-By Deepa Ranganathan
His identity is defined by the colour of his skin: an unforgettable dark. He can’t get the right job, the right girl or the right confidence owing to the darkness of his skin. His self-esteem and he probably even feels emasculated.
Boom! Then enters the fairness cream, the religious usage of which, for six weeks, will guarantee a fair, glowing skin—the one thing required to get that right job in the office, to impress the ever-annoyed boss, to woo that one elusive girl in his life who suddenly begins to notice him thanks to his “fair” skin (pun intended).
No, this is not a fake, made-up story, but an actual narration of what the advertisements on these fairness creams for men portray in order to sell their product. Forget about the ads and the success level of these products; what is more interesting to note is this sudden growing obsession of men, particularly youths, with fairness cream products.
To say that fairness creams never ruled the market would be too naive and simplistic a conclusion. According to trade analysts, men’s fairness products are valued at Rs.30 million and constitutes 35 percent of the market for men’s beauty products. What has now emerged is an increasingly growing popularity among urban youth and the involvement of men in the market of fairness creams—a domain that was once restricted and meant exclusively for women. Traditionally, women have been expected to be physically appealing, which is closely linked to another booming market—marriage—and hence the need for such enhancing products. But gradually the marketing industry is noticing the sale and growth of fairness creams for men as well. According to a recent report, the men’s fairness products market is estimated at Rs.1.75 billion (nearly $40 million) and is growing at the rate of 25 percent annually, while the women’s fairness market is growing at 7 to 8 percent.
This raises some serious questions. Does the earlier notion of “tall, dark and handsome” no longer hold true, as far as “dark” is concerned? Why is there such an obsession with the need to look fair? Why is there an almost instinctive association of positivity and goodness with white and negativity and badness with black? What is this white-black dichotomy and how deep-rooted is it? The question thus raised is not whether such creams are useful or serve the purpose of lightening the colour of the skin, but whether men ought to be using things traditionally seen as feminine and how such products perpetuate colour discrimination.
Ads play on inferiority complex
A strong argument in favour of men using such creams is too obvious to be ignored: that it’s a matter of personal choice, that it complements the lifestyle of what is popularly termed as metrosexual. According to the definition provided by Merriam-Webster, metrosexual is “a usually urban heterosexual male given to enhancing his personal appearance by fastidious grooming, beauty treatments, and fashionable clothes.” But, the fact that the man is using a fairness cream and not just any other moisturizer, sun block or anti-aging cream speaks volumes about the inherent need to look fair, possibly arising out of a deep-rooted inferiority complex.
Coming back to the advertisement of the fairness creams, it is interesting to note that the ads, too, play on this inferiority complex. Going by what they show, the man is unconfident of his looks, talent, his real calibre and worth primarily because of the colour of his skin, which is dark. Thus, consequently, what the ad implies is that fair skin brings with itself not only better looks, but also confidence and success. Isn’t the ad derogatory to people with dark skin, as it categorizes them as a bunch of low, dull, rejected and pitiable souls? And we haven’t even spoken about looks here yet.
The central question that so emerges is: How fair is it to use a fairness cream, more so by a man? India and Sri Lanka have the biggest market when it comes to fairness cream products for men and women. In India alone, this market is worth a whopping Rs.7 billion. It is no wonder that the ads for these creams are coming up with innovative ideas like never before: a bit player getting the role of a lead actor, transformation from a rejected lover to a male heartthrob, getting employed at a top-notch company that chooses its employees by judging their confidence (which is suddenly upped by regularly applying the cream). The list goes on and on, while the obsession seems to be never-ending.
Link to the above article is here