Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vaseline's Skin-Lightening Cream

The Web is in uproar over Vaseline's New Skin-Lightening cream marketed in India and in a Facebook app that allows users to lighten their skin in profile photos.

When I was in China a few summers ago, I blogged about this strange "skin-lightening" rhetoric I noticed on creams that appeared to be simply sunscreens or "complexion balance" products. I knew it was connected to class-based attitudes valuing white-collar jobs that don't require outdoor labor, but I couldn't figure out if people realized the racial connotations too (usually people denied it or acted confused when I asked.)

Well, apparently in India there's the same rhetoric in advertising, and some people DO recognize the racism behind it. This Vaseline Men line is the first of its kind marketed exclusively for men--skin-lightening creams have been around for decades for women--no surprise there. In this article, one man says that this whole thing perpetuates a "I want to be fairer craze" that's sweeping India.

The cream's product description claims to even skin tone and remove "dark spots" caused by too much sun exposure. Okay, I like that terminology better. It's a less offensive way to think about it, and I hope that's the real reason why men are using it, not to "lighten" their natural skin tone.

But still.

It's a good sign, in my opinion, that people are upset about it. No matter the manufacturer's actual intentions, AWARENESS is the first step to racial sensitivity. It's necessary if we are to ever move forward.

Some dude comments on the product's Facebook page: "from the outlook of a European american guy seeing an ad for Indian men to lighten their skin to become like white men; i find this racist and a bit offensive. being white does not make you look good. i find this borderline NAZI thinking and that needs to stop."


Sarah Grooms said...

China indeed has the same ideas about what is beautiful. Fairer skin is valued more there. My theory is that most people are a bit more tan and it is therefore coveted as something rare. I got lots of comments on my white skin and how beautiful they thought it was no matter where I went in China. It was a strange experience for me as I am used to people in America (and Australians) telling me I look sickly and should get more sun. These same people would have no doubt envied the "tans" that my friends in China had going on. It goes both ways, I think. They sell lightening creams and make-up in Asia; they sell self-tanner and bronzer in the West. I think in general, people need to embrace who and what they are and see the inherent beauty in that.

Liberty said...

Amen, Sarah! I can believe that people envy your skin over there. Do you carry a parasol?

Annetoinette said...

You will find skin lightening creams everywhere that has been touched by European colonialism. It is good that people are upset, but this is nothing new. Go to any Wal-Mart or any mainstream store that has an "ethnic" hair care aisle in the U. S. and you will find them.

Like the guy on facebook said,this is racist. These products reinforce self-hatred through racist beauty ideals, though of course, they are only a reflection of society's true feelings about race, even if most people don't want to admit it.

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Justin Alesi said...

Ahh, I found this article after tweeting those morons at Vaseline. Nice one, Liberty! A friend told me about the app (which has since disappeared?), and this sort-of thing always makes me crack up a little. It's legalised cleansing for the consumer depending on how you look at it. Creepy, real creepy.