The Tyee has posted duelling articles about the Dove Real Beauty campaign and parent company Unilever’s Fair and Lovely product campaign in India. It’s enlightening, literally and metaphorically.
How I Became a Dove Girl by Shannon Melnyk is about the empowering message of that Dove campaign, which I and many women I know love … though I’m reconsidering that position now:
It was in this moment I realized how necessary campaigns like this are. No matter how cynical we choose to be about the marriage of our market economy and social responsibility, the simplicity behind the hoo-ha is the more positive and balanced images we see in the media, the more our young girls have a fighting chance in the culture of over-sexualized youth, designer-label-driven peer groups, anorexic heroin chic, booby hooter-girl bar scenes and the cover-girl perfection that drips with the cruel message: “look like me and only then will your life will be perfect.”
This week’s rebuttal by Munisha Tumato, Real Beauty … If You’re White, is about the hypocrisy of a company that pats itself on the back for celebrating women’s “curvy parts and wrinkly parts and saggy parts” in its Dove ads while promoting skin whitening products as the way for Indian women to be respected and successful:
What’s more is that by claiming that a whitening cream can increase your chances of being happily married and financially successful, Fair and Lovely appeals to the most vulnerable (and usually the darkest) segment of the India population: poor and often uneducated women for whom a leg up, by any means necessary, is a highly desirable proposition.
This revelation of hypocrisy shouldn’t be much of a surprise, of course. Whatever aura of social responsiblity they want to reap from the Dove campaign, Unilever is a business, and marketing depends largely on cashing in on the target market’s vulnerabilities. In North America, Dove capitalizes on women’s preoccupation with beauty products while reaffirming the war cry that’s arisen over airbrushed superskinny models pushed in our faces, creating a campaign that sets them apart from their competitors. In India, Unilever capitalizes on a culture that values fair skin and owns the market on skin lightening products (that are not, by the way, anything more than a sun block) with their ubiquitous ads:
But Unilever can afford to be hypocritical. Skin lightening products are by far the most popular product in India’s $318 million skin care market. Fair and Lovely, meanwhile, commands over half of that.
The skin whitening business is so lucrative that several skin care companies have launched new whitening products targeted at Indian men. The most popular? Fair and Handsome, produced by Emami and advertised like Fair and Lovely: by telling brown men that fair women will only love them if they are fair themselves.
Great. Equal opportunity neuroses.