Creepy Commercials For Skin Whitening Products

These commercials for “Fair & Lovely,” a skin whitening product from overseas, creep us out. They show girls with darker skin being denied jobs and being scoffed at by pale ladies at some sort of counter. That’s just messed up. In addition, it seems that skin whitening products are full of mercury and probably really bad for you. (PDF) Fun.

It’s sort of like the pressure to be tan (our Irish ass can certainly relate to that), but we’ve never seen a commercial that suggested we couldn’t get a job without a tan. Harsh. Here’s another one that won’t embed. —MEGHANN MARCO

[via BuzzFeed]
Telling India’s Modern Women They Have Power, Even Over Their Skin Tone [NYT]

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  1. coconino says:

    Fair skin is perceived to be beauty in asian culture. If you are fair, you will automatically be seen as an upper class. This is why skin whitening products are so popular in JP and other markets.

    My mom used to use Fair and Lovely too!!

  2. kris in seattle says:

    That is fucked up.

  3. VA_White says:

    What gets me is that they are so overt about the discrimination. They just shout it right out. WHITER IS BETTER!

    That would so NOT fly here in the US.

  4. dbeahn says:

    “No Irish Need Apply”

    Yes, the Irish can relate to not being able to tan, and to being denied jobs, but not for the tanning thing for sure…

  5. bluebuilder says:

    This isn’t any more fucked up than any cosmetic, or cosmetic treatment. People with brown hair want blond hair, people with light skin want dark skin, people use color contacts, have surgery, wear makeup, and adorn themselves with jewelry.

    Picking this single behavior and exclaiming over its level of appropriateness is slightly biased.

  6. enm4r says:

    @VA_White:
    What gets me is that they are so overt about the discrimination. They just shout it right out. WHITER IS BETTER!

    That would so NOT fly here in the US.

    or:

    What gets me is that they are so overt about the discrimination. They just shout it right out. SKINNIER IS BETTER!

    That would so NOT fly here in the US.


    Wait a minute…

  7. VA_White says:

    Race relations and size discrimination aren’t exactly the same things in my book. It is not unhealthy for a person to have brown skin. The surgeon general and the AMA are not wringing hands over the “skin tone crisis” in the US.

    Apples and oranges.

  8. superlayne says:

    Yay! Discrimination!

    Oh, wait, no. That is bad, apparently.

    Personally, I thought most everyone in the commercials was beautiful, because, you know, that’s the point. They were supposed to be. It was a commercial.

    Also, on the actress in the second commercial, it looked like she was a pale girl with a fake tan on to make her look darker…

  9. I’d heard of the “whiter is better” deal in Indian culture but I had no idea it was so in your face.

    All kinds of wrong.

    @VA_White: True, but when people discriminate because of size it rarely has anything to do with health.

  10. enm4r says:

    @VA_White: It’s not unhealthy to be a size 8 woman either. (Is it? I don’t think so. Honestly I don’t even know how big that is. If it is, pretend I mentioned a smaller size, though still much bigger than any model/actress you see on tv advertising weight loss products.) The point is that weight loss products target healthy people who are not meeting some socially constructed ideal.

    Or how about aging? Is it unhealthy to look 50? I certainly didn’t think so, but by watching US advertisements, you’d probably think so. How big of an industry is anti-aging? It’s purely cosmetic, and I’m sure the same social stigmas apply. Trying to get a job when you’re older (darker) ? It probably helps to look a lot younger (lighter) than you are. How about your love life? Probably helps with the potential single crowd to show off a younger (lighter) appearance.

  11. maebyfunke says:

    I travel to Chennai a lot for work. There’s always jars of “Fair and Lovely” in the confiscated items bin at the airport. It always cracks me up! I guess it’s a hot commodity to bring back to the West. I work with several Indian people who use it. They are one color in their building ID, and a completely different color in person. Indian women are so beautiful so I really don’t get it.

