Skin-whitening adverts ignite race row in India
Thursday 10 July 2008
The actors are beautiful, the sets are stylish and the message could not be clearer – the woman with the paler skin gets the man.
In recent weeks, Indians have been treated to an eye-catching television advert "mini-series" featuring three of Bollywood's hottest talents in a moody love-triangle. All in the name of skin-whitening cream.
The whitening market in India is worth millions of pounds, with men as well as women routinely buying bleaching lotions in an effort to "improve" their complexion. But the mini-series advert featuring Saif Ali Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Neha Dhupia has reopened a debate about India's obsession with pale skin and triggered an angry reaction from some who think the advert is discriminatory and outdated.
"It is strange. There is such a premium placed on pale skin," said Urvashi Butalia, a historian and director of Kali for Women, India's first feminist publishing house. "I am not sure where it comes from. It may have something to do with India's history of being colonised by various people and that there is a hangover of the idea that Aryan people are superior and Dravidian people – those who were already here – are inferior."
The new advert, being shown in mini-episodes, features Khan, with Dhupia as his girlfriend. But a chance encounter with an old sweetheart, played by Chopra, triggers the prospect of a possible revival of their relationship. For all the stolen glances and glossy production, there is nothing subtle about the advert; Dhupia's skin looks snow white while Chopra appears dusky.
The first instalment of the series of adverts
At the conclusion of the first episode, a lovelorn Chopra is seen gazing at an advert for a cream that promises to provide a "pinkish white glow" complexion. In case anyone did not get the point, the product is called White Beauty.
"Priyanka is said to be the epitome of dusky beauty and her dusky skin was said to be sexy, yet she became so cheap as to ridicule her own dark skin to make money," said one of the more printable comments on YouTube.
The cream is produced by Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), the biggest consumer products company in India and a subsidiary of Unilever, based in London and Rotterdam. The company failed to respond to inquiries about the advert.
The desire for pale skin over dark is also highlighted by a new television drama, Bidaai. The show features two sisters, one adopted and dark-skinned and the other pale. There are no prizes for guessing which one is the first to snag a husband.
Not all women believe the promotion of paler skin is discriminatory or that the Unilever advert is patronising. "I don't think it's racist, I just think that everyone thinks they can look better," said Mallika Makhija, 18, a student. "People want to look good and there is this idea that a paler complexion is ideal."
Ms Makhija said she did not use a whitening cream but she estimated that 60 per cent of Indian women did.
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns aged 27
- 3 Cilla Black defends Cliff Richard: 'I am positive that the allegations are without foundation'
- 4 Nicki Minaj finally releases predictable 'Anaconda' video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
James Foley 'beheaded': PM cuts holiday short for emergency meeting on British response to latest Isis atrocity
Michael Brown shooting: Police shoot and kill second young black man near Ferguson
ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns aged 27
James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
Iraq crisis: Islamic State's message to America - 'We will drown you all in blood'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women
£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...
Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...
Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...
£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...