Published in Jul-Aug 2017
"Hello, I am the 21st century. Welcome to the age of beauty hacks, makeup fads, Make Up Alley (MUAs), Instagram one-minute DIYs, beauty blenders of all sorts, face lifters and nude to bronze to rainbow highlighters. Wait, there’s a face slimming app, retouching, re-colouring and giving just the perfect glow! Damn girl, that is a killer doggie selfie right there! But some of you still manage to look so repugnant, so average? Wow! That must take a lot of ignorance and perhaps a lot of confidence and self-love!”
As ‘beauty’ becomes one of the largest categories in the world of brands and advertising, we like to believe that beauty is equal to fairness and fairness is directly proportional to being beautiful.
The majority of the subcontinent is a victim of objectification and it is common to stigmatise people based on skin tone. So, what manufacturers do is to find the right product to cater to the needs of these heartbroken human beings. While the product has one sole reason and functionality – to make you ‘white’, it will not be restricted to women’s prettiness only, it will also work for the oh-so-handsome McDreamy men too.
Brand teams come to the agency asking them to create wonders: “Something very creative, and very out-of-the-box!” We, as passionate creatives, believe we can change the world. Yet when it comes to talking about beauty, we prefer to limit ourselves to two kinds of communications only.
1 Your fair skin is the epitome of beauty!
For the advertiser who believes in ‘selling dreams’ and everything that is larger than life. Always here to help audiences develop unrealistic expectations about beauty; making them believe that only with a fair skin can they overcome all impediments. Like it’s as simple as one, two, three!
You can land a job with your fair complexion (oh I wish!). That foreign graduate with killer looks your Aunty Rashida told you about... well, he has finally agreed to marry you.
Why do boys get to choose the girl? Let’s ‘break’ the norm and do it the other way round. Oh wait! With that brown complexion you can’t possibly reject that boy. He has a good job, his own house and is well-settled. Let’s put on Fair & Lovely to help you gain confidence while your complexion turns white and voila! In three years you will be ready to get married! (That’s how long it will take the new and improved fairer girl to be equal to the boy and his status! If only we can actually achieve all this in three years in real life!).
Why do boys get to choose the girl? Let’s ‘break’ the norm and do it the other way round. Oh wait! With that brown complexion you can’t possibly reject that boy.
Roz roz koi parlour kaise jaye ga? Scrub and scrub, clean and clean, wash karo with vitamin! Another Fair & Lovely jingle and it sounds like a Tarang tea whitener ad (I guess it’s just the deal with everything white maybe?!) Come, sing and dance your way to fairness. Please note: The models are 32-24-32; only a simple fairness ‘whitewash’ is required. Because we completely, totally and proudly own stereotypes!
Get a mega star to endorse fairness! You can be half as good as this superstar in this ‘Fair and Handsome’ ad if you use the same fairness cream that had made him what he is today. The message is heartening I tell you. You don’t need to hide your face because of your brown skin. Be bold, be handsome – be white and become a chick magnet!
2 You are ‘you’ and that is perfectly imperfect!
We sell reality and slices of life and make audiences believe in and love themselves for who they really are. Give them the confidence to go out without makeup and flaunt those freckles, those wrinkles! Owning up to your oh-so-round face with a brown skin. While we are at it, we will not forget to objectify you and turn you into stereotypes nonetheless!
Be the rebellious tomboy. Let’s talk about it and make it a public agenda! Let’s own your beauty with the power of one honest selfie at a time. Dove did a social experiment and seemed to be pretty successful with its internet viral campaign.
This world has stopped discriminating, thanks to Dove.
Flaunt your curly hair, break the dress code, work your way around your dark complexion and accept the fact that you are imperfectly perfect. This is what you will see in Gul Ahmed’s Summer Lawn Collection ad. NOT a fairness cream for a change, but we will associate fashion and clothes with beauty and perfect figures!
Both types of communications work, but the questions is: who wins in the battle of skin tone and self-esteem? So here is the point: the key to a good campaign is to read the research, look at the product offering, dig into the insights and create magic. Yet the dark fact of the matter is that these insights are based on society and people. And we do believe that the embodiment of beauty is fair skin and we worship a person based on his/her fake and enhanced beauty!
Society will brand you a tomboy if you disagree with the sajna sawarna, even if you are a girl in every sense of the word. The dark girl who knows she doesn’t need to be fair to get an interview, to score well, find a job, or get a rishta. Wait, what? No rishta if you are not gori? Well, that is quite possible. After all, that is what actually matters at the end of the day. That is how your compatibility with your better half-to-be will be determined; how your home running skills are judged. It is also the only way you can become a good companion, wife, working woman or a mom. So, you can be fair, or you can die trying!
With so many new beauty and fairness products coming in every day, the world is a paradise for advertisers. However, if we have the power to change the world, how about changing mindsets? Heaven forbid that we should possibly work towards changing the ‘insights’ altogether. Can we also not sell imperfection as the quintessence of beauty? How about we make our flaws our uniqueness and work on that only? Make people more powerful for the bigger things in life rather than making them dumb blondes? Hey! Did I just stereotype here?
Uh-ho. Well that’s how my mind started to behave while writing this article.
Let me ask the question: Will you behave responsibly and dare stop selling dreams or behave irresponsibly and sell imperfections? Or will you work towards developing a third type of communication?
Maryam Yousaf is Creative Director, Bramerz. email@example.com