Renaming Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely makes no sense and does nothing to dismantle colorism.
So why is Unilever knowingly picking this grammatically incorrect name? And what should we do next as we know these spineless companies will do nothing?
Following the global uprising for the Black Lives Matter movement, Unilever faced a fresh round of backlash for their discriminatory brand Fair & Lovely that promoted and monetized colorism for 45 years. Unilever responded by saying they will rename the product to “Glow & Lovely” and remove words like “fair”, “lightening”, “whitening” etc. from their marketing while keeping the skin whitening product formula intact.
The name is grammatically wrong and makes no sense. But it turns out that they are battling another skin lightening brand Emami for the name “Glow & Handsome” which is the name of the same skin lightening product marketed to men. Why would they pick “Glow” when that’s a verb/noun and not an adjective like “Lovely”? Why would the smartest marketing minds pick this? Why would they fight over it? Why not pick any other name?
The answer becomes clear from their history and how they have been testing the masses in the recent past. “Glow” is the word they have been using in their marketing for skin lightening extensively since 2014. What happened in 2014? In 2014, Fair & Lovely had to change their marketing altogether because the Advertising Council of India ruled : “No advertisement should communicate any discrimination or reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis on skin color”
The government HAD to put this ban in place because Unilever was creating extremely discriminating, disgusting ads for Fair and Lovely that dehumanized dark skin. These ads blatantly called dark skin ugly and told us that we have to fix it, not just to feel beautiful but also to find jobs and be considered worthy of love. Fair & Lovely started this trend. They were a discriminatory, disgusting brand to begin with.
But in their PR announcement blog for the name change last week, they claimed to be a woke, women-empowerment focused, value driven brand that had already revised their ads to be inclusive since 2014. The catch is: They didn’t do this voluntarily since 2014. They were made to do this, because their disgusting ads were about to get banned. Now to get good PR, they are mincing words, and twisting history to fool everyone who won’t take the pain to seek the truth and hold them accountable.
Since the ban on discriminatory ads, they HAD to switch to a different marketing strategy. They couldn’t openly call dark skin inferior anymore. This was their first big opportunity to do the right thing and stop selling these discriminatory products. But they started marketing it as “glow” and “radiance”. The message still was — you need to have the “glow” to find success and feel confident in any way. The result? Their fortunes exploded further. The whole industry recorded exponential growth and now is estimated at a whopping $450 million dollars.
In 2019, there were rumors that regulations on fairness creams would get stricter. Unilever acted proactively. Fair & Lovely stopped ads that showed radical transformation in skin tones, focused on selling “glow” — still with only the lightest skinned faces like Yami Gautam. And they dropped the shade card that helped you track how light your skin was becoming. So last year was a trial run for this move. That resulted in Unilever having a “fabulous year”, according to Sanjiv Mehta — chairman and managing director for Hindustan Unilever (Unilever India). “Our penetration went up, our market share went up and these were record numbers and 2019, post the relaunch, we had one of the best years,” Mehta told shareholders at the firm’s annual general meeting on June 30. The trial run was successful.
So this is the reason why they picked “Glow”. It is proven to work and keeps the brand recognition intact with the suffix “& Lovely” helping buyers remember the original brand name. Glow literally means light. So they are still selling light skin as an aspiration and they have already tested the market with it. Everybody wants a glow no matter what shade they are. They’ve basically expanded their reach, because now the potential market is even bigger and includes every brown skinned person. They can continue to perpetuate and monetize colorism. They can be absolved from being called racist, colorist and discriminatory while still selling the same skin whitening product, keeping dark skinned people trapped in beauty standards forever, which means they will stay customers forever.
And they haven’t changed the formula one bit. The cream still has skin whitening chemicals. Their PR announcement blog, tried to fool everyone once again by claiming that Fair and Lovely “doesn’t have any agents like hydroquinone or bleach”. But it does have other skin lightening agents. That is just a line to throw at you so you don’t ask further questions. Because if they admit that it doesn’t have “ANY” lightening agents, that will mean the whole product was a farce to begin with. The truth is that it does have lightening agents. They are chemicals. Some of which are toxic and banned in other countries.
Unilever did nothing but take a performative step which actually might increase its profits from skin lightening based on their 2019 data.
In essence, Unilever renamed “oppression” to “empowerment”, and vowed to keep oppressing people and still got in everyone’s good books. People celebrated and congratulated them on their move and gave them good PR. They got positive headlines like they never have in the past. Tweets and retweets of victory poured in from all over the world. The world clapped for the same brand that has been intentionally promoting discrimination and monetizing social injustice for 45 years.
This is why we need to keep fighting and keep using all our power to continue dismantle colorism. These are multibillion dollar corporations who only see profit. They intentionally created discriminatory products and they have now proved, that they cannot be relied on to do the right thing.
