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.
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.