Unilever drops the Fair from “Fair and Lovely” but colorism doesn’t end there

Following the murder of George Floyd in late May, the world joined hands to stand against colorism under one banner – Black Lives Matter.

The movement not only opened doors for conversations surrounding the privilege that comes with an individual’s skin color in America, but it also sparked a worldwide debate as many people took this as an opportunity to speak up against the issues within their own countries regarding the discrimination they face due to their color.

This also garnered a global response from noteworthy people, including a fleet of South Asian celebrities. However, their endorsement was faced with much backlash from the public as many reminded some of the actors that since they had been ambassadors for skin whitening campaigns at some point in time, it makes their support for the BLM movement hypocritical.

Many defended themselves for their selective disapproval but the real culprits here were the brands who have been promoting skin whitening for years. This is why, in light of recent events, Unilever decided that it was time to drop the word “fair” from their infamous brand, Fair and Lovely, claiming that the company was “anti-racist”.

Unilever’s statement entailed that they celebrate the diversity of all skin types. Although the multinational company is now declaring its inclusivity of all skin tones in their portfolio, their current announcement still does not deviate from the fact that Fair and Lovely has been encouraging systemic racism for a long time by perpetuating the concept of all people being beautiful, but only if their color is white.

Most of Fair and Lovely’s advertisements follow the same idea of a young girl afraid to face society because of her dark skin. Just as she thinks that all hope is lost, a prettier fair-skinned woman comes to her rescue as she hands her a life-changing cream that will make the girl more socially acceptable.

As a community, South Asians have always been obsessed with the idea of being fair. But that ingrained fear that comes down from the colonial mindset of white trumping black is what brands that promote skin lightening feed off of.

Knowing that somewhere out there, a South Asian girl with olive skin is desperately trying every remedy to make herself fair is the very thing that brands with skin lightening products need to make money.

Although many people applauded Unilever’s statement, it received a lot of criticism as well. Poorna Bell, a writer and activist, saw the news as “hugely disappointing”. She went on to say that removing a word from a brand’s name does not compensate for the “untold mental and emotional damage done by colorism.”

However, many netizens also believed that Unilever’s decision was one small step in the right direction. But that does not mean that the mentality of color preference that has become inherent to the South Asian  culture is completely erased.

Even if one, or a few, brands label their products differently, it still won’t bring a remarkable change within communities when it comes to colorism unless every individual accepts that their dark skin is just as beautiful as any other color.

It will take a significant amount of time to eradicate this issue as a whole but skincare companies attempting to make some level of change is still noteworthy.

By Tayyaba Rehman

Born and raised in Pakistan, Tayyaba completed her MPhil degree in English Literature from Kinnaird College, Lahore in 2019. She strongly believes in the humane treatment towards all animals and equality amongst humankind. She also loves listening to the same song on repeat for days, watching reruns of New Girl and spending time with her cats.