On 11th October 2020, Glow and Lovely (previously known as Fair and Lovely) released a video as a part of their new ad campaign called “Glow ko na Roko” loosely translated as “do not stop my glow.” It is a rap song that features Deepa Unikrishana, popularly known by her stage name DeeMC. She is a self made artist from Kalyan, Mumbai popularly known for her album “Dee MC2.” Her music sheds light on issues that come with being a woman, based on her personal experience. This makes her song for Glow and Lovely even more disheartening.
Glow ko na roko is a 94 second long video that takes us through her journey amidst omnipresent patriarchy and her victory over male dominance. The fundamental idea of the campaign being the emphasis on “identity” or “pehchan.” The music video features ‘brown girls’, unlike its previous ads and campaigns.
Evidently, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is trying to create a more inclusive market. The lines of the latest rap song go on to say, “Mera glow meri pehchaan, Mere rang ka na socho” which means “My glow is my identity, don’t go by my skin tone.” HUL is definitely building a very different product identity in comparison to what it previously had but the hypocrisy still remains fundamentally the same as Glow and Lovely is still a skin lightening cream. In spite of all the noise on inclusivity, the video only features ‘caramelized brown’ women and none with dark skin.
This campaign germinated from an identity survey, which showed that only 38% of women in India have the freedom to decide their own identity on their own terms. 66% of women are willing to compromise their identity for the sake of others (friends or family). For nearly 36.4% women, society is a major hurdle. These statistics gave birth to #IChoseMyGlow and Glow ko na roko. This campaign focuses on giving women agency to decide and create their own identity, but what is interesting to see is that glow is equated with identity.
The change in the name of the product from Fair and Lovely to Glow and Lovely along with change in the women being featured are purely theatrical and does not bring any real change. HUL has profited off exploiting insecurities and shaming dark-skinned people for over 40 years in India. Indians have always been prey to colourism and colourism induced casteism and HUL fortified and deepened this with their product. India was initially ruled by the Mughals who had Arab and Persian roots and were generally of a lighter skin tone, which over the years of rule became a part of their superior identity. Following which British ruled India and the idea of lighter skin tones being superior was reinforced.
Skin tone can often be seen as associated with social and economic status because individuals involved in physical labor tend to be exposed to the sun for long durations which might affect their skin tone. This intersects with caste as Shudras and Dalits as per varna system are expected to do manual labor which made their skin tones different from those of other varnas. Fair and lovely repackaged casteism in a new avatar and capitalised on it. In India, it can also be noticed that lighter skin tone is associated with upper caste. This classification is problematic on a grass root level because of the geographical location of an individual. People who belong to Kashmir might have a lighter skin tone than individuals belonging to the Southern part of India because there is a difference in temperature, weather and climate in both the regions.
Also read: How Fair Are Fairness Creams?
Glow and Lovely has also been responsible for the idea of deformation and transformation. In all skin lightening ads, you see a woman as a deformed individual when she has brown skin and then goes on to become a transformed and happier individual when she has lighter skin. When in reality what skin lightening creams do is actual irreparable deformation to natural skin. Melanin levels of skin are determined by historic sun exposures and yet fairness products claim to be anti melanin. Excessive reduction of melanin is extremely damaging and can even lead to skin cancer.
The continual promotion of popular media has influenced and shaped tastes, preferences and perceptions of people and ingrained a sense of ideal beauty in relation to fair skin. This is not something a new ad campaign and change in narrative will fix, such products need to be taken off the market. It is sad that a country that is known for celebrating diversity is one of the largest markets for skin lightening products.
Let’s keep in mind that nothing has truly changed, the product continues to be the same and HUL continues to sell products that are used for skin lightening (Lakmé, Pond’s). The only change it has brought is a change in narrative. It went from dark is not socially acceptable to don’t shame people for wanting to glow. From equating success and beauty to fairness, to associating the same to glow. HUL is building a more inclusive market not product and redeeming its market and not ethics. Behind the facade of inclusivity and change, the multi-million dollar industry of selling insecurities still thrives.