Unilever – because white skin is the best skin.

This week I’d like to share a guest blog post by  Melinda Tankard Reist. Melinda is an author, speaker, commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls.

As I have just returned from an amazing repeat visit working with Indigenous girls in Griffith, rural NSW ( I shared the first in this series of workshops in a previous post) Melinda’s words particularly resonated with me.

I too have questioned the beauty industry’s obsession with making us feel (quite literally) uncomfortable in our own skin.  Back in 2007 I also offered the short film “A Girl Like Me” as stimulus for this discussion. I will also share it again here: Melinda’s post to follow.

MTR-193x300Promoting white supremacy

Here at the MTR blog we’re not exactly what you’d call fans of the global corporation Unilever.

Unilever has been named and shamed here before for its sexist advertising through the Lynx/Axe brand as highlighted here and here, for its hypocrisy in promoting so-called “real beauty” through its Dove brand while presenting women in degrading and objectifying ways, for its Slimfast products promoting rapid weight loss (because real beauty only comes in size skinny) and for promoting skin whitening products to dark-skinned women (Unilever – to the rescue of dark not skinny women everywhere!).

Now Unilever has taken its white supremacist ways a step further, with a new Facebook application which enables Indian men to lighten their profiles, while at the same time promoting its Vaseline brand of skin lightening products. The company spruiks the product using a Bollywood star whose face is split in half, showing the (unsightly) dark side and the (magically transformed) light side.


Unilever appears to have no shame. One of its earlier skin bleaching products was called “White Beauty”. Playing on certain racial insecurities by telling dark skinned people that they can never really be beautiful – that’s what Unilever is doing. For some great Unilever dark skin despising action, check out this You Tube clip.

Of course, it’s not just Unilever. Garnier, Nivea and L’Oreal (‘because you’re worth white skin’. OK, I made that up) do the same. These products promote ethnocentric stereotypes about the superiority of white people.

Sociology professor T. K. Oommen at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Agence France Presse:

Lighter skin is associated with the ruling social class, with wealth, with general betterment. Skin lightening creams for women have been a cosmetics staple in India for decades, so when a men’s cream debuted a few years ago, its success was almost ensured.

Even Indian children are internalising these dark-skin shaming messages, with 12-14 year olds constituting 13 percent of India’s skin whitening market.

The products are also dangerous, causing kidney damage and thin skin. They have also been connected to cancer (see: The hidden costs of skin whitening products).

Indian dermatologist Dr Aamer Khan has seen a rise in women suffering from serious skin conditions as a result of skin bleaching.

I see patients with hypo-pigmentation (loss of pigment) resulting in white patches and hyper-pigmentation leading to darker areas – both are caused by skin bleaching agents. People buy these creams that offer false hopes, but the fact is, there is no safe way to whiten your skin. There needs to be more stringent moderating of these products, as it is a very serious problem.

This is a perfect quote illustrating the hypocrisy, also from The Guardian:

…in an era of increasing transparency, parent companies like Unilever can’t hide behind a barrage of sub-brands anymore. They can’t promote skin-lightening in India and self-esteem in England and expect to retain any credibility when it comes to their corporate brand.

There’s a campaign calling on Facebook to remove racist applications. Why not add your name to it today.

10 thoughts on “Unilever – because white skin is the best skin.

  1. Georgia says:

    It’s absolutely dispicable! How could anyone ever consider white skin to be better? It’s just a colour! That’s it! Colour is JUSTreflected and separated light. It’s JUST appearance. IT DOESN’T CHANGE A SINGLE THING ABOUT YOU! Why don’t so people understand that?! It’s flipping insane!

    And what’s with these girls not being able to know their history? I know my history, and I know that many of my friends do, so why are these girls only left with ‘You’re from Africa’? Where’s the understanding of the past? Where’s the culture? Where’s all that good knowledge others have already found out? The lessons? The values? It’s ALL BLOODY GONE!!! It’s unbelieveable! Don’t any family historians care? I know we do – but what about resources which can help these people (in this video and otherwise) to find their heritage? WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD?!?!?!?!!!!

    Since when was white ever considered beauty? I’m pale as a sheet of paper, and I love the way really, really dark and tall people look. I think that they’re SO gorgeous! I think they’re incredible!

    Crows and ravens and all those black birds look just as good as cockatoos and doves. I love the way the light plays with the black birds’ feathers, just as much as much as the light side of a white bird seems like snow in sunshine. It’s completely equal in my mind. The birds are completely equal in God’s eyes. He loves all people the same. Why aren’t people like that? Are we so blind that we cannot see beauty when it hits us in the face? Maybe it’s because it hits our face so hard that we get knocked out, ha ha ha.

    Do you see my point? EQUALITY, PEOPLE. Helloooo~! Anyone there? Anyone gonna open the door and let this sink in?

