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Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 
New York Times, May 30, 2007

Telling India’s Modern Women They Have Power, Even Over Their Skin Tone

By HEATHER TIMMONS

NEW DELHI, May 29 — The modern Indian woman is independent, in charge — and does not have to live with her dark skin.

That is the message from a growing number of global cosmetics and skin care companies, which are expanding their product lines and advertising budgets in India to capitalize on growth in women’s disposable income. A common thread involves creams and soaps that are said to lighten skin tone. Often they are peddled with a “power” message about taking charge or getting ahead.

Avon, L’Oréal, Ponds, Garnier, the Body Shop and Jolen are selling lightening products and all of them face stiff competition from a local giant, Fair and Lovely, a Unilever product that has dominated the market for decades.

Fair and Lovely, with packaging that shows a dark-skinned unhappy woman morphing into a light-skinned smiling one, once focused its advertising on the problems a dark-skinned woman might face finding romance. In a sign of the times, the company’s ads now show lighter skin conferring a different advantage: helping a woman land a job normally held by men, like announcer at cricket matches. “Fair and Lovely: The Power of Beauty,” is the tagline on the company’s newest ad.

Not surprisingly, the rush to sell skin-lightening products has drawn some criticism, with people saying that the products are at best unsavory and that they reinforce dangerous prejudices.

When Unilever markets Fair and Lovely, it “doesn’t cause bias,” but it does make use of it, said Aneel G. Karnani, a professor with the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan who earned a business degree in India.

Global cosmetics companies — which also sell skin-lightening products throughout Asia and in the United States, where they are marketed as spot or blemish removers — argue that they are just giving Indian women what they want.

Taking offense at the products is “a very Western way of looking at the world,” said Ashok Venkatramani, who is in charge of the skin care category at Unilever’s Indian unit, Hindustan Lever. “The definition of beauty in the Western world is linked to anti-aging,” he said. “In Asia, it’s all about being two shades lighter.”

Sales of Fair and Lovely have been growing 15 to 20 percent year over year, Mr. Venkatramani said.

Skin-lightening products are by far the most popular product in India’s fast-growing skin care market, so manufacturers say they ignore them at their peril. The $318 million market for skin care has grown by 42.7 percent since 2001, says Euromonitor International, a research firm.

“Half of the skin care market in India is fairness creams,” said Didier Villanueva, country manager for L’Oréal India, and 60 to 65 percent of Indian women use these products daily. L’Oréal entered this specific market four years ago with Garnier and L’Oréal products, but so far has a small market share, he said.

The idea of “glowing fairness” has nothing to do with colonialism, or idealization of European looks, Mr. Villanueva said. “It’s as old as India,” he said, and “deeply rooted in the culture.”

There’s no denying that the notion of “fairness,” as light skin is known in India, is heavily ingrained in the culture. Nearly all of Bollywood’s top actresses have quite pale skin, despite the range of skin tones in India’s population of more than a billion people.

Lightening products can damage the skin if they are overused, dermatologists say, particularly if they contain hydroquinone. The compound reduces melanin but can leave permanent dark spots in high doses.

Deeply rooted ideas about women’s roles are slowly shifting in India. The percentage of women married before the age of 19, for example, has dropped sharply. Advertising and marketing gurus are aiming at young, urban Indian women, who are earning their own money and are potential customers for a host of products including name-brand clothes, cosmetics and new cars.

India is hardly alone in its pursuit of “fairness.” Korea, Japan and China are big markets for skin-whitening products. And the United States is not exempt. Ebony magazine ran similar ads relating to full-face “skin brightening” or “skin whitening” creams aiming at African-American consumers through the 1950s and 1960s, said Jeanine Collins, communications director for Ebony. Those ads changed their message during the 1970s and 1980s to talk about removing spots or blemishes, she said.

In India, advertisements for L’Oréal-branded products and the company’s Garnier line generally feature a pale model, and focus on the ingredients in the product, using take-action language like “YES to fairer and younger looking skin” or “Against inside cell damages.”

