In a usual morning, going though my usual morning routine, I switched on one of my usual news channels, as usually. What has caught my eyes was a pretty, young, Indian lady and the box of a cosmetic product. I gave some more volume on, expecting some explanation on a potentially harmful ingredient, or poor customer information, but under any circumstances, something in relati.on to product liability. As usual…
Instead of any of the above, it was a 22 year old young professional woman from Mumbai about her petition against a global chemical industry company, more accurately, against the product “fair and lovely”, a skin color lightener. The reasoning was that the name puts white (fair) skin into a context to be associated with loveliness, in a country, where people have brown skin, by nature. Huhhh. I thought it was a kind of ironic movement to shed light on the recent unreasonable and unproportionate voices on “hidden” and/or “institutionalized” discrimination (but more likely to be expressed as racism).
I was wrong…. The product has been one of the most successful ones for decades, predominantly on the Asian continent, and recently has become a kind of a symbol, in a negative context. Although it is still not clear for me, of exactly what … Of course, the producer, being a business entity, gave its response to change the name of the product, not to imply any wrong association. What happened right after was to receive comments referring to being a hypocrite…. Well…
Let us stop for a minute, and think. We are coming across commercials suggesting that slim bodies are sexy, blond hair is innocent and lovely, red hair is divine, suntan is beautiful, Latin-american look is charming, curly hair is blowing men away, such as straight hair is what makes your look perfect. Huhhh. Again. What a variety of choices to make myself unhappy, feel deprived, rejected, ignored, unwanted, being a short, slightly overweight, brunette with a naturally curly hair and extremely white skin. Right?
Be honest, women always want something else than they have, or at least a variety of choices to choose from. We change from short hair to long, color our dark hair to be lighter, and our blond hair to middle brown or reddish, we buy both hair-curlers and straighteners, and – where white skin is common – artificial suntan (since UVB has proven to be harmful for our skin). Some of us use colored contact lenses and also change the shape of our fingernails by implementing fake ones. Skin lightener creams are really not a surprise for me in this row…
What has been the purpose then? Gaining visibility at the start of a career, showing power by forcing a chemical giant to make a move? Who knows…. I hope she feels good about what she did, happy with the 15 minutes fame, because the negative consequences are inevitable and obvious for the majority of us. At least, I hope that common sense has not been dead so far, and thus the majority of the society is still capable of valuing things at their place, differentiating between provocation, manipulation and real issues that need solution.
I also hope that we will not waste our efforts and intellectual energy on such irrelevant, unnecessary and – be honest – minor things as a product label. That is only a product label.
Why do we seek fundamental principles, general, underlying wisdom, such as basic human values in the media? Especially in marketing campaigns and commercials?
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not against the media, not even against advertising, in general, as I know exactly that they have their places in the culture, like everything else. What I am strongly against is the exaggerations, manipulative actions, demagogy, arrogance and irresponsibility of those who use them for their own, individual purposes, those, who may be in the position to set positive examples of proportionality, balanced opinions, smart presentation of the reality, and humanity. Knowledge and talent mean power. Like so many other things. And it shall come together with the responsibility to use it for the right purposes. Whatever it means. The intention shall be clear and honest. Even if they come with mistakes or misunderstandings form time to time.
We are still fighting with a global pandemic, and scientists are concentrating their efforts to understand the nature of the virus and its impact on human bodies better, such as to find an effective vaccine against it. We have to face a severe economic recession, as a consequence, which may be detrimental for most of us. Imagine those living under the conditions of poor sanitation, overpopulation, lack of proper infrastructure and working opportunities, almost no access to proper medical care. We may need unified forces, social responsibility and cooperation more than ever, as we all are affected this way or that.
Questions may arise, based on the above: Is it really the most important to generate additional re-branding costs while governments spend taxpayers money on saving workplaces in private companies? Is it a responsible move from a well-situated young professional to come up with this initiation when social tension is anyway high due to the recent events? Is it really justifiable to seek personal visibility at the cost of a larger society?
No answer is necessary, of course. At least not publicly. We all have our own answers, and own conclusions. Mine is that I hope that common sense and basic human principles are still there, deep inside of us. Do find them and live accordingly. All other pieces will fall into their place.