  2. Melinda Tankard Reist says:

    Thanks for giving me a run on your blog Danni.
    Would be great to hear from indigenous girls, about what they think about these anti dark skin campaigns woulnd’t it?
    Thanks again. Melinda

  3. Olivia says:

    Hmnnn I’m not sure about this one. How about our obsession with white teeth? It’s not really seen as a bad thing… Maybe the author of this article has even dyed her teeth? how about our hair? How many of us dye our hair?! in India – I believe that skin whiteners are everywhere – the Indian people use them (without Unilever). I think Unilever are just providing them with the products they use and want anyway. I could be wrong, but those are my thoughts. So yeah – I don’t agree that this is shock-horror as it’s like saying hair dye companies in Australia are bad and telling us our hair colour is ugly when really it’s us who want to dye our hair…

  4. Olivia says:

    Now you’ve got me on a roll! I think it’s like hair straightening treatments for African American women… same thing. Just skin – BUT I’m only saying this as I believe the Indian people want their skin lighter – the same way we want our teeth whiter or our hair dyed. If Unilever targeted other cultures that don’t seem to have this as an accepted thing, than ok – I see the point. E.g. I actually have Vicco next to me right now – It’s a popular turmeric cream in India! On the back it says lots of stuff about the benefits on wounds, etc. then at the very end: “nourishes the skin, improves tonal value and makes it fair and beautiful”. This is coming from one of the nation’s equivalent of ‘Vaseline’ – it’s a household name. It’s made in India by an Indian company. Sorry but I think Melinda’s got it wrong this time.

  5. Olivia says:

    Hello danni! no i didn’t – my internet wouldn’t open it and my baby was going off her nut! maybe i would have a diff opinion then. i don’t know cause i can’t open it:-(

  6. Olivia says:

    Ok i just got it to work! Ok I think it’s messed up how most of the children thought the white doll was prettier. I think it’s messed up if Indian people feel they are prettier with lighter skin. But saying all this, I think IIIIII look better with a tan!!

    I don’t think it’s good how, for whatever reason, the African American people on the video felt less beautiful than they feel they would feel if they had lighter skin. That’s sad and crap. We don’t seem to have it as bad here in Australia? I’ve only heard of racist comments to some people from other countries who happen to have darker skin (as a side note – the racism seems to be more of a “go home to your own country” kind of thing, and inferiority issue, which are both bad still), which is terrible, but I haven’t heard of any taunts because of the actual colour of their skin (and by the way, all of my family are from other countries so we’ve even had this kind of thing aimed at us). Anyway, my point was that I don’t think Unilever’s sooooo bad – to me, that’s the angle of the blog. They’re not catering it to Australia, or USA… it’s for Indians in India? And they have their own companies in India, owned by Indians, that sell that kind of stuff. It’s on Vicco!! That’s a household name. I believe it goes back thousands of years with Ayurvedic natural beauty mixes designed to do the same thing? Anyway – my point is that yes, it’s crap that ppl feel like this, but I’m not so sure Unilever is sooooo bad as a global company to make products for different markets (countries in this case) with what’s accepted in that country (even though it may be messed up). the whole dove thing – i think it’s a load of PR crap. Trying to make us all feel warm and fuzzy when yes – maybe it’s just that. I’m not so naive to think they’re genuine about it all. x

  7. Olivia says:

    BOY! Sorry for all the separate msgs!!! I’d be interested to know your opinions on fake tans, bronzers, high heels, push-up bras, foundation, hair dyes, makeup, GHDs, curlers, etc. for Australian women. My point is that the skin whitening products in India seem to be as much accepted as the above are to us in Australia, whether it’s right or wrong. Maybe some bloggers in India are blogging about the tanning (wanting our skin DARKER, etc.) products we have and how silly they seem. 🙂

  8. Rebecca says:

    too fat too thin, too short, too tall, thick eyebrows, thin ones, botox, boob jobs, liposuction- yadda yadda. I think it is interesting that we are the ones driving this baby- and then we feel outraged when all this sterotypical stuff happens. Women are basically gluttons for punishment- myself included- I am always comparing myself to those gorgeous models I see on ads- even though I know they are the freaks of nature and the rest of us are pretty normal. At least Dove campaign for real beauty featured recently a good cross section of the gerneral population- all skin colours and ages- sizes- but I wonder if it worked? I remember hearing that a magazine recently ran a normal face on the cover, and sales were not as good- we seem to be vocal about wanting to keep it real- but when it comes to hard core capitalism- we are just predictable and want to live in la la land. It is sad our kids start buying in so young- but I dont think it is ever going to really be different- we will always want to follow trends- its a pity more sensible people dont set them.

  9. Olivia says:

    People want to buy stuff that makes them better than they are now. if the mags are showing pics of people who look normal, like them, then they aren’t getting anything extra from it, if you know what i mean. Put a totally unrealistic picture of a woman up and women buy the mags cause subconsciously they are buying secrets of how to look like that (which they can never anyway). that’s my theory.

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