updated 14 Nov 2012, 08:21
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Wed, Nov 14, 2012
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A deeper shade of pale

ON VASELINE’S Facebook page promoting its whitening lotion for men, it shows Bollywood actor Shahid Kapoor’s face separated into two halves by a line... one half is dark, the other apparently lighter toned due to his use of the product.

That much is standard advertising fare. But here’s where Vaseline has taken it a step further.

It encourages male users to use the Facebook application, upload their profile photograph and “see” how the product would work on them by digitally lightening it.

tabla! tried the application and found that it made little difference to the photograph we used – there was probably a bit more of a glow to the picture but otherwise there was no dramatic change to the visage.

But it has made many Facebook users livid, accusing Vaseline, owned by Unilever, of pandering to the Indian obsession over fair skin and for allegedly promoting racism over the social networking site. One Facebook user posted: “Hey Vaseline when are you removing the racist application?” and some have criticised the naturally light hued Shahid for promoting the lotion.

Critics say that the skin whitening segment of the Indian beauty market promoted by stars like Shah Rukh Khan and John Abraham, who front Lux and Garnier respectively, Sonam Kapoor who plugs L’Oreal’s whitening range, Katrina Kaif who promotes Olay’s line of lightening lotions and more recently Deepika Padukone who signed up with Neutrogena, are a part of the problem.

They make people believe that if you don’t have fair skin, you can’t be successful in life.

And it’s a tagline that Indian consumers have bought into it seems as research firm Nielson estimated that the segment is worth about $500 million with the men’s products increasing by 25 per cent last year and the women’s by 17 per cent.

Indian film critic Saibal Chatterjee told The Guardian that Bollywood is guilty of perpetuating and reinforcing the “gori” complex despite having actresses like Bipasha Basu making headway in the industry with her deeper chocolate hue.

“Yes, we have made some headway with darker- skinned actresses coming through such as Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone, but the fair-faced stars like Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif still rule the Bollywood roost. A bright complexion continues to be equated with pulchritude. Even Bollywood stars endorse skin-whitening creams – the film industry is very much part of the problem,” he said.

In a response to a CBS report about the controversy surrounding its whitening lotion, Vaseline said in a statement: “Vaseline is committed to creating culturally relevant products that meet the needs of its consumers in markets around the world. Much like self-tanning products in North America and Europe, skin lightening products are culturally relevant in India.”

A notion that economist Rupa Dehejia questioned in her Wall Street Journal blog. Responding to claims that Indians are still bound to colonial ideals, she wrote: “How is the use of skin-whitening creams any different from applying suntan or bronzing lotions to look tanned? Or anti-wrinkle creams to smooth skin? Or Botox to look younger?

“ To assume that Indian and Asian consumers are somehow misinformed and brainwashed into buying these products but their counterparts in the West are behaving rationally is the real colonial mentality.” -tabla!


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