Fair and Lovely changing its name does nothing to change the troubling mentality it perpetuates

Consumer giant Unilever is renaming its lightening range Fair and Lovely to Glow and Lovely, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, in countries where the products are bestsellers, this move is benign; it does nothing to change the ‘lighter is better’ narrative that it has helped to solidify in the minds of many.

Unilever and its Indian subsidiary Hindustan Unilever Limited have been criticised extensively for perpetuating colourism. The skin lightening range with 24bn rupees (£256m) in annual revenue has been popular in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries ever since the 1970s when it first hit the market. Numerous advertising campaigns, often involving top Bollywood actors, have contributed to its success. The narrative of the adverts commonly follows an unsuccessful person, with a dark skin tone, who finds success through lightening their skin. Time and time again the advertisements tell us that being whiter is way to find success in all areas of life. The lighter person gets married and is offered a lucrative job promotion without fail. While Fair and Lovey and other brands did not start this narrative, they have definitely capitalised on and perpetuated it for continued financial gain.

Sunny Jain, President of Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever, said: “We are fully committed to having a global portfolio of skin care brands that is inclusive and cares for all skin tones, celebrating greater diversity of beauty. He went on to say: “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.”

Colourism is painful. Being told by members of your own community that “you’d be prettier if your where lighter”, “if you want a partner you should be whiter” or seeing a someone get a job purely because of their skin tone, causes a deep amount of physical and mental anguish for people with darker skin tones. There have been countless stories of people using not only Fair and Lovely but more dangerous products, like unregulated skin bleach or Hydroquinone, in the hope of becoming lighter. Many have caused irreversible damage to themselves and some have even lost their lives in the pursuit of lighter skin. Changing the name of a lightening range to avoid words like ‘fair’ or ‘light’ is pointless: it doesn’t change the ingredients, the effect on the skin or the mentality that has made it a bestseller. The name change doesn’t do near enough to even attempt to address the untold mental and emotional trauma caused by the colourism is perpetuates. The only way this could even begin to be addressed would be to first stop the sale of Fair and Lovely products and publicly acknowledge the hurt they have caused by capitalising on a warped mentality surrounding skin tone. Fair and Lovely’s name change is mere virtue signalling. So long as the ‘lighter is better’ mentality remains in countries Fair and Lovely will be there to prey on the insecurities of darker individuals.

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Saywah Mahmood

Saywah Mahmood

Aspiring Data Journalist | MA Interactive Journalism student (CityUniLondon)