L’Oréal’s super-high-end Vichy line is more direct: the main advertising image in Asia shows a woman unzipping her blemished, darker face to reveal a light, even-toned one within.

“We have never had any complaints about the ad’s social implications,” said Nitin Mehta, India general manager of the active cosmetics division of L’Oréal, which makes Vichy products.

Unilever’s Fair and Lovely brand has drawn particular scrutiny because of its market dominance, its ads and the parent company’s image. Unilever also makes Dove products, whose “Real Beauty” campaign encourages women in the United States and Europe to embrace the way they look. This month, Unilever said it would ban super-skinny models from ads.

The All India Democratic Women’s Association has been monitoring advertisements since the 1990s and gets particularly angry with ads that convey the message “if she is not fair in color, she won’t get married or won’t get promoted,” said Manjeet Rathee, a spokeswoman for the association’s media group. The current crop of television ads for fairness creams are “not as demeaning” as ones in the past, she said.

In a twist that makes it difficult for critics to accuse Unilever of stoking just women’s insecurities, the company has begun to advertise a Fair and Lovely product for men.

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What are your thoughts?

Personally, it's troubling. I don't like the idea that to be more beautiful, or successful you have to be "fairer". The color complex, as I like to call it, is something I am all to familiar with within the black american community and have realized that it extends well beyond that to Eastern cultures as well.

I will say, to be fair, that I wonder if this is different from all the ads and attention placed on having that sun-kissed, beautiful darker skin tone attained by having a tan and if this product is in any way different from all the tanning creams and gels and sprays used to achieve the latter.

I don't know.
post #2 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

I think having "dark" skin is associated with having blotchy, overly tanned by exposure over the years, unevenly pigmented skin in this context. I don't find it troubling any more than ads promoting a tan/bronze/dark skin to look "healthy" are troubling.... so because I'm pale I need to buy this-that product to get a "glow" when I'm really darkening my skin to look more beautiful? Um... not very different than lightening, imo.

I think is rather Western to associate the promotion of one skin color over another with racism, it's just like the article said that “The definition of beauty in the Western world is linked to anti-aging,” he said. “In Asia, it’s all about being two shades lighter.” "

So it's not a matter of racism or discrimination any more than prefferring women with younger appearence over older appearence is... it's just beauty. Like your skin can be hyperpigmented and darkened via sun exposure and it can also age this way. So in the Western world we aim at anti-aging and in the Eastern world beauty is aimed at skin lightening.
post #3 of 63
Thread Starter 

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Well, to go along with your point, ageism is a big problem in this country too, it's just another form of discrimination. It is the reason why so many people, men and women, turn to products to alter their appearance. Being young and youthful is definitely preferred. It's the same type of issue. Is it better to have smooth skin as opposed to a few wrinkles? We're not talking issues caused sun damage or other factors but just wrinkles as a result of getting older, of nature taking it's course. Or is it better, more beautiful, to do whatever you can, botox, face lifts, restilin injections, etc. to have the appearance of younger skin?
post #4 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Well, for whatever the reasons, Asia in general celebrates pale skin. A friend when to the Philippines with her boyfriend, and the family thought she was so gorgeous because she has fair white skin. Another friend whose very tan for being East Asian (it's natural; in the dead of Northeast winter, she has a tan) isn't as beautiful in the eyes of her family because she has a year long tan. An Indian friend of mine is adamant about being darker (she's very fair; she's maybe a shade or two darker than my East Asian skin) because of this cultural notion. She sees it more as wanting to be more like "Western" culture, because when she visits her family in India, they wear "Western" clothes and are more interested in US/Europe culture than their own; I don't know if they do this to accommodate my friend or it's how it always is.

There are a lot of reasons why light skin is desired. De-colonization is pretty recent for some of these countries, and I can imagine that being white is equivalent to power (which is better) to some of these people (racism). Some of these people can terribly old-fashioned and think being pale means you don't have to work in the hot fields like the tanned people (classism). Or it could be simply people wanting the exotic. A lot of trends in beauty aren't something most people can achieve, like when being thin with big breasts was trendy; I know there are quite few people who do have that natural body, but there are many, many more who do not.