  12. Sinflux says:

    Just bought some on Amazon. Thanks Consumerist! :D

  13. timmus says:

    I wish it was stated a little more clearly that this was India, as I was confused at first.

  14. VA_White says:

    I still think race relations is such a hot-button topic for the US that you can’t toss the judgments based on skin color in the same bucket as judgment wrinkles or hair color or dress size.

    The US has a lot of cultural and emotional baggage surrounding skin color than a lot of other places. Commericals that obliquely state you’re not as pretty if you’re not white are not something that would be tolerated here because of that baggage.

  15. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Um, is it just me, or did anyone else feel that those commercials didn’t really show a dramatic enough change in skin shade to even warrant using the product in the first place?

    The commercials basically say “Oh – you’re a certain race. You’re not going to get a job because of it.” Well – call me crazy, but the “after” results still made me think the women were “ethnic” – just pale. Does that make sense?

    These ads are dreadful.

  16. JPropaganda says:

    Great job! What are you doing at 4?!!

    LOL

  17. Consumeradv1 says:

    This to me signals a systemic problem many minorities have, self hate. In a Eurocentric world for centries Dark complextion minorities desired to be fairer. We see tanning commercials often but have we ever seen one stating that to get that job you always wanted use product B to get your skin Dark and Lovely? Do you think you will ever see a pale complexioned model whose skin is transformed to a more “beautiful” darker color? No doubt this is self image I too grew up wishing to be more lighter. However, it took me to age 30 to finally see the beauty of my darker skin. And I guess thats my problem with this commercial is it tells all those darker complexioned women that they really do need to look lighter to look beautiful. A very attractive woman being told she needs to lighten up her skin so her career can develop is a sad commentary on how far we have come as a society.

  18. jurgis says:

    Haha, I saw this on Vice yesterday.

  19. coss3n says:

    It’s not about race, it’s about wealth. In places where most people work outside and are thus darker skinned (e.g. India, Medieval England), only the rich can afford to be fair-skinned. Hence everyone wants to have fair skin.

    In places where most people work indoors and are thus pasty (e.g. USA, modern England), only the rich can afford to get a tan. Hence fair skin is not valued in these places.

    The same is generally true for body size. Fat used to be in vogue when only the rich could pull it off. Now that eating right is more expensive than eating MacDonalds, thin is the sign of wealth.

  20. Or how about aging? Is it unhealthy to look 50? I certainly didn’t think so, but by watching US advertisements, you’d probably think so.

    @enm4r: Actually, it’s a sin. The Seven Signs of Aging and all that.

  21. Falconfire says:

    My fiance’s sister just experienced this pale skin thing. She is not into tanning at all (which is funny because their mother looks like she laid down in a oven on 400) so she has this really pale white skin. She went to get her nails done and all the Koreans in the shop like fawned over how pale and beautiful she looked that it freaked her out a bit.

    They flat out said to her that it was weird for them in America, because all Americans want to do is tan, which is totally against their cultural norm of wanting to look pale.

  22. east says:

    Check out the official Unilever website for Fair & Lovely:
    [www.unilever.com.my]

    From the folks that bring you Ben & Jerry’s.

  23. Yogambo says:

    I’m not sure why this story is making the rounds now. It’s always been creepy. If being a person of cloor is such an impediment, how come people seek tanning, fuller lips, etc.? It’s a crock. There’s a nice roundup on this from an Arab perspective here:

    [mentalmayhem.com]

  24. Yogambo says:

    Crap. Wrong link address :-S Here is the correct one:

    [mentalmayhem.org]

  25. Consumeradv1 says:

    This add really is something of a flash back. I remember when I would wish upon a star that my skin could be just a few shades lighter. I put this question to the group, could you imagine an Ad showing darker shades of a pale complexioned women getting the Career of her dreams now that she has a new “beautiful” brown look thanks to her “Dark and Lovely Cream”? I doubt any would even take such a commercial seriously. I believe its an issue that has plagued minorities for centuries, a love for fair skin and an abhorrence of darker skin. The problem with this Ad is that darker shaded women who view this commercial get a reinforcement of how “inferior” they are to their lighter counterparts. Its sad that we have not come further as a society then to still see beauty in such limited terms.