If you knew the irreversible damage they have caused to dark skinned people’s lives for decades, you’d demand better. If you knew how deeply traumatic colorism can be psychologically, you wouldn’t celebrate the brand that intentionally dehumanized us for decades and refuses to stop even after being requested to. Even now, when the whole world is reflecting on how to become actively anti-racist, despite having billions of dollars at their disposal, and being demanded to take action by people across the world, they continue to focus only on expanding their market for their inherently discriminatory products and keeping their profits intact over everything else including basic ethics and human rights.
The first step in making amends is acknowledging your mistake, then apologizing and making amends. Unilever failed at the first step itself, didn’t apologize and even the amends they made only benefit them. They couldn’t even acknowledge that they created a discriminatory product that has been monetizing social injustice for decades. They lied and twisted history to position themselves as the savior, saying that Fair & Lovely is a brand that had women empowerment at their heart of their values since day one. They used intentionally misleading statements so you don’t ask further questions and make you believe that they care, but they really don’t. Even Johnson & Johnson did the right thing and dropped these product lines altogether. For a multibillion dollar corporation like Unilever, this is not a difficult move, but they intentionally chose to continue doing the wrong thing. Remember this, always. Because in the future they will reframe this moment somehow for their own benefit too.
So what do we do next, now that we know fighting these corporations will lead to only performative actions?
We keep the revolution going. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking one particular course of action will dismantle colorism. We need a spiritual awakening and a global shift in perspective around dark skin. And for that, we need everyone, all in. Everyone doing whatever they can, taking steps in all directions to dismantle this issue that is so deeply embedded in our lives, psyches and culture.
The first step in dismantling colorism is changing our own perspectives on beauty and recognizing the ways in which we internalize or perpetuate colorism intentionally or unintentionally. For example: you might upholding the caste system through your customs and practices, not knowing that casteism perpetuates colorism and anti-Blackness in many ways. We must all define our own individual standards of beauty. We must go beyond physical beauty because our bodies are all beautiful miracles and prioritize actions and personality traits like kindness, which demonstrate a person’s agency. Not random physical traits that people have no control over. As long as we allow companies to dictate beauty standards, they will just keep moving goal posts and reinventing the list to add things that keep us chained to insecurities so they can keep us as customers forever.
Only when we democratize beauty standards, can we create an infinite kaleidoscopic definition of beauty which includes everyone.
If you are an influencer or celebrity, reject these skin lightening ads. Use your influence for the right things. Many people have already done this. Follow their lead, and be on the right side of history. Shahrukh Khan, one the richest people in the world, is STILL endorsing these discriminatory products. Don’t be like Shahrukh.
If you were doing these ads in the past, own up to your mistake and APOLOGIZE. Don’t lie or play victim. Everybody makes mistakes. All that matters is that you apologize and learn from them by making amends. A dishonest apology is offensive and meaningless, and it sets the wrong example when it comes from powerful people with privilege. Playing victim when you intentionally partook and profited from the oppression erases the suffering of the oppressed as it puts the focus on your manufactured suffering, over the actual cause. Don’t be like Priyanka Chopra, who is still lying about the dozens of ads she did, and playing a victim. Not a single journalist has fact checked her lies.
If you are a story teller or work in entertainment, end the practice of brown face. Hiring light skinned actors and giving them dark skin makeup to play roles, further propagates the notion that dark skinned people are not even worthy of playing these roles that represent them. That only light skinned actors are valid. Hire dark skinned actors to play empowered roles. Write empowering stories for dark skinned characters. Casteism and colorism are highly interlinked. Hire writers, directors and creatives from Dalit Bahujan castes. Use your platform to tell their stories and help dismantle casteist stereotypes.
Celebrate dark skin because it has been suppressed for millennia.
If you work in beauty, fashion, marketing, media etc. demand better from your companies and uplift dark skinned people. Stop whitewashing your marketing narratives. Use dark skinned models and not just as tokens on the side. Make sure your company includes products for dark skin and tests on dark skin. Show the power of dark skin in your stories and celebrate it.
Since dismantling colorism requires a shift in perspective, we must change minds, so that even if they call it glow up creams, dark skinned people don’t want to use these products. We must celebrate it firstly and most importantly within ourselves. We must become loud and proud of our dark skin. We must unapologetically embody the superpower that melanin is.
Good ideas spread at the rate of thoughts infecting other thoughts, and they cannot be stopped and reversed. So start speaking up. You never know who you will end up inspiring. This will create a chain reaction and help the idea spread faster than fire. In an imbalanced system, where the oppressed have been abused for millennia, you have to put disproportionate amounts of energy to uplift the disadvantaged side. If we merely keep the status quo and apply cosmetic bandaids like Unilever did, the oppressed will never be able to rise up and there will never be a level playing field. So keep doing the work. The fight is far from over.