I think more research has to be done on it. However, it's really silly that one skin tone is touted over another.
post #5 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

So many people have color complexes (what we call it at my job)...I guess I never would have noticed it before working w/ color-matching people every day, but a very large majority of my customers (of all ethnicities) ask for a foundation other that their actual skintone.
(Older) Indian women do seem to be the most extreme of the cases though....often asking for an NW15 instead of the NC 42-45ish that they are naturally.

The article is interesting to say the least.
post #6 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

i think it stems back to classism.

when you think about it, in an area where farming or outdoor work is the main source of income - those with fair skin appear wealthy, because they don't have to work in the sun.

in an area where indoor work is the main source of income, having darker (or tanned) skin can be seen as a sign of wealth - as that person has the leisure time to spend getting that tan. pale skin becomes a sign of the worker. this is ever so true these days in the cities in the west - tanned skin is considered beautiful, healthy etc. why? because we all spend so much time working indoors. tanned skin denotes having the luxury of time. that is slowly changing now that we know of the dangers of tanning... but so many people still strive for that tan look.

you can't win
post #7 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

I didn't read the entire article cuz I'm supposed to be doing something else haha. But like MisStarrlight said a lot of people have color complexes. For example a lot of my lighter skinned customer want to be an NC44 when they clearly are an NC30 TOPS!

I have heard that in India the women like light skin. I've also heard that they wear a lot of colored contacts (blue eyes and green eyes). It's not a matter of racism but I think that the general idea of beauty is that lighter women are the ideal. Like a nice light shade, but a healthy tan. Does that make sense?!

I think it counts here too, all my light skinned customer want to be tanner. It's not a race thing like I said, it's just when everyone sees the nice medium toned girl with the perfect tan - not too light, not too dark - then that's what's in.
post #8 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Hmmm....I love my black hair, tanned skin and brown eyes! I have Indian friends that try to look lighter and always associate other girls as pretty if they are lighter skinned. I'm sorry but I'm Indian and I get compliments on my tanned complexion and how I can wear a lot of colors. Those Indian girls that dye their hair blonde, wear foundation 3 colors lighter then what they are and have blue contacts--well all that is out! Now, it's about natural and enhancing your natural beauty, not manipulating it!
post #9 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

i think lighter skin or pale skin is uglier on women, i have a medium tan skin& i wanna get a little darker, lol.
post #10 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
Originally Posted by xolovinyoo View Post
i think lighter skin or pale skin is uglier on women, i have a medium tan skin& i wanna get a little darker, lol.
:huh2:

I don't know when we started talking about what we thought was pretty or ugly.

It's about cultural ideals and trends. What you said is slightly offensive to the more melanin challenged.
post #11 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Unlike ageism, the ideal of lighter skin in India has deeper roots in discrimination. Even though the caste system has been abolished, the cultural stigma of being and untouchable is still in effect. Brahmins, who were considered to be the top caste generally posessed fairer skin and if your skin was dark it was usually assumed that you were an untouchable. Untouchables were denied education and rights and were stuck with the jobs that were considered dirty and demeaning. All together there were a total of 4 different castes with brahmins being the highest and the untouchables being the lowest.

So no, this is not like ageism. This is more like slavery, and yes your skin color mattered. Sometimes, though rarely, you might be able to marry up a caste. Maybe if your skin was pale enough.
post #12 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Yes it is true that Indian or South East Asian women want lighter skin and its not just in-between lighter. The general notion is "the lighter it is, the better it is." I am telling you from my experience because I am from south east asia. I go there every year and in the past two years I have seen shocking amount of skin brightening creams in stores from all big major brands. Skin Brightening products that are never sold in the US are being sold there. Obviously there mutli-national cosmetic companies have used women's complexes and long established cultural notion of beauty. Promoting these brightening creams will only strength women's insecurities about her skin color. It's hard not to buy those creams when 40% of the creams and lotions section is filled with skin brightening products. Face wash, soap, body wash, moisturizer, serum....you name it and its there. Its crazy!!! The advertisements for these skin brightening product is everywhere, from magazines, newpapers, TV and big billboard ads. I cringe when I see them. I think women all should be more aware of how their beauty products define prejudices for beauty, be that skin brightening or darkening product.
post #13 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
Originally Posted by xolovinyoo View Post
i think lighter skin or pale skin is uglier on women, i have a medium tan skin& i wanna get a little darker, lol.
thats not a very nice thing to say
post #14 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

