Something really big just happened today: Unilever Pakistan issued a statement announcing that it will remove the word ‘fair’ from its flagship beauty brand Fair and Lovely and rebrand the product.
“We have moved the brand communication away from fairness towards glow which is a more holistic and inclusive measure of healthy skin,” Unilever Pakistan CEO Amir Paracha said.
“We are now committing to remove the word ‘Fair’ from the brand formerly known as ‘Fair & Lovely’. The new name will be announced soon,” he said.
We’re committed to a skin care portfolio that’s inclusive of all skin tones, celebrating the diversity of beauty. That’s why we’re removing the words ‘fairness’, ‘whitening’ & ‘lightening’ from products, and changing the Fair & Lovely brand name.https://t.co/W3tHn6dHqE
— Unilever #StaySafe (@Unilever) June 25, 2020
The company also stated that the rest of their skincare products will reflect the new vision of positive beauty as well. Unilever is not the only company to pivot away from an old strategy that no longer has social currency. Johnson & Johnson issued a statement on June 19 announcing the discontinuation of two of its products; Neutrogena Fine Fairness, sold in Asia and the Middle East; and Clean & Clear’s Clear Fairness, sold in India. “Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our dark spot reducer products represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone,” the company’s statement said.
The Unilever announcement has been appreciated and lauded by millions across the country. But it has also proven to be a victory for three women who made it their purpose to take on the tag line as a global debate started on colourism, especially given the recent BlackLivesMatter changes in the US.
Hira Hashmi, Anum Chandani and Marvi Ahmed started an online petition to ban Fair and Lovely on June 9. The women were motivated by the anti-blackness movement started in the US and across the world after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old man was “tortured to death” by a white police officer in Minneapolis. “Our aim is to be allies to people who are centuries-old victims of racism,” Ahmed told SAMAA Digital. “We, as Asians and South Asians, despite being victim to something less severe but similar, don’t support these people.”
The petition was addressed to Unilever International CEO Alan Jope. It demanded that the production and sale of the cream should be halted as it promotes colourism among people.
“This product has built upon, perpetuated and benefited from internalized racism and promotes anti-blackness sentiments amongst all its consumers,” the letter states.
“Fair and Lovely is a market leader when it comes to fairness creams with an 80% influence,” petitioner Hira Hashmi told SAMAA Digital. A former employee at Unilever for six years, she said that Unilever always prides itself for its diversity and inclusivity.
“Recently, the brand pledged more than a million US dollars (0.2% of Fair & Lovely’s revenue) to organisations and activists working for social justice and racial equality,” she said. It would not have made sense for the company to make such claims while still selling the cream.
Marvi Ahmed, another petitioner, said that with the brand was spending millions on the advertisement of the cream and using popular celebrities from all across the world to promote it.
“If a fair actor is coming on your television screen thrice a day and reiterating that fair is lovely, what do you expect people to believe?” added Anum Chandani, the third petitioner, while talking to SAMAA Digital. “We strongly advocate that in 2020, this hypocrisy can no longer go on.”
Fair&Lovely is a skin-lightening cosmetic product of Unilever India and was introduced in the market in 1975. The brand’s mission statement says: “Throughout its history, Fair & Lovely has inspired women to go for their dreams, even if they were at odds with what society expected them to do.”
A premium on being ‘fair’
Ban Fair & Lovely received more than 12,000 signatures from over 79 countries. According to the petitioners, they did not expect to cross the 10,000 threshold within just a few days. It is an online petition on change.org and can be signed here. Influential people such as writer Fatima Bhutto, award-winning actor Priyanka Bose and singer Meesha Shafi have come out in support. Fair& Lovely has been promoted by actors such as Mawra Hocane, Sajal Aly and recently Zara Noor Abbas.
“[While] growing up, I used to be very insecure about the colour of my skin and used to go out of my way to wear huge hats and get out of the sun so that I don’t get a tan,” said a supporter of the petition in an Instagram post. “The South-Asian community places a premium on being fair. It is messed up to make people feel inferior because of their skin colour.”
In Pakistan, even today, skin colour is a deal breaker for many marriage proposals for both men and women, job interviews and sometimes even social interactions.