Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty?

It is indeed heartening to know of what Dove is doing with its Campaign for Real Beauty and Self-Esteem Fund. Investing part of its profits into a good social cause ought to be the way to go for corporations. Whatever has come out from their advertisements, commercials and educational programs aimed at changing mindsets deserves our praise, but more importantly, our reflection on how we ought to perceive beauty.

Having said the above, imagine my shock and disappointment in discovering that the parent company of Dove, Unilever, also owns brands like Fair & Lovely and Pond’s. Both products pride themselves in offering more beautiful skin. And one important aspect of being beautiful, according to them, is having fairer (i.e. whiter) skin.

This unbelievably racist idea clearly shines through their commercials. These can be viewed at Youtube.com. (Just search for “Fair & Lovely commercial” or “Pond’s commercial“). In the beginning of these commercials, dark-skinned women are shown leading less happy and less successful lives. After using the skin-whitening product, their skin becomes lighter and amazingly their lives become happier and more successful.

The racist stereotype that black is ugly and white is beautiful is a very common perception throughout the world. Just like the idea that being thin or having double eye-lids is beautiful, this is something that ought not to be promoted, let alone harnessed to make money off the vulnerable. And yet Dove’s parent company is doing precisely that. Indeed, it’s hard to understand the disconnect here. As someone else has said, and I have no reason now to disagree, “What Dove gives with one hand, Unilever’s other brands take away with the other”.

I wonder what representatives of Dove and/or Unilever have to say about these advertisements and the message being promoted through them? Why is there such a conflict in the messages? I would also like to know whether Dove thinks the idea of equating beauty with white skin is as wrong as equating it with slimness.

(The above was what I wrote to the Straits Times Forum page on 23rd February 2007. The actual published version of my letter can be viewed below. You can read more about this topic at:

The New York TimesTelling India’s Modern Women They Have Power, Even Over Their Skin Tone
The Situationist‘s Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice
- Guardian‘s Beyond the pale
CounterPunch‘s Pigmentation and Empire
- Salon‘s Race, poverty and skin-whitener
Feministing‘s Who’s the fairest of them all?
- The Wall Street Journal‘s Critics Say Ads for Skin Whiteners Capitalize on Malaysian Prejudice)

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The Sunday Times’ Inbox, 4th March 2007

Ads’ idea of beauty biased

IT IS heartening to see what Dove is doing with its Campaign for Real Beauty and its Self-Esteem Fund. Investing part of its profits in a social cause is the way to go for corporations. Advertisements and educational programmes aimed at changing mindsets on how we perceive beauty deserve our praise.

However, I am dismayed to learn that Dove’s parent company, Unilever, also owns brands like Fair & Lovely and Pond’s, which have commercials that promote a very narrow and, some might say, racist idea of beauty. Both products pride themselves on making skin more beautiful. But being beautiful, according to their ads, is having fairer – that is, whiter – skin.

In the beginning of these commercials, dark-skinned women are shown leading less happy and less successful lives. After using a particular skin-whitening product, however, their skin becomes lighter and, amazingly, they become happier and more successful.

This stereotype that black is ugly and white is beautiful is very common. But just like the idea that being thin or having double eyelids is beautiful – and, by extension, that being fat or having single eyelids is not – this is something that should not be promoted, let alone harnessed to make money off the vulnerable. And yet Dove’s parent company is doing precisely that.

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