Indian men speak out against racist skin-lightening creams


Adverts for skin-lightening creams in India are increasingly targeting a male audience, when previously these products were the domain of women. These creams promise to make dark skin lighter – which in India is synonymous with beauty and success. Our Observer is taking a stand against these racist stereotypes.

In Indian supermarket aisles there is an abundance of different skin-lightening products: moisturisers, soaps and cleansers. Now skincare brands are moving away from the saturated market of products aimed at women, and are directly targeting a male customer base. In their adverts, white, or whiter, skin is associated with sucess – in one's professional as well as romantic life.

Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan stars in a Fair & Handsome advert. 

There has already been a backlash against these skin-lightening creams that market whiter skin as a standard of beauty. The organisation Women of Worth started the "Dark is beautiful" campaign in 2009, as a way of promoting darker skin.

And for the last few months, the organisation has started to focus its efforts on men, as more and more men start to use these products. The grooming industry for men in India has grown by 40 percent over the last five years, with the skin-lightening product Fair & Handsome the best-selling product.

A YouTuber shows how to apply skin-lightening cream "Fair & Lovely Max Fairness". 

Several famous Bollywood actors, such as Abhay Deol or Harshvardhan Rane, are using their celebrity status to speak out on social media against this beauty trend. They criticise other actors, like Shahrukh Khan, who earn money from promoting racist adverts.

The actor Abhay Deol commenting on different skin-lightening products on Twitter.

In 2013, Women of Worth launched a petition against an advert by Indian cosmetics brand Emami. In one famous case, a 67-year-old man from Kerala in the south west of India took a cosmetics company, and the actor promoting its skin-lightening products, to court for false advertising. He was awarded damages of 30,000 rupees in January 2016 [equivalent to about 430 euros].

"These products destroy your self-confidence. People think they're not beautiful"

Our Observer Ram Subramanian is a film director based in Mumbai. On March 27, 2017, he published a video on Facebook demanding that these types of products be banned.

Let's Uncolour

Dear Fair and Lovely I want you to shut down before 15th August, 2017 so, you have to go! #LetsUncolour #iAmNewIndia

Publié par Voice Of Ram sur lundi 27 mars 2017
Our Observer's video was watched more than 2.5 million times on Facebook.

When I was younger, the whole family used the same tube of Fair and Lovely skin-lightening cream. I was a child and I used it like everyone did, it was just a part of my lifestyle. I used this product for eight years, until I was 17. At that point I was trying to make girls fancy me, like all young men that age. But I realised that putting this product on didn't make any sense. I began to feel confident in myself again and I accepted myself as I was.

Photo from Instagram

These products are bad for our mental health, they destroy your self-confidence. People start to think that they're not beautiful, that they'll never achieve anything. The advertising sells a false sense of hope to very poor people.

Racist advertising campaigns

A Fair & Handsome advert, which associates darker skin with manual labour, and lighter skin with a pure, white suit.

The problem with these skin-lightening products is very complicated because it goes back to different problems that are dividing this country. First of all, there's the caste system: the higher caste of Brahmans are on the top of the social ladder, and these are people who generally have a lighter complexion. There is also the country's past, marked by British colonialism: the colonists were our masters, and so of course their white skin became a symbol of power and of beauty.

For me, these advertising campaigns are racist because they send the message that light skin is superior to dark skin, and use the same stereotypes that existed in colonial times.

The poorest people use all of their money on these creams

Garnier, owned by French group L'Oréal, shows how its customers can check the efficacity of their skin lightening products using... a paint sample strip.

Here no man would admit publicly to using this type of product. It's a bit of a taboo. It reinforces the macho image that men try to project. But for the younger generation, for teenagers, it's more common and accepted for them to use these products.

India is a very poor country and very few people can afford to buy make-up and other cosmetics. Everything here is expensive, and poor people can't even buy enough food to eat. But they'll do everything they can to buy a tube of Fair & Lovely, because they're convinced that it's their only hope. When you see this type of logic, you realise just how terrible the effect of these adverts are on our way of thinking.

An advert for a Vaseline skin-lightening product. Vaseline is owned by the Unilever conglomerate.

This is why I decided to call on the government to do something. I want skin-lightening products to be banned from sale before the country's Independence Day on August 15. This is how we will really be independent.

Our Observer fighting for the removal of skin-lightening products on his Facebook page. 

In India, these skincare products are marketed by large Western conglomerates such as L'Oréal and Nivea. In 2005, the first product range specifically for men was launched by Fair & Handsome, which is a part of the Indian group Emami. Since then, a large range of different products have joined the market.