I think this is sad not only because it's making people feel pressured by an ideal look but also the the historical reasons behind it and the health risks that some lightening creams have. I know natural tanning can cause skin problems but you can always fake the glow.
post #15 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
Originally Posted by xolovinyoo View Post
i think lighter skin or pale skin is uglier on women, i have a medium tan skin& i wanna get a little darker, lol.
I would be very "ugly" looking to you. NW15 here and I am so fine with it too.

In regards to the article, I have heard about this and the wave of those desiring to be fair is falling over into other countries.
post #16 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Cosmetics companies have a knack for preying on women's insecurities. Either your skin is too dark, too pale, too wrinkly, too uneven....when will it ever stop. Of course we as women can strive to make the best of ourselves, but we should just be comfortable in the skin we're in and accept those factors which we cannot change.
post #17 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Interesting...I was watching a programme about this a couple of years ago, I remember a lady saying that in the villages of India, a mother would prefer to have a 'plain fat pale baby' to a 'dark skinned beauty'...I think it's just a cultural thing I suppose, just how tanned skin is more coveted in the West than pale skin. Pale skin has been associated in Asia with wealth and elegance for hundereds of years, (It only changed in the West with the 'luxury' of St. Tropez etc) so maybe that's why. You cant change the beauty ideals there, but they should stop bashing dark skin in order to sell their products. To state that lighter skin 'glows' more than dark skin is completely false, it's usually the other way round. Well they couldn't sell their products by saying 'Get dull pasty skin' could they? Pale skin is usually more monotone and has less depth than dark skin.
post #18 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
Originally Posted by xolovinyoo View Post
i think lighter skin or pale skin is uglier on women, i have a medium tan skin& i wanna get a little darker, lol.
Well sweetie, all the 'ugly' pale ladies will be laughing at you when you resemble a dehydrated prune in 20 years
post #19 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
I remember a lady saying that in the villages of India, a mother would prefer to have a 'plain fat pale baby' to a 'dark skinned beauty'.
It's probably because fat and pale means you have money (you can afford a lot of food and don't have to work in the fields).

I think there's beauty in all skintones. Nicole Kidman is pretty pale, and she has gorgeous skin. Not everyone wants to use self-tanner or tempt skin cancer.
post #20 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
Originally Posted by flowerhead View Post
Well sweetie, all the 'ugly' pale ladies will be laughing at you when you resemble a dehydrated prune in 20 years
haha yeh!
post #21 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beauty Mark View Post
It's probably because fat and pale means you have money (you can afford a lot of food and don't have to work in the fields).

I think there's beauty in all skintones. Nicole Kidman is pretty pale, and she has gorgeous skin. Not everyone wants to use self-tanner or tempt skin cancer.
Maybe. I think from her tone she meant fat as being a defect...Basicly she meant they'd rather have a plan looking child if it was pale than a dark pretty one.
I certainly don't want a tan, was that aimed at me?
post #22 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Yeah.. its true.. in India, people associate beauty with light colored skin. This is very slowly dying though.. very very slowly. I am from India as well and I dont try to hide my actual skin color.. this is who I am. Take it or leave it and I dont care what anyone thinks.
post #23 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
I certainly don't want a tan, was that aimed at me?
It was a general comment on the whole idea that being tan is better than being light.

There are good things and bad things about most skintones, IMO.

