Story at a glance
- Unilever’s “Fair & Lovely” brand is sold across Asia as a popular skin whitener.
- The company announced that it would change the name and remove the words “fair,” “whitening” and “lightening” from its products.
- Critics say that as long as the product is still sold, changing the name does little good.
For many Asian Americans, Unilever’s “Fair & Lovely” skin whitening brand is a familiar staple. While it’s generally found only in specialty stores in the United States and Europe, much of its more than $560 million in annual sales comes from Asia and Africa.
On Thursday, the multinational company known for products including Axe and Dove, announced a “more inclusive” rebrand. As the United States and the rest of the world confronts racism follow the death of George Floyd during an arrest, Unilever is one of many companies seeking to correct discriminatory practices.
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“We have changed the advertising, communication and – more recently – the packaging in South Asia, and we think it’s important that we now share the next step that we have been working on: changing the brand name. We will also continue to evolve our advertising, to feature women of different skin tones, representative of the variety of beauty across India and other countries. We want Fair & Lovely to become a brand that celebrates glowing and radiant skin, regardless of skin tone,” Sunny Jain, president of beauty and personal care, said in a statement.
The company will remove the words “fair/fairness,” “white/whitening” and “light/lightening” from packaging and communication for the “Fair & Lovely” brand, which is known for its before and after advertisements showing visibly lighter skin after use. Still, the company claims that the product is not a skin bleaching product, instead “designed to improve skin barrier function, improve skin firmness and smoothen skin texture – all of which help enhance radiance and glow.”
Critics, however, point out that calling the product by a different name does not change the fact that many use it to acquire a racist image of beauty — lighter, and whiter, skin. On social media, some celebrities and others voiced their dissatisfaction, while others applauded the move as a good first step.
Removing the word ‘Fair’ from ‘Fair and lovely’ and rebranding it makes no difference as at the end of the day it is still sold as a fairness cream at the cost of making people with different skin colours feel inferior. #boycottfairandlovely #boycottfairnessproducts pic.twitter.com/DeSbBGzlcN
— Dr. Bharati Lavekar (@LavekarBharati) June 25, 2020
Having been on this journey for long, I know how difficult and slow change is. But the needle is moving and so on our part, we have to ensure it moves fast and in the right direction. https://t.co/Z7l9Df4osH
— Nandita Das (@nanditadas) June 26, 2020
Skin whitening has a long history in Asia with its roots in the colonization of many countries by European countries, whose beauty standards were thrust upon the community. Years past independence, however, many countries and societies struggle with colorism, or discrimination based on skin color even within a single race or ethnic group.
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