Dr Tanvi Mahajan
The year 2020 so far has beenthat jinxed notorious sibling onwhom you can put any blame andgo scott free without the fear of being caught ever. It seems like this serial baddie has turned a tide for a little good. After all the ruckus and string of bad news, 2020 has finally given something that we shall be ruminating upon in the times
Let’s get straight to business; colourism is a potent force in South Asia. It is very normal for a brown South Asian girl to have been bombarded with the advice of applying chickpea flour, lemon juice or even tomato juice to lighten her skin. The women have been mused as some fantasy creation who is the perfect version of what her proprietor has conceived.
This labeled fairer sex has been denied her version of identity to herself, on the contrary is subjected to believe upon the totally nasty and unrealistic paradigms set up by someone else. No one makes the genuine effort to understand that the women are as flawed as any other creation of God and that makes them unique and beautiful. While the man’s chest hair is a symbol of male chivalry (remember Anil kapoor), we always have envisioned women with porcelain like skin on which even the feather skids. Dude! We don’t know what you have been told but a woman can be as hairy as you are and this doesn’t make her any less feminine or worthy of your dislike or even hatred. They target the emancipated, independently thinking and a vocal woman as a feminist but they don’t realize that the Feminism is only the bastard sibling of Patriarchy and Misogyny.
From the very onset of the life, particularly the gender roles that the woman has been subject to, dictates certain stereotypes that are considered as the holy grail for her to fit into a mould that the patriarchal society has created. A very few of them, I shall be mentioning: first and the foremost a woman should be modest and coy, fierceness and unconventional choices automatically qualifies her for the villainous, vile and ‘what a woman should not be’ stereotype.
Secondly, girls should be well educated, independent and extremely passionate about their work but marriage at the so called ‘right’ age, bearing children at the ‘right’ time and cooking as a skill ultimately defines her whole worth, while her male counterpart can get away with the spoilt child or ‘mamma’s boy’ monicker to save his ass for all the unworthiness.
I am not even going into the chaste cases of misogyny like domestic violence or rape to throw the light on the issue, because the discussion is about the often mainstreamed and rarely objected facet that most of the societies in South Asia suffer: colourism. Yes, colourism is a formidable force in this part of the world as well and sadly, a brutal abuse of a black life somewhere in the western world and its validation from the white counterparts took us to talk about it.
And with this, the adage ‘White man’s burden’ that supported and purported the view of colonialism and imperialism as was justified centuries back, just made a comeback. Alas! We just could not grow out of our colonial shackles. White skin has been an El Dorado for the men and women alike.
For the well read and highly established men who aspire to be the change makers, the life goals read as married to a fair, beautiful and a tall girl. It happens, for reference please check the matrimonial adverts in the newspaper and the girls on other hand, without realizing their power and strengths fall prey to the trap of ‘fair is fair’.
The brand of the skin whitening cream ‘fair and lovely’ by one of the most trusted brands across the world, Unilever, only reinforced this hugely flawed bias.
What is more satirical is the fact that the bollywood industry who has fed this demon, is coming in support of the #blacklivesmatter. Now, amidst the entire backlash Unilever decides to change the name of their notorious hero from ‘Fair and Lovely’ to ‘Glow and Lovely’. This is marketed as an attempt to atone for the sins of promoting disparity on the basis of colour over the period of decades.
But this is another marketing gimmick which makes no sense and doesn’t even aim at dismantling the problem of colourism. It only seems that Unilever’s ‘Fair and Lovely’ went to a European vacation and came out as seemingly empowered version ‘Glow and Lovely’ which has a fake accent but wrecked grammar.
The new name is flawed and even more hypocritical than its predecessor. It is grammatically incorrect and hence syntactically senseless. Glow and Lovely not only sound cacophonous to ears but Glow is a verb/noun and not an adjective like lovely.
Then, why Unilever, a doyen of FMCG sector with the best marketing, PR and advertising skills would fight for this lame name and not pick any other? Because, they thought it to be the opportune time to try to sweep the competition against the other skin lightening brand Emami for the product ‘Glow and Handsome’. Another notable point is that they have been extensively using the word ‘glow’ synonymously with fair since 2014 aggressively pushing their product and the stereotype that ‘black is ugly’ and needs a correction for the lift in job or to become worthy of love.
So the reason why they picked ‘glow’ is to keep brand recognition intact with the suffix “& Lovely’ and also stay true to the ethos of the product that equates glow to fairness. It is a very clever move of this company to blatantly and unapologetically call ‘discouraged and downtrodden’ as ’empowered’.
It is still feeding the stereotype that only ‘fair is fair’ and ‘brown is ugly’. Hopefully we as general public make an effort to see through their nefarious plans. India was ruled by the british for 200 years, nearly our three to four generations lived to believe that white is superior. This mind set is buried in our heads. The leading champions of woman fashion who talk about ‘vocal for local’ or ‘fashion nationalism’ hire reed thin Caucasian models against realistic brown voluptuous Indian girls to promote the Indian clothes. It is very opportunist of the celebrity to condemn the killing of a black man in USA and advertise for a fairness cream back home.
Let us all bid for inclusion. All shapes, sizes and shades are beautiful and lovely. Let us boycott the market skimmers who scar the people for life on the basis of their pigeon holed mentality that breeds intolerance and misanthropy. 2020 is already a badass year, otherwise who could have thought that ‘pyjamas’ could be the new pants in the era of ‘work from home’.
High hopes that ‘brown is beautiful’ shall make a dent in the universe with the thunderous applause and it doesn’t need any ‘glow’ to claim its rightful honour. The next best time to do the needful is now.
(The author is a faculty at Deptt. Of Humanities & Social Sciences NIT Hamirpur)