Vaseline launches skin lightening Facebook application in India

Bottle of Vaseline lightening cream named 'Beautifully White'
Vaseline’s “Healthy White” Skin Lightening Cream

Skin lightening creams have been the rage in India for a while now. Even India Vogue’s attempt at embracing “color” diversity failed to show a woman with dark skin. Vaseline marketing on the growing trend of skin lightening has released an application that allows people to lighten their Facebook profile pictures.

Skincare group Vaseline has introduced a skin-lightening application for Facebook in India, enabling users to make their skin whiter in their profile pictures.

The download is designed to promote Vaseline’s range of skin-lightening creams for men, a huge and fast-growing market driven by fashion and a cultural preference for fairer skin.

The widget promises to “transform your face on Facebook with Vaseline Men” in a campaign fronted by Bollywood actor Shahid Kapur, who is depicted with his face divided into dark and fair halves.

Astounding. I don’t know what is more upsetting to me, that Vaseline would make this product or that India is so market-ready for it. Skin color is a very controversial issue in India and the desire for “fairer” skin dates back almost before colonization.

India is not the only country where skin lightening creams have become popular and the circulation of American advertising, movies, magazines and fashion has some impact on Indian desires for fairer skin. But it is not just Western influence alone, the multi-million dollar entertainment industry in India has independently held up white standards of beauty.

What is even more frightening is they have found a lot of these skin creams to have unknown health risks associated with them and they have been sold despite attempts at regulation. So shame on Vaseline for not only marketing off a disgusting, racist trend but also potentially harming its customers.

Related Posts: Indian Vogue takes on color prejudice
Colorism on the Rise
Sexist/Racist Ad Watch: Skin Whitening Edition

Join the Conversation

  • Brenna

    I find it interesting that in other countries, people with darker skin want to be lighter, but in America, white people with fair skin use dangerous methods of tanning to darken their skin. Why do we always have to want what we don’t have?

  • DeafBrownTrash

    UGH. This is so fucked up! When I was a kid growing up, I wanted to be white. Not anymore. I like being Indian and I love my brown skin.
    Is there a way we can boycott Vaseline and Facebook and demand they revoke this fucked up campaign? Indians have such a phobia of dark skin. I even heard one Desi chick saying that Aishwarya Rai was “ugly” and when I asked her why, she said Ash’s skin was too dark. WTF. She’s not even that brown!!! Bollywood keeps using pale-skinned Indian women and white European women. Dark skinned Indian women, who happen to represent the MAJORITY of women in India, are barely seen in Bolly-flicks.
    I was in India visiting my fam on April and I saw that atrocious TV commercial of Shaheed Kapoor using the skin lightening cream. I have a crush on him and the funny thing was, in the commercial, he looked VERY un-attractive with lightened skin.
    All skin colors are beautiful, including dark brown and black. STOP THE SPREAD OF COLORISM!!!

  • Nicole

    Who else finds it interesting that in India and Thailand, store shelves are stocked full of skin-whitener, and here in Canada and other predominantly Caucasian countries, the shelves are stocked with bronzer and self-tan sprays and tanning lotion?
    Don’t get me wrong, I know the two have different historical precedents for being defined as beauty standards; here in the Western North, us white folks idolize tanned skin because it’s a symbol of luxury. (We can afford vacations to the Caribbean where we lay around in the sun all day.) In countries like India, the beauty standard for fair skin has a racially-charged history with a much more problematic motivation.
    However, all this aside, I think this phenomenon illustrates probably better than anything else how socially constructed (and intensely commercialized) beauty standards are.

  • slytherhyme

    “Skincare group Vaseline has introduced a skin-lightening application for Facebook in India, enabling users to make their skin whiter in their profile pictures.”
    …Have they ever heard of photoshop? Coming from a South Asian culture (Bangladesh), we were always told that dark skin was unattractive. Whenever we visited Bangladesh, our skin would become darker as a result of the sun (it’s very hot there) and our relatives would bluntly comment on it in an offensive way. Glorification of white people as beautiful and gorgeous is a common thing there–which makes me very angry. In childhood I also had prejudices against my own skin color–I developed these notions as a result of the biases of my parents. However, being raised in America, I eventually realized how beautiful dark skin is (hence why so many white girls seek to darken their skin through tanning and other harmful mechanisms) and that being dark or light has little to do with beauty–for example, just because you are light-skinned does NOT guarantee that you are conventionally attractive by any means. There are so many other factors contributing to physical beauty, not to mention inner beauty. Taking care of your skin–whatever color it is–is enough.

  • Farhat

    Well, I am Indian (and live here) and Vaseline isn’t really doing anything new. Last time I got a passport photograph taken, the photographer lightened the skin so much I had to ask him to make it darker to look more like me. He seemed quite nonplussed that I asked him to stop lightening. Almost all Indian girl pics in Facebook or Orkut or what have you are lightened to some degree. Interestingly though, it goes back quite a while, Kamasutra explicitly warns against seducing dark women though I am not sure of the reasoning. The caste system could almost be based on skin color as far as North India is concerned, though it gets complicated in the South.

  • eleanargh

    Light skin is a symbol of luxury too. Pale skin is a sign of not having to go out and work in the sun. Some people argue that classism is more of a factor in preferences for lighter skin than racism, and has a longer history.

