A few weeks ago Unilever announced a change in the name of their iconic fairness cream, Fair & Lovely – it will now be called Glow & Lovely; but social media is not happy about it.
Apart from the questionable grammar, the real question on everyone’s mind is: do we even need a fairness cream, and that too when the world at large is talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. The death of George Floyd not only ignited a debate about safety and respect for black lives as well as the lives of all those people belonging to a vilified part of any society, but also about the inclusion and representation of colour. BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of colour) is hash-tagging on every social media portal and almost everyone in any capacity of authority is evaluating the term ‘inclusion’, which is no longer a ‘tick box option’ on every HR list in the way it was before Floyd’s death.
In 2017, Naomi Campbell tweeted a photo of British Vogue’s editorial team that was published in their September issue to mark editor Alexandra Shulman’s final issue. Campbell tweeted that “this is the staff photo of @britishvogue under the previous editor #AlexandraShulman. Looking forward to an inclusive and diverse staff now that @edward_enninful is the editor… let’s hear your thoughts?”
The point is that almost everyone had liked the photo until Campbell pointed out how ‘whitewashed’ it was. Following Shulman's departure, and for the first time in the history of Vogue, a black man, Edward Enninful, took the throne. Many articles suggested that Shulman was asked to leave as she was not inclusive enough in her practices. Her reply was “my chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy.”
In my opinion, it was not just her – it was the system that was designed to support white privilege. It is also worth mentioning that Enninful succeeded within 10 days of her leaving and many people expressed the opinion that this was a planned exit strategy and that Shulman was effectively fired. Then in June this year, Adam Rapoport, editor- in-chief of Bon Appetit (another Condé Nast publication) resigned when a photo of him taken in 2013 dressed in ‘brown face’ resurfaced on social media leading to an uproar about the magazine’s lack of inclusivity and discrimination against people of colour. Bon Appetit later apologised to their readers via a long Instagram post.
After the Floyd tragedy, the world became enraged and people went on the streets waving placards with BLM and TLM (Trans Lives Matter) written on them. Instagram turned black for a day in support of Floyd. As a result, almost every organisation (big or small) began to conduct internal hiring audits and the question of how diverse are our meeting rooms became a focal conversation point as it’s not okay to never use a black, plus sized or a person of undecided orientation. Brands had to quickly correct themselves to avoid being called out by their customers. Fashion brand Celine apologised for not using people of colour, Vogue Editor, Anna Wintour, apologised for not being inclusive in her hiring. And just a week before the world started to burn with rage, our local celebrity Zara Noor Abbas shared the secret of her spotless skin – Pond’s whitening face wash. White beauty in the time of BLM and George Floyd; white beauty in the times of social responsibility and inclusivity; white beauty in the time of Twitter and Instagram.
For social media users this campaign was inappropriate on so many levels and they called her out. She swiftly responded that "a face wash is killing no one." And she is right. A face wash will not kill anyone but setting up wrong beauty standards might. The notion that white is better, fair is superior and glow is lovely has affected generations in the Subcontinent – and if this is a bad thing and everyone hates it, then who is buying it? When Zubaida Apa launched the campaign Abb Gora Hoga Pakistan I asked her why she agreed to do the campaign. She gently told me that out of the 100 phone calls she receives on a daily basis, 97% of the callers want to know how to get fairer skin and therefore she came up with a whitening soap under her name. This is the hypocrisy in our thinking. While on social media we may bash a campaign or an ideology, in reality people are buying the notion of fairness in bulk, hence brands like Pond’s and Fair & Lovely invest millions in ad spend and cast top celebs. There is a demand in the market; to be fair because fair is better and fair is beautiful.
Whereas in the West almost all top celebrities have refused to work on any formula that supports notions of fairness, here at home, celebrities are far from being aware of the impact of their endorsements. Every brief I receive demands a thin, fair girl - and these briefs are not led by men but by women... women in charge, women in power. Yet they do not try to change the narrative because there is a huge demand for vanity; that too for a certain type of vanity which doesn’t include anyone who looks different. Leading brands in Pakistan only work with fair girls, be they beverages, telcos or soap and with the same template – fair, thin girls. So, whether we call it Fair & Glow or Mahira, we are unfair to a huge population of women who aspire to be happy just the way they are.
Syed Yawar Iqbal is ECD, JWT|GREY Pakistan. email@example.com