  26. Yogambo says:

    @timmus: Actually these two videos are not both from India. The second is from the Arab world run on the Saudi-owned MBC network, seen throughout the Gulf and in the Levant. The first one is overdubbed, so it’s hard to say for sure but the Pyramids suggest Arab world advert as well.

  27. Wormfather says:

    Hey, I’m a black guy but you know what, if there’s a market for it, well then let it be. It’s a cultural thing more than a race thing…if they can sell tan in a bottle then they can go ahead and sell white in a bottle. As long as it doesnt kill you i.e. it isnt from china.

  28. NeoteriX says:

    This isn’t any more fucked up than any cosmetic, or cosmetic treatment. People with brown hair want blond hair, people with light skin want dark skin, people use color contacts, have surgery, wear makeup, and adorn themselves with jewelry.

    Picking this single behavior and exclaiming over its level of appropriateness is slightly biased.

    Uh, except when you’re a brunette versus a blonde, you’re not mistaken for being “trailer park trash”. The point is, the skin color issue isn’t just one of personal preference, but it’s one of CLASS. You are not just more beautiful, but you are a better person, with the right (light) skin tone. It’s for this reason people get horrifically desperate to lighten their skin.

    There was an article in the NYTimes a year or so ago that reported on this issue. The sad thing is that there is a huge underground market of these lightening products that are unregulated, cheap, and very, very dangerous. One person the article reported on used a cheap cream that contained mercury and other hard metals. Her skin was damaged and permanently scarred for life. She has random splotched of white all over her skin and is stigmatized in her village.

    Another anecdote:
    One of my college friends is from an East Asian country and had gone to school in the US at a University with me in Texas. Needless to say, it’s hot and sunny there, and she developed slight tan, otherwise unnoticeable to any of us. When she came home from winter break, she went to the market with her mother. The shop owner, having seen the mother and my friend, asked the mother, “Oh! How exciting–when did you get a maid?!” The statement was based solely on the darker skin tone.

    What gets me is that they are so overt about the discrimination. They just shout it right out. WHITER IS BETTER!

    That would so NOT fly here in the US.

    The US has a lot of cultural and emotional baggage surrounding skin color than a lot of other places. Commericals that obliquely state you’re not as pretty if you’re not white are not something that would be tolerated here because of that baggage.

    Uh, and thank god for that. We shouldn’t be made to feel ugly or ashamed of something so immutable and central to our self-identity as our skin color.

  29. AnnieGetYourFun says:

    I’ve seen these creams all over Asia – by the way, many of them are made by Ogilvy and Mather (and other major multinational corporations). So they’re not just made in India. Oil of Olay in China is all about skin whitening.

    My boyfriend’s Korean mom gave me a jar of Shisheido whitening cream, because she was really concerned about all my freckles. Even my white Scottish ass ain’t white enough.

  30. To all those people saying, “Could you imagine advertising implying that DARKER is better? It would never happen!”

    Ummm… bronzer-self tanner-Mystic Tan-tanning beds, anyone? Dark skinned people wanna get pale, light skinned people wanna get dark.

    Does the advertising for these products imply that you’re going to get turned down for a job if you don’t use them? No, of course not. That’s not the American way.

    They imply that you’ll never get laid again if you don’t use them.

  31. agent2600 says:

    hahaha! this made me laugh,

  32. SOhp101 says:

    @coss3n: completely agree w/ u. It’s all about wealth, NOT race… only the poor stay outside and work so they get tanned, while the rich can stay inside all the time.

    America is the only country where they emphasize the segregation between race instead of class. Ironically this leaves the rich people to laugh all the way to their 2nd/3rd/4th homes in who knows where while the poor do drive bys in each others’ neighborhoods.