  • tec

    What about the people in the Western world who are being diagnosed with skin cancer because they’ve tried to attain darker skin? What about the tanning salons we have in every city? Isn’t that a bit more messed up than lotions being sold?
    I don’t think it’s fair to be so appalled by the market over in India for stocking the shelves with skin lightening agents, when here isn’t any better.
    I’m not saying that it’s ok to advertise a narrow and discriminatory perception of beauty, because obviously it leads to people feeling uncomfortable in their own skin, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal that there are some Indian women who want to apply lotion to lighten their skin. My mom, who is white, applies lotion to her legs to add some color to them and that doesn’t seem like a problem to me. I mean, I love getting a tan and I’m sure many others here do. I’ve used lotion before to try and darken my skin where my tanlines are. It’s not because I don’t like the way I am, I absolutely love my golden skin, it’s just that I also like the way I look when it’s a bit darker.
    I believe the images of beauty that we see should be a lot more diverse, and I am a firm supporter of leaving and loving your body in its natural state, or as close to it as you will comfortably get (as in I leave my hair natural and I don’t wear make-up, etc). But even if women of every color were advertised as beautiful, I don’t think that would stop people from wanting to get a tan or wanting to get a bit lighter, and that’s ok, that’s their choice.
    I don’t see any difference between getting a tan/buying skin lightening lotion and dyeing your hair, you know?

  • caeron

    Like eleanargh, I had heard that skin color in these cases were more about classism. The leisure class in the white world doesn’t have to work, so it goes outside to play, while those who do have to work stay inside. Hence tans imply wealth and power.
    It is the opposite in places like India where if you work you’re outside (and darker).
    Whatever is true, corporations are engines of profit, not social change. I don’t see Vaseline as being much different in trying to monetize twisted ideas of beauty than thousands of other companies.

  • dark_morgaine

    “I don’t see any difference between getting a tan/buying skin lightening lotion and dyeing your hair, you know?”
    In a perfect world, where all differences in physical appearance were seen as just part of the spectrum, and it were as simple to say, “I think I want to be white today” or “I want to be black today” as to say, “I’ll dye my hair blonde, brown, purple, today”, your argument would make sense.
    As things stand, where we live in a world still in the sway of colonial views, this is not the same. European, light-skinned people have been held as the ideal around the world where the colonization occurred as more attractive, smarter, stronger, more civilized than everyone else. We aren’t past these erroneous images yet. Those of us in the U.S. often forget that colonialism lasted way later than 1776.
    India and Pakistan (and later Bangladesh) were not made independent until 1947. Many African nations remained colonized well into the 20th century. Zimbabwe did not win independence until 1980, merely 20 years after several other African nations were formed as the colonial powers withdrew.
    And I don’t even need to go abroad. Here in the States, Native Americans are often portrayed by white actors, in addition to having been pushed onto reservations and every attempt made to either wipe them out or assimilate them.
    Colorism remains a huge problem globally, a legacy of the propaganda by the wealthy, predominantly white colonial powers.

  • chennaisara

    I don’t want to sound insensitive, but this is really nothing new.
    While the preference for fair skin may be reinforced now by Western images of beauty, its origins predate british colonialism by centuries.
    Vaseline is just one more company trying to take advantage of the Asian market; There are already dozens of whitening products on store shelves and have been for years. If there’s anything to be upset over, it’s that Dove has a line of skin lightening lotions.
    I don’t see anything productive comming of Western people getting upset. It’s seems to me to be another case of the “enlightened” feminists scorning “ignorant” women’s choices.

  • tec

    I get what you’re saying, but is it not possible that there are some freethinking women who just desire lighter skin like some women desire a different hair color?
    I live in the Western world. My skin is not white, my hair is not straight or blonde, my eyes are not blue. However, I would absolutely LOVE to have eyes that aren’t dark brown. I don’t want lighter eyes because of the pressure to be Caucasian, I want light eyes because they’d look amazing against my skin. (Noemie Lenoir, Tyra Banks!!! Not that I look like either of those women :P)
    What I’m getting at is that if us Western folks get all up in arms about skin-lightening lotion over in India, and say we were able to pull all of them off the shelves, isn’t that incredibly patronizing? Can you imagine if people living on the other side of the world suddenly found it horrific that we had tanning salons and bronzers over here and they started talking about how racist it was? And say they were able to have every tanning salon shut down and every bronzer discontinued? I’d be pretty offended.
    You can find some bad reason or pressure behind anything that has to do with “beauty”. Like any female with curly hair (especially us with a black parent or two) will tell you, I always wanted straight hair when I was younger. Finally I had my hair chemically straightened. Now, years later, I’ve accepted my curls and it pains me to see other little black girls with their hair straightened. I want to tell them that curls are beautiful, natural is beautiful. But at the same time I think it’s great that the resources are available for hair straightening and relaxing. Many grown women, who are aware of the pressure the media and society place on them, still decide that they want to get their hair straightened just for themselves. My mom, who naturally has big ringletty hair, just got hers straightened because it’s easier to handle. I’m just trying to show that yes there is probably a negative undertone behind most beauty practices, but that doesn’t mean it’s always at play.
    I just feel like this whole thing is portraying Indian women as if they don’t know any better.
    Sorry, I blab on and on and get off topic. I’m gonna wrap this up now!

  • ChoirGrrl

    Just a note – passport photos are always lightened to the extreme, no matter what the skin tone. I’m a very pale woman and when my passport photo was taken, I was almost the same color as the white wall in the background.