Quote:
I think from her tone she meant fat as being a defect.
I was thinking along the lines of what a dance teacher told me (I take classical Indian dance) that a more rounder body is ideal than a thin one.
post #24 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

Quote:
Originally Posted by aziajs View Post
“The definition of beauty in the Western world is linked to anti-aging,” he said. “In Asia, it’s all about being two shades lighter.”

The idea of “glowing fairness” has nothing to do with colonialism, or idealization of European looks, Mr. Villanueva said. “It’s as old as India,” he said, and “deeply rooted in the culture.”

There’s no denying that the notion of “fairness,” as light skin is known in India, is heavily ingrained in the culture. Nearly all of Bollywood’s top actresses have quite pale skin, despite the range of skin tones in India’s population of more than a billion people.

Deeply rooted ideas about women’s roles are slowly shifting in India. The percentage of women married before the age of 19, for example, has dropped sharply. Advertising and marketing gurus are aiming at young, urban Indian women, who are earning their own money and are potential customers for a host of products including name-brand clothes, cosmetics and new cars.

I'm gonna keep it brief n simple...

^1st point...
Sad, but true. It really is such a big deal still with a lot of south asians... I see it around me a lot... no one cares abt aging, as long as they look fair!

2nd/3rd point - I dont think it has anything to do with colonialism at all... its just what ''looks good'' to a lot of shallow ppl. The Bollywood industry is not helping at all by only recruiting lighter skinned actors

4th point - wow, its encouraging that attitudes are slowly changing and I really wish ppl worldwide would stop being shallow and being so hung up on their skin tone.

I hate hearing "isnt it too dark?", "going lighter one shade, just to brighten up my face" as much as I hate hearing "gosh i look so pale i look dead, i need to be warmed up"

Ok, so having the odd whinge here n there abt some feature of urs is oretty natural, but to base ur life and to make a business out it is sad...
Embrace your colour, heritage, culture, ancestry and be grateful for being alive, healthy and fit!
post #25 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

It's true. If you look at Indian matrimonials, many of them say them they want a fair woman. It roots from a symbol of wealth (wealthy women staying inside and not getting tanned, etc), not from colonialism or European looks. It precedes the British rule.

Yes, it is ridiculous. My distant relative had a baby, and they were freaking out because they thought the baby had dark skin and would grow up to be ugly, so they kept using creams on the baby. My aunt, who's very reasonable, said that she didn't understand what the fuss was about and that the baby looked fine to her.

The trend is very slowly dying, because more people are starting to criticize it. I hope it does die out because it is just stupid. People talk about my sister not being fair, but she has the most beautiful, glowing, dark bronze skin.
post #26 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

as far as getting a tan goes, most people just look ''healthier'' becuz they have a glow going on from the sun, thats something any darker skinned girl should be proud of, u don't have to risk skin cancer just to get some color

and i wouldnt call pale skin ugly! if u want to be blunt, ur facial features make u ''ugly'', not ur skintone. look at someone like jennifer lopez or eva longoria, u can see pix of her from pale to tanned and shes still beautiful simply becuz her face is beautiful.
post #27 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

It's not just India or other Asian cultures(obviously) but as far as I know this is VERY popular among West African women. I have aunts with husbands, kids, and siblings who are very dark and yet they are this funny shade of brown and yellow.
I'd ask my mom, " Why is Auntie so-and-so lighter than everyone?" and she'd tell me because she bleaches her skin.
It's a big beauty fad in places like Nigeria but it's also looked upon, kind of like extreme tanning is here.
Light skin sometimes means youthful and brighter skin to people. I would be lying if I said I never used to wish I was slightly lighter, too, but I'm happy with myself now. But hey, it's up to them. Bleaching your skin, wearing blue contacts, straightening your hair... all the same idea to me.
post #28 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

.......


Edited by frocher - 7/20/11 at 10:58am
post #29 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

...........


Edited by frocher - 7/20/11 at 10:49am
post #30 of 63

Re: Do Indian Women Want Lighter Skin?

That fair & lovely ad is very interesting. It is much like a tanning ad you would see in the US.
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