  33. traezer says:

    Thats it, Im getting my pale pasty butt over to India where people will appreciate getting blinded by my whitness when they look at me.

  34. shades_of_blue says:

    You think that’s weird, a local high school sports team was having a car wash fund raiser and I heard one of the girls say something among the line of ‘I hope I don’t get an icky tan.’. It blew my mind, that a 15year white old girl called tanning ‘icky’ and saw it as a negative.

    Personally, I prefer a tanned look [for myself]. When people ask what I do for a living and say IT, they always go oh that makes sense. Not because I act intellectual, but because I’m tall, thin and have an almost nonexistent tan. Basically I look like a nerd. Tanned jock vs pale nerd, I wonder which look will score more chicks at the bar.

  35. bdgbill says:

    I may consider the use of a cream that makes my skin several shades darker.

    I would enjoy the guaranteed job security and career hand-holding that comes from being anything but white (especially white/male/straight) in the corporate world.

  36. capsid says:

    While some skin lighteners may contain unsafe chemicals, I think fair & lovely is just some kind of glorified sunblock. My gf had a bottle and I don’t remember seeing mercury in the ingredients. Can anybody confirm this?

  37. What’s tragic is that both those women had GORGEOUS skin and now they look like they’re in a bad period drama with a white powder overlay.

    @shades_of_blue: “I heard one of the girls say something among the line of ‘I hope I don’t get an icky tan.’. It blew my mind, that a 15year white old girl called tanning ‘icky’ and saw it as a negative.”

    First, you may not be familiar with what passes for a “tan” among the tanning set in high schools these days. It’s pretty friggin’ orange and glowy. (And no, most don’t differentiate between a “real” tan and a “fake” tan when they talk about tanning.)

    Second, tanning is dangerous! Particularly if you have any history of skin cancer in your family — or if you’ve seen any pictures of the beach goddesses from the 60s and 70s who now have faces o’ leather. Now THAT is “icky.”

    “Tanned jock vs pale nerd, I wonder which look will score more chicks at the bar.”

    Pale nerd. I married one. He’s HOT.

    Tanned jock is all “oh, look at me, I love myself, I’m so hot.” Pale nerd is all, “I’m good in bed.”

  38. Question — isn’t skin color in India also related to the old caste system? I may be wrong, but I think the upper two castes originated in a migration of peoples in late prehistory who had lighter skin than the people (who became the lower three castes) who were already there?

  39. Consumeradv1 says:

    bdgbill says: [reply to this comment]

    I may consider the use of a cream that makes my skin several shades darker.

    I would enjoy the guaranteed job security and career hand-holding that comes from being anything but white (especially white/male/straight) in the corporate world.

    BDGBill if you were referring to a white woman you would be correct. 2005 census data states that white female income is lower then that of men from all races. However, not only do white males earn more then all “Tanned” males but they earn 48% more then white females. To boot they have only an 8.6% poverty rate lower then any other racial group, which is 3% lower then then national average.
    Maybe white women should be asking if they could get a sex change.

  40. Gloria says:

    Er, a tan can be icky. Skin cancer?

  41. amyjay says:

    There’s not much of a difference between this and tanning products. It used to be being pale meant that you had a job where you were indoors (not very prevalent at the time) or you didn’t work at all, which is associated with being rich. Now, tanning means you have more time for leisure and traveling to tropical destinations, and this didn’t start until the 20s.

  42. akyiba says:

    Speaking of tanning, anyone remember Magda from There’s Something about Mary?

  43. NeoteriX says:

    @shades_of_blue:

    Maybe she has a very mature understanding of UV damage, skin cancer, and wrinkles.

  44. JustIcedCoffee says:

    Skin lightening is an issue to big resolved here..
    What gets me though is the quote “probably bad for you” — can we be any more ambiguous – one could just as easily write “it’s possible it’s good for you”

  45. NeoteriX says:

    For those interested, here is the link to the NYTimes Article. Times Select is necessary to read the full article.

