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HUL’s ‘Glow’ And Lovely Is Just ‘Old Wine In A New Bottle’

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The year 2020 has been a cauldron of chaos. From the decimating virus that has crippled the economy worldwide to the exposure of inequalities both economic and racial, this year will be considered significant in history. The unfortunate killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that sparked the Black Lives Matter protests brought the issue of police brutality against African-Americans to the limelight. It started a conversation on systemic and institutional racism that has plagued the marginalised communities for ages.

The roots of this racism can be traced back to the colonial times where the various population of Asia and Africa were subjugated and where the notion of white superiority prevailed very strongly. Even though the sun has set on the Empire, a few of the relics failed to board the last ships back to Europe. One such example is the notion that fairer the skin, the more beautiful a person is.

For ages multinational companies like Unilever, L’Oréal and Johnson and Johnson have profited off this notion by marketing their so-called solution in the form of ‘Whitening creams.’ One can only think of the Hindi ads on Fair and Lovely where a woman of darker complexion who had been rejected in various spheres of her life has her life changed just because a friend provided her with the ‘magical potion’. Fair and lovely managed to market itself as a cream to provide young women with fair skin which supposedly made them more capable and acceptable for life.

Old Wine In A New Bottle?

Due to the recent events in America, Unilever decided to rename ‘Fair and Lovely’ as ‘Glow and Lovely.’ According to the Insider, L’Oreal has decided to remove words like ‘fair,’ ‘light,’ and ‘whitening’ from their creams. While this may seem to be a positive change towards inclusivity on the surface, it is in reality only a facade to hide what the purpose of these creams was in the first place i.e., their solution to enable non-white people to conform to the white standards of beauty. It is nothing, if not a perfect example of putting, ‘Old wine in new bottles.’

Ever since childhood, we have been conditioned either consciously or unconsciously to believe that fairer skin meant either more handsome or pretty. A kid with a fairer complexion meant more relatives either pulling the cheeks or praising the cuteness of the kid. As the kid grows up, their belief is only strengthened by the matrimonial sites where families demand a fair, upper-caste bride/groom from a well-connected, wealthy family.

Further, cinema through the portrayal of characters with a darker complexion as stereotypical uncouth, dangerous villains has not helped in any way.

With such colour prejudice in the world, we can only imagine the adverse effects on self-esteem that it may have on the people of darker complexion. This can and has been further worsened when people begin to internalise the prejudice.

‘Doll Test’: An Experiment That Shows How Ingrained Prejudice Is

Photo: LDF

An experiment titled ‘Doll Test,’ conducted by Social Psychologists, Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Bancroft Clark demonstrated the internalisation of prejudice.

This experiment was conducted during the 1950s in America when schools were segregated for Blacks and Whites. According to the Smithsonian magazine, 253 black children aged three to seven years old were the subjects.  134 of the children attended segregated nursery schools in Arkansas and 119 attended integrated schools in Massachusetts. They each were all shown four dolls: two with white skin and yellow hair, and two with brown skin and black hair.

Each student was asked to identify the race of the doll and which one they preferred to play with. The majority of the black students preferred the white doll with yellow hair, assigning positive traits to it. Meanwhile, most discarded was the brown doll with black hair, assigning it negative traits.

The Clarks concluded that black children formed a racial identity by the age of three and attached negative traits to their own identity, which were perpetuated by segregation and prejudice. This experiment is a testament to the fact that whitening creams have only been successful due to our colour prejudice. As long as these creams continue to exist they will keep feeding off the low-esteem perpetuated by colour prejudice.

Due to such racism in the world, it only seems practical that people who are not whites use products that whiten their skin. This is not far from fiction for many women in Africa where using dangerous bleaching products and steroids are entirely rational, calculated, businesslike decision as according to the United Nations under the Africa Renewal section.

According to the very same article titled ‘Paying a high price for skin bleaching,’ whiteness is seen as a universal sign of success and wanting access to things white people have easy access to, privileges both social and economic. The article also says that since men would prefer a woman of lighter skin, women try to assimilate to that standards so that their prospect of getting married increases. Marriage serves as a form of social capital where it elevates their social status in society.

Due to this, people may go to the extent of using steroids which reduces the amount of melatonin temporarily but increases the risk of addiction, skin thinning and bruising. While it is not sure if the creams from Unilever and L’Oréal contain any bleaching substances or steroids but the creams are a great part of the problem that only enhances colour prejudice. Therefore, clever rebranding does nothing to change the ages of destruction these creams have caused. The only question that we have to ask ourselves is to what extent would we go to destroy diversity?

fairness cream ads
Clever rebranding does nothing to change the ages of destruction these creams have caused.

A Silver Lining In This Tale Of Whiteness Creams

However, in the darkest of days, there does seem to be a silver lining and not just one but a great amount of it.

The colour prejudice has been something we learned which also means that we have the potential to unlearn it.

Although it’s easier said than done but not impossible. We can begin to first love our skin. The best example is the magazine Cocoa Girl/Boy. It is the UK’s first black magazine. According to an interview by the BBC, a mother named Serlina Boyd, (the editor of the magazine along with her 6-year-old daughter Faith) before the lockdown wanted to get magazines for her daughter. However, she could not find any magazines that reflected her daughter in any way.

So, she decided to bring out the magazine cocoa girl which features girls of African descent just like her daughter Faith. Now, African kids have a magazine that reflects themselves. The movie Black Panther which predominantly had a black cast was another way that brought about the idea of the beauty of diversity in cinema. It went on to be the first super-hero movie to be nominated for the Oscars.

Greater representation of marginalised communities who are mostly non-whites is perhaps another way to tackle colour prejudice. The famous picture of Barack Obama bowing so that an African-American kid could touch his hair is perhaps a great example of the beauty of representation. The kid saw the similarity of his hair with the president. This picture serves as an inspiration to all the African-Americans that they too could aspire to be whatever they want. Greater representation could serve as an effective way to battle colour prejudice which would ultimately render all whitening creams as moot.

Photo: @TVietor08/ Twitter

Ultimately, one can argue that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and that beauty should not be taught or dictated. This argument is absolutely true and it is only befitting that the article ends with one anecdotal story with this regard.

Once upon a time, a man prayed to the extent that God was impressed and appeared before him. God then asked him for his wishes. The man asked for the most beautiful woman in the world and the most valuable drink. Contrary to what many would expect, God gave him Mother Teresa and water.

It is true that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but does it really lie in the eye of the beholder if the lens, we view the world through, has been taught to be biased in the first place?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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