In Quest of Fairness
As a fair complexioned, yet relatively darker sister of two, I have heard my share of fairness-related tropes over the years, from people exclaiming over how ‘fair and lovely’ someone is to people referring to me as the dark or if being kind, ‘wheatish’ one. It has been part and parcel of the Indian psyche for years, whether as an impact of colonialism or predating it by centuries, despite our darker-skinned heroines and heroes of myth like Draupadi or Krishna.
There is now a consumer video going viral about Fair and Lovely and how it makes people feel bad for being dark and it’s time for the brand to shut down. Is it a multicrore brand generating megabucks for HUL? Yes it is, and has been for years. Could it do that without consumer support and empathy? Not a chance in hell.
Brands that are successful manage to do that by understanding or anticipating a consumer’s needs and then producing the products that help fulfil those needs. A Fair and Lovely or Fair and Handsome could not have come into being unless the need for a fair complexion was ingrained in the consumer’s mind. Fair and Lovely merely presents one possible way of attaining the desire. There are hundreds of others, from bleaches to home remedies like turmeric or drinking milk with saffron while pregnant.
I don’t think banning one brand, no matter how pervasive, is going to do much. Tomorrow a new brand will spring up and take its place. What we need instead is a social movement that makes the colour of one’s skin inconsequential except while picking a shade of foundation to go with it. Nandita Das’s campaign of a couple of years ago was one such, and what we need to do is to make that become not just a communication solution but an attitude. We need to educate our kids and youth into letting go of fairness as a yardstick for just about anything. We need our matrimonial ads to stop focusing on colour of skin and start focusing on content of character ( paraphrasing Martin Luther King). We need to make people understand that colour of skin, just like gender is down to DNA and chromosomes, and that it really doesn’t matter one jot in determining who one is or what one can achieve. We need to build a society in which being fair and lovely is understood to refer to behaviour rather than appearance.
The day we achieve that ideal outcome, the brand insight will no longer be relevant and the brand will automatically cease to matter!