Barbie and Ken: Beauty Norms

In 2008, Ponds, a brand that sells beauty and health care products started advertising its new product ‘Pond’s White Beauty.’ The ad explains that by using the moisturizing product, ones skin colour will gradually become whiter. The ad promotes this new product through an ingredient named lycopene. Lycopene is “a powerful antioxidant commonly found in red fruits and vegetables that gives your skin a rosy white glow” (Pond’s 2013).ponds

Like most beauty products commercials, the male gaze is used. The male gaze reflects the way that male power is brought to bear on women through the disciplining of the female body. Essentially, men look and women are looked at – and so it behooves women to be what men want to look at, since that gives them some modicum of power in a male-dominated world.


However, this ad demonstrates that gender does not dictate the only form of gaze, but race as well.

First the ad begins with an Indian man breaking up with his Indian girlfriend. The woman is heartbroken.


It then skips to three years later where the woman discovers her ex-boyfriend is now engaged to another woman. Again, the woman looks heartbroken. Then, the man and his fiancé appear while the woman is walking pass them.


The man notices his ex-girlfriend and they both turn around and make eye contact. However, that is short lived and the man continues to walk away with his fiancé.



Then the ad starts to promote the product. It says, “For the first time, with lycopene, new ponds white beauty gives you a radiant pinkish white glow – pale white or pinkish white. You choose” (Pond’s 2008). After this it shows the women walking passed each other and highlights the difference in skin tones. The fiancé has visibly whiter skin than the ex-girlfriend. As a result this ad is portraying the idea that darker skin tone is less appealing than white. Essentially, “if your epidermis isn’t white enough, the man of your dreams will never love you” (Hill 2009).


Mire illustrates, “in 2009, the high-end skin whitening market share for Pacific Asia was estimated to be worth US$18 billion” (2012: 273), with India being “one of the world’s largest skin-lightening markets, with an estimated 60-65% of women using some form of skin-lightening product” (Franklin 2013: 9).


This is one episode out of five. Basically, as she becomes whiter, her ex-boyfriend decides he loves her again. Skin whitening products have become extremely popular globally. This idea of white skin being superior to dark skin dates back to colonization. Adae-Amoakoh states, “after centuries of imperial rule, Caucasian features and white skin have been established as the hallmarks of beauty and status” (2012). Franklin believes “supporting women in altering their natural phenotypes to conform to a Eurocentric beauty standard only validates the racism and colorism behind the beauty standard itself” (2013: 23).This desire for women to be whiter demonstrates white privilege. Individuals who are white receive more institutional benefits than those of colour. Hence, “in India, lighter skin reflects a position in the presitgous upper caste, while darker skin means you’re part of the poor or lower caste” (Abdullah).


As a result, fair complexion is considered an important beauty standard. PEARLEX during 1942 inforomed its Indian consumers:

Beauty’s first requisite since time immemorial has been a fair complexion. Formerly it was nature which decided on face-appeal of different people but now fortunately science steps in and a pearly-white skin may be easily attained by any-one who uses PEARLEX (Franklin 2013: 23).


Foucault’s idea of biopower can also help understand why woman chose to engage in these skin-whitening practices. Foucault analyzes power and disciplinary practices. He suggests, the diffuse nature of power makes it difficult to resist, and instead disciplinary practices get internalized in the form of self-surveillance. Corporations like Ponds are using cultural themes to create a resemblance between the products and their dark-skinned female consumers. Ponds ad for white beauty focuses on the fear of not being loved. This fear is real within Indian women. In India, “a woman without a husband is ‘nothing, since a woman’s social identity comes from having a husband” (Franklin 2013: 33). Thus, women engage in these beauty practices such as skin whitening.


Note how the man is judging the woman’s skin colour in the ad; however, the man’s skin colour is not judged at all. Sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glenn explains,

women’s worth is judged heavily on the basis of appearance. For example, men who have wealth, education and other forms of human capital are considered “good catches,” while women who are physically attractive may be considered desirable despite the lack of other capital (Franklin 2013: 19)

In this case, one’s male privilege is more important than their race. However, men still do engage in skin whitening practices.


In addition to racism, many skin-whitening products have many health concerns. The appeal of being white unfortunately outweighs the health risks. Women and men, knowing the health risks, still engage in these practices.

It would be the hope that by the 21st century, the idea of white being desirable and colour being undesirable would have faded. However, this is not the case. Women and men are willing to put their health at risk in order to look whiter. It is disheartening that this still occurs, and that the world is still not accepting of differences.



