development, Johnson and Johnson have declared that they will discontinue their line of fairness products, sold under brands such as Neutrogena and Clean & Clear. The company’s Neutrogena Fine Fairness line in Asia and the Middle East and Clean & Clear in India will be discontinued over the growing criticism of skin-lightening products.

Though this is not the first time a company has come under fire for promoting skin lightening products, this is undoubtedly a positive step towards promoting healthy beauty standards. 

The move by Johnson and Johnson comes in response to the protests against racism, in light of the death of George Floyd. 

According to a statement published by the company, “Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our Neutrogena and Clean & Clear dar-spot reducer products represented fairness or white as better than your unique skin tone.” 

“This was never our intention - healthy skin is beautiful,” the statement added. 

Currently, almost 11,000 people have also signed a petition on Change.org calling on Unilever to ban their fairness product Fair & Lovely. 

A famous product in the Indian subcontinent, Fair & Lovely has made to the news in similar light on previous occasions. The petition reads, “This product has built upon, perpetuated and benefited from internalised racism and promotes anti-blackness sentiments amongst all its consumers.”

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Former West Indies captain Darren Sammy recently revealed that he was called ‘Kalu’ by his Indian teammates at Sunrisers Hyderabad during the 2014 IPL. The incident led to serious discussion on the issue of colourism in the Indian subcontinent. 

Till date, a lot of people in our country face discrimination daily.

Sharing her experience, Shweta Suri (name changed on request), a college student said, “It is important to understand the gravity of the issue. Discrimination is real and takes a toll on people’s mental health.”

“I was bullied throughout school and as my friends joked about my colour. I would worry about going out or playing outdoors. I even tried using these products until I realised that I need to accept myself for the way I am,” she shared. 

Men are equally a victim of colour discrimination and face issues dealing with these issues. 

Hemant Gore, (first name changed) is an IT professional and has faced years of discrimination. “My surname is Gore, which in Marathi means fair. This was a big joke during school and college, sometimes in the office too,” he shares. “People would question me about my colour and my surname which was really disturbing,” he says. 

Movements around the world, bring hope for a better tomorrow. Being woke and vocal about injustice is the need of the hour. 

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