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Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Fair and Lovely and worth it ?

Written By: amodini - Feb• 25•07

Courtesy Robert Burns (and the Web) , I get to hear this :

. . .
Fair and lovely as thou art,
Thou hast stown my very heart;
. . .

Courtesy I get to hear about the furor on the “Fair and Lovely” marketing campaign. Note that this is the very cream that was the reason for protest by many women activists, resulting in a ban on the very sexist, racist ads. Now, apparently we have a “Fair and Lovely” alternative for the men too – I’m a little lost – weren’t men supposed to be tall, DARK, and handsome ? But, seriously this doesn’t make anything better; what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander.

fairlovelyBack to Salon, C.K.Prahlad says : “Beyond such benefits as higher standards of living and greater purchasing power, poor consumers find real value in dignity and choice. In part, lack of choice is what being poor is all about. In India, a young woman working as a sweeper outdoors in the hot sun recently expressed pride in being able to use a fashion product — Fair and Lovely cream, which is part sun screen, part moisturizer, and part skin-lightener — because, she says, her hard labor will take less of a toll on her skin than it did on her parents’. She has a choice and feels empowered because of an affordable consumer product formulated for her needs.”

Prahlad seems to have it all wrong – “lack of choice is what being poor is all about”. Wow, this is so far out. Where does Prahlad live – on the moon ? I wonder if he has seen where the poor live, what they eat, and what they wear ? Choice does not enter into it, basic necessity does. Being poor is not about being able to buy “Fair and Lovely”, it’s about being able to buy food and affording a pucca home, and having a bathroom so you don’t have to defecate in the open.

Moreover he says that a woman (he takes the example of a poor sweeper in this case) is “empowered” because she can now buy an “affordable consumer product formulated for her needs”. Ah, taking the easy road to empowerment I see ! This frankly is a whole lot of hooey. “Formulated for her needs”, my foot ! Which needs ? The needs she has because she’s bought into the whole racist “fair is good” philosophy ? “Fair and Lovely” as Prahlad puts it is “part sun screen, part moisturiser, and part skin-lightener”. I’d bet that the consumers of “Fair and Lovely” aren’t buying it for it’s sun-screening or it’s moisturising abilities. In fact I’m not sure if they know about them at all.

“Fair and lovely” is a product which preys upon one’s insecurities and “baggage” – the whole “gori” appeal. But there are also other products which resort to unethical advertising, by equating buying their products to self-worth. The “L’Oreal” ads that come to mind are the ones with the tag-line “Because I’m worth it”. What exactly does that mean, besides making me instinctively gnash my teeth ? Like if I’m worth it, I use L’Oreal , else some other brand ? Does a woman have to know if she’s worth it before she can buy the product ? How worthy does a woman have to be before she can buy L’Oreal ? Does L’Oreal sell a worth-o-meter ? Would be ever so handy for us clueless females !

Is this some post-feminist thing that I’m not getting ? Because, really, I’m not getting it. It makes sense to me if you say, you deserve all the happiness in the world because you’re worth it. Or all the love in the world, or all the respect – you get the picture. But to say, you should go out and buy L’Oreal products because you’re worth it, sounds like nothing more than a cheap attempt to peddle beauty products.

How much is a woman’s worth really ? And can you use that to judge if a woman does or does not deserve something material (and how debasing it is to even think in this vein) ? Like there weren’t enough standards to be judged by (good daughter, good wife, good mother, good girl . . .) now we have L’Oreal selling their psycho-babble ? Good enough for L’Oreal ? Worth it, anyone ?

Honey, I’m worth it regardless of whether I choose to dye my hair with your coloring product or not. Or for that matter whether I choose to color my hair at all, or leave in au naturel in all it’s grey-streaked glory. Thin, fat, short, tall, dark or fair, of whatever creed, color or body-shape, a woman’s worth is independent of all the marketing hype the L’Oreal (and other) geniuses generate.

Then there is this ad. for body-shapers (I forget the brand-name now), with a woman accompanying her husband to a party, and being introduced to shapely, younger women. Basically a pitch for how this woman must wear body-shapers to keep her looking attractive, so that her man doesn’t rove. The ad. does not of course state what must be obvious to all women of sane mind – that a woman is better off without such a “roving” man.

