Skin Whiteners Labeled Racist

Sara Sidner, CNN, September 10, 2009

Cosmetic advertisements in Asia are targeting men with blunt campaigns aimed at skin color that one lawmaker labels racist.

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The commercials are sending a not-so-subtle message to men in Asia: Get whiter skin, and you’ll get the girl and the job of your dreams. Or at the very least you’ll be noticed.

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[Jawed] Habib should know. He owns a chain of 140 salons located in India and across the world. “We Indian people, we Asian people are more darker, so we want to look more fair.”

Skin whiteners were once targeted only to women. Now the products are a hot commodity for men.

Many of the brands being advertised for men are well known around the world–including Nivea and Garnier.

A marketing study found sales for skin whitening creams have jumped more than 100 percent in rural India and sales for male grooming products are increasing 20 percent annually.

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And Emami Ltd., the company which produces “Fair and Handsome,” sent CNN an email saying: “Fair and Handsome is a market leader with almost 70 percent market share in India and doing extremely well in Gulf countries and the Middle East as well.”

But in a country where most people have brown skin, the message being sent to men and women has some people outraged.

“Basically if you need a job you have to have white skin. If you want a good partner, a companion you need white skin and you always seem to get it once you’ve used the fairness cream. Basically I think it’s completely racist and highly objectionable,” says Brinda Karat.

Karat is a member of India’s Parliament who has made formal complaints about the advertisements to Indian authorities. She says the ads are simply playing on a social stigma that already exists in India.

To get a good look at the pervasiveness of the stigma attached to dark skin in India all you have to do is look at the want ads for Brides and Grooms in the newspaper.

Arranged marriages are still commonplace in India, and the advertisements for brides and grooms often list physical attributes of the person being sought. Many of the ads list “fair” as one of the wanted physical characteristics.

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