Pond’s White Beauty Skin Lotion was advertised as a five-part commercial “mini-series” a few years ago in India. Episode one of the mini-series featured Bollywood stars Saif Ali Khan (the male lead), Priyanka Chopra (the female lead) and Neha Dhupia. The commercial sets up a storyline where Khan leaves a darker, or “dusky-skinned” woman (Chopra) for a more fair-skinned woman (portrayed by Dhupia). It is implied that Khan has chosen Dhupia over Chopra due to Dhupia’s lighter complexion. Chopra, who still loves Khan, then decides to use Pond’s White Beauty lotion in order to lighten her skin tone, and thus, win back the love of her life and live happily ever after.
Although this commercial is arguably laughable and ridiculous, it does raise a handful of problematic issues. Most conspicuously, Pond’s White Beauty advertisement promotes the notion that by bleaching, lightening, or altering your skin complexion, it will ultimately grant you happiness, success, beauty, and the love and attention from the man of your dreams. Viewers can extract this concept that is being portrayed in the commercial from the substantial contrasts shown between the two female characters’ lives. The “dusky-skinned” character is depicted to be unsatisfied with her life, lonely, unhappy, yearning for Khan’s love, and holds a mediocre job as a flower-shop keeper. On the other hand, the fair-skinned character is shown to be a successful and happy celebrity, who is engaged to marry Khan. All the while, the main difference between these two female characters (both being cis-gendered, able-bodied, slim, and attractive individuals) is their complexion. This enforces the idea that your skin color holds great importance in your life if you want to succeed and be happy.
Moreover, the fact that the two women are “fighting” for the adoration of a man in order to be satisfied with their lives is problematic on its own. This essentially imprints a notion where you need the attention and love from another being in order for you to be content. As well, the ad enforces the idea that for you to be loved by another person you need to change your appearance to that person’s particular liking, otherwise you will be pushed aside and forgotten. All of these concepts being enforced within the ad create an adverse and distorted mindset for its viewers, which ultimately lead to many repercussions (i.e., viewers—especially those who are young and impressionable— being lead to believe they need to change their physical traits to specific “standards”, etc.)
While Pond’s is part of a multinational company, Unilever, this particular White Beauty campaign and commercial series was only broadcasted in India. The reason behind this action is most likely a marketing tactic employed by Unilever with the intentions of taking advantage of India’s obsession with fair skin.
India’s obsession with light complexion is not a new fad; rather, it is something that holds historical and cultural roots, which can be traced back to the caste system. In India, the caste system is a system of social stratification, where people were classified into different groups and classes based on socio-economic factors. Essentially, individuals classified as a “low class” citizen often had a darker complexion (partially due to working in outdoor environments) than compared to the complexions of “high class” citizens. The inherent implication is that if you had fair skin, you are in some way superior to those around you.
Moreover, as arranged marriages have been a common phenomena in India’s culture, citizens are also bombarded by matrimonial ads with sayings like, “…seeking for beautiful, tall, fair girl…” With media and culture enforcing this ideology of the significance of a fair skin, it is inevitable for a large proportion of the population to equate fair complexion with success, beauty, happiness, and prime social status.
However, this obsession for a certain complexion is not segregated to just India. For example, in North America, it has become quite popular for people to intentionally darken their skin (i.e., tanning, tanning salons, spray tans, etc.). This may be explained by the social impression that people who are tanned are probably financially well off, thus, enabling them to go on exotic vacations across the globe.
In regards to White Beauty’s objective, the target audience for this advertisement is evidently the citizens of India, which is predominately populated by individuals of Indian nationality. While the commercial does use Indian stars, the actresses are best described as a stereotypical white beauty—tall, slim, smooth and silky hair, etc.—which enforces the concept of Eurocentric beauty. This is problematic as it sets up a specific physique that defines what beauty is. Moreover, this physique is something that many women, let alone Indian women, can attain (i.e., tall, slim, silky and smooth hair, wide eyes, etc.).
Mass marketing of such images and ideologies results in a pretense that satisfying the social construct of white beauty will enable women to feel empowered and socially accepted. However, advertising such message is not met without the consequences that fair skin does not equate to success and beauty. Instead of encouraging women to accept their body in its natural state, the white beauty campaign manipulates women to accept that complexion lightening beauty products will correct the perception of beauty. This is something we should not be promoting.
Ultimately, large corporations like Unilever have tapped into the understanding of the sensitivity of the female psyche. With this understanding brings Unilever the power of influencing a group of malleable, and perhaps vulnerable, women to buy into a socially constructed problem and to increase the corporation’s revenues and market exposure. The combination of manipulation in advertising and the socially accepted perception of beauty have resulted in cyclical challenges for women to accept themselves at face value. Through recognizing that physical enhancements and embellishments will only eradicate the symptoms of perceived beauty, women must be cognitive that the underlying messages of advertisements taps into their insecurities so that corporations can profit while providing a superficial solution.