Harmful messages like these, which drive one to buying their products because “no one will marry a dark-skinned woman”, or “you’ll lose your husband to shapelier women”, or your worth is counted in terms of your ability to buy hair-color/make-up are a problem. I’m not against make-up, per se (I use it myself). What I’m against, is when a woman’s worth and self-esteem is counted on those terms.

Also, messages like these are very, very problematic because they persuade women to buy into the “beauty myth”, adhering to the patriarchal standards of femininity – that “women” should be slim, beautiful, and sporting these beauty products – and those who aren’t, aren’t worth it. Trying to make oneself look better, feel better, do better is natural. And all gizmos which make you do this are OK, by me. However your self-worth does not come from them, and anybody associating the two, is a phony or is trying to make money off of you. Beware !

In this case, clothes do not maketh the woman.

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  1. Tarana says:

    I’d like to the add the example of Pond’s Age Miracle cream ( The ad is supposed to be ‘realistic’ as the woman matter-of-factly says “I got my yesterday’s husband back” almost as if she’s done something unbelievably amazing. It’s pathetic to instill hopes into women like this…

  2. AMODINI says:

    I haven’t seen that one (will search on YouTube) – but ads. like these make me question the common-sense of the ad.execs. Patriarchy blinding their vision, eh ?

  3. Anonymous says:

    i agree with all ur comments on fairness creams and how pathetically women are portrayed. Always got maha bugged..

    However, whats wrong with the Worth It campaign?
    Its just a line saying “babe, you;ve gotten so far, and mebbe u dont want a lifetime of joy or spiritual knowledge but ur own beauty products that are super luxurious and super sinful..but hey! you are worth it! In your own eyes too”
    Its like raving against Nike’s Just Do It campaign. Like saying only if you wear Nike you can do it…what ever it be bah!…
    I think L’oreal just used a line that a lot of empowered women use when they go in for self-pampering…because they’re worth it…

  4. Anonymous says:

    I dont agree with your views of poverty. The sweeper woman’s belief that fair and lovely could make a difference, the choice she makes to buy that over food, that a HUGE step.
    India’s fairness craze is no different from the Americans risking skin cancer in order to sunbath. Artifical tans and vacations to various beaches are so they can feel like they are attractive.
    We all want what we cant have. And there is nothing wrong with that. Indian ppl are always first to put each other down. Do u see white woman critizing each other for baking in the sun, or black women stop straightening their hair? Of course not. If that sweeper woman wants to be more beautiful and fair and lovely is gonna do it for her, then more power to ya my sister.

    • Preeti says:

      So you see nothing wrong in the sweeper woman choosing to buy Fair and Lovely with money that she could have used to buy multi-vitamin and iron supplements, fresh fruit or even a health check-up.

      All of which by the way, would improve her looks way more than “Fair and Lovely”.

      It is dangerous because poor people have scarce resources.

      While it is entirely their prerogative to choose how to allocate these scarce resources, it is enormously important they spend them on things that REALLY empower them.

      These would, in my opinion, be better health care, better nutrition, more education and better living conditions.

      Definitely not Fair and Lovely.

      The media is selling the poor sweeper woman a fragile dream and is calling it empowerment.

      That is dangerous.

  5. ApplesH says:

    I wrote a similar article centering on the Pond’s age miracle product commercial shown in the Philippines. I mean really – it displays such a bad example to women and portraying women as desperate for men’s attention. I mean why cant natural beauty, intelligence, talent suffice? Why does fair skin be the “ideal beauty”?

    See post ->

  6. AMODINI says:

    Nothing wrong in wanting sinful/luxurious products if that is what you wish – it is just that I percieve them using the "worthiness" to push sales. Tying self-esteem to a product is a no-no in my book.

    Just because the Americans have a craze of their own, doesn't make it OK. If the sweeper woman wants to be more beautiful, then yes more power to her, but to sell her a beauty product which sells her pipe dreams of becoming fairer and netting a husband, by essentially preying upon her fears and weaknesses is wrong.If by using a fairness cream, you could actually bike faster and get modelling assignments (see latest F&L; ad.), get better jobs, earn more, marry the prince on the white steed, then yes – go for it, but if it is the hocus-pocus of advertising, then really, isn't it just misleading the general public ?

    Thanks – did read your post.

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  8. Greasea says:

    There is definately a lot to learn about this subject. I love all of the points you’ve made.

  9. […] know they are. Yes, the film does gloss over over serious issues like dowry, domestic abuse and the skin color prejudice, but one step at a time I say – this is a Karan Johar production after all. Let’s hope […]

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