    [select.nytimes.com]

  46. Ola says:

    So if I go to India, I could get a job based on the fact that I can’t get a tan? Where do I sign up?! ;)

    Just kidding. Jokes aside, the commerical is pretty insulting to begin with. I’m not sure though if it’s a class thing – “pale” has always = rich in most cultures, because the wealthy could remain indoors or covered up, whereas the poor people would be out working hard in the sun. So maybe it’s a little less racist than it seems? Still, eewwww.

  47. Ola says:

    Oh, and did anyone but me think it was weird that in video #2, the mother goes with her daughter to get a job?

  48. shades_of_blue says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:
    Yeah, can’t say I get the whole ‘good tan’ vs ‘bad tan’ deal. Sadly, I’m not that old or at least I’d like to think that at age 27. While I understand the dangers in tanning thanks to our ‘environmentally friendly’ commercial enterprises pumping tons of CFCs into the air over the last 50+ years, I’m still one who’d rather ‘earn’ one naturally. That is IF I can actually get one before running back to my computer, suffering from ‘virtual’ withdrawal symptoms.

    @ “Pale nerd. I married one. He’s HOT.
    Tanned jock is all “oh, look at me, I love myself, I’m so hot.” Pale nerd is all, “I’m good in bed.”

    Here’s the part where I say “and God bless you for it” ;) :D

  49. spanky says:

    Man, that’s just so fucked up.

    But I do have to admit I’m enjoying this one a little too much. HI, HANDSOME! HI, HANDSOME!

    Also, it sounds like he’s saying “I suck” at :25.

  50. minneapolisite says:

    I’d kill to look as gorgeous as those women, dark skin and all. It’s sad that they’re striving to change their beautiful skin color, when I (with my blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin) have been dumped more than a time or two in favor of an exotic beauty. *sigh*

  51. Snakeophelia says:

    Interesting discussion here. I’ve never heard about the “contains mercury” part, but then I only use thing like Porcelana and the like, which don’t contain anything quite that powerful. I have very pale skin and some slight blotches that react quickly to any sun exposure whatsoever, so my sunscreen and whitener are always nearby!

    As for the whole tanning thing, when I was on livejournal I was a member of the “paleskin” group. It seemed we spent most of time trading sunscreen tips and consoling naturally-pale American teenagers who got insulted and abused by their peers because they didn’t have tans. Some of it was probably exaggerated (these are teenagers we’re talking about), but it still sounded horrible. Unless you’re fake and orangy, I suppose you’re not “cool.”

  52. TWinter says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: You are correct that lighter skinned speakers of Indo-European languages (Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, etc…)invaded from the northwest, pushing darker skinned speakers of Dravidian languages (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada) into the south. But there was lots of mixing and messiness involved, so it’s not a super simple straightforward correlation between the conquerers and the upper castes.

  53. rmaguir says:

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the tendency of people here in my neck of the woods, Taiwan, to dye a very specific area of their skin: their nipples, so that they’ll have nice, rosy, Western-looking tétons:

    [onlyredheadintaiwan.blogspot.com]

  54. Christovir says:

    Unilever (maker of Fair and Beautiful) also owns Dove, with its Real Beauty Campaign and Women’s Self-Esteem Fund. Nice hypocrisy in action there, Unilever.

  55. Michael says:

    @VA_White:
    This has absolutely NOTHING to do with race. Maybe you’ve never seen a black person, but they come in many different shades. These commercials aren’t about preferring white people (certainly not the Middle Eastern one).

    Stop applying your values to cultures you don’t understand.

  56. SexCpotatoes says:

    I could really use something that makes me glow in the dark, “Fake Radioactive Human” but that would not kill me or anything bad.

  57. NeoteriX says:

    For those still tuning in, you should read the NYTimes article I posted if possible. The mercury thing is specific to the underground, knock-off type market for skin lighteners. Basically the products that the poor in these Asian countries often use, with tragic results.