Abdullah, Teah. “Skin Lightening, Racial Identity & Beauty Standards: Stop the Madness1” Retrieved March 28, 2014 (

Adae-Amoakoh. 2012. “Skin Whitening is a Self-Denying Legacy of Colonialism.” Retrieved March 28, 2014 (

Franklin, Imani. 2013. “Living in a Barbie World: Skin Bleaching and the Preference for Fair Skin in India, Nigeria, and Thailand.” Senior Honors Thesis, Stanford University. 

Hill, Mark. 2009. “8 Racist Ads You Won’t Believe Are From The Last Few Years.” Retrieved March 28, 2014

Mire, Amina. 2012. “The Scientification of Skin Whitening and the Entrepreneurial University-Linked Corporate Scientific Officer.” Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education 12(3): 272-291.

Pond’s. 2013. “Pinkish White Glow Lightening Facial Foam: Cleansing.” Retrieved March 28, 2014 (


5 thoughts on “Barbie and Ken: Beauty Norms

  1. Eeyore, I don’t even know what to think after reading this. it is extremely surprising that a product like this is on the market. To think that companies are producing products for darker skinned people to look whiter is appalling. One reason I am so confused is the complete switch when it comes to different cultures in the sense that in western societies people want to outside in the summer and get a tan to look darker and then a product like this emerges for people who are already darker skinned. It just goes to show at how backwards and twisted the ideologies of contemporary society are.

  2. This is a very idiotic commercial in my opinion. It took me a while to understand that the commercial is basically depicting that those with a lighter skin tone will have more success at finding a partner. In this commercial, the female with lighter skin ‘scores’ the male. Wait, so does this mean that the next fair-skinned individual to pass by the male will steal his heart? Are men only interested in the facial beauty of a female? There are so many things that aggravate me in regards to this email. This product should not be in the market because women are getting the impression that it is necessary to lighten their skin and making themselves more beautiful in order to find a partner.

  3. The storyline of this commercial comes off pretty ridiculous (in my opinion). While there are obvious implications to how the female character is portrayed, there also lies some bad ideas in how the male character is depicted. According to this commercial, men are pretty heartless and shallow individuals who only express interest in someone based on their skin color. This obviously isn’t true for all males. Also, based on how this commercial is written, it gives the viewers this notion where it seems as if all men think the world revolves around them (he can drop whatever relationship he had to go pursue a celebrity status career and succeed effortlessly, while having this woman he left back home yearning for his return and love).

  4. I think what bothers me most about this commercial is the voiceover that keeps saying you choose as if Pond’s selling two “different” toned products adds to their company’s willingness to cater to a diverse buyer group in any way. It is a mockery to say you will be unattractive and forever alone if you have darker skin but here; not one but two acceptable options that will allow you to blend in with the Western idea of normal and beautiful.
    What shocks me even more is that the actress they chose to cast as the lead hardly ha darker skin than the woman who plays the new fiancé! If ads like this say it’s okay to discriminate against differences in appearance even this slight, it worries me how women who have darker skin and watch these commercials must think of themselves and what drastic measures they might take to conform.
    The effects of white privilege work on a scale so that members of other races are rewarded for looking closer to the white dominant group. This is evident in fetishizing “mixed race” people who retain exotic features like full lips paired with what might be considered normal white features like light skin and smooth hair and in the way people who don’t have white skin avoid the sun and tanning at all costs. To add to the discussion of how men are affected by pressures to lighten their skin, there has actually been a recent petition with support from over 25,000 people calling Indian celebrity Shah Rukh Khan to stop supporting a men’s fairness cream similar to Pond’s. While hierarchy based on skin tone is still a serious problem faced by many cultures, there is good work being done to change people’s outlooks on the ways we evaluate worth. The Facebook page Dark is Beautiful is a great example of this.

  5. With regards to Owl’s statement, I completely agree that the different ideologies the media enforces in different parts of the world is confusing. However, I think this is an important topic for us to question further. It represents the fact that the media has complete control over us to an extent where they can promote different ideas of beauty in different parts of the world, and we still believe whichever one is enforced upon us. We know how inconsistent the messages promoted to other parts of the world are, yet we still allow ourselves to get sucked into a world where beauty is defined in terms of pop culture. In addition, we can note that the media will forever be telling us that we are not good enough the way we are, that there is always something missing, and of course that there is always a product being sold that can help us fill this gap. Think of it this way: if pop culture and the media enforced the idea that we are perfect the way we are then they wouldn’t have any way to market products to us, since were secure in ourselves enough to not need it. Thus, the only way for us to win this battle is to not conform to the image of beauty presented to us. Instead, we must each decide for ourselves what beautiful is and what standards we will use to determine it.

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