Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…
08-Jul-10 4 Comments
Some Asian women have cause to crinkle up their pretty noses. For the trusted mirror has turned out to be one heck of a fairweather friend. What is causing these cracks to appear? Well, it’s the fact that their menfolk are now asking the same question! We naturally assume the name Snow White to be belonging to the sex that’s conventionally and in literature referred to as the fairer sex. Not anymore. And it’s not some bunch of really white people living in the poles of this planet who are causing this paradigm to shift. It’s a tropical thing. The title of this post could very have been “Papa don’t Bleach”, but nothing like a fairy tale beginning to the end note that fairness creams are creeping into locker rooms. So that’s all in this post – still read on if you must. If you a guy, read ahead only if your mirror isn’t cracked and if you are a lady, read on to size up your new competition!
The craze to become fairer is catching on fast in certain parts of the world and cosmetic marketers have been busy biting their fair share of the male pancake. I read somewhere that Indian men (some of them) as also their Japanese and Korean counterparts are squeezing fairness cream tubes in a collective frenzy. Japanese and Korean as well? I am not exaggerating, but to be fair I think I am getting too old and there’s an ever widening generation gap. Check out this video from YouTube which represents a random pick out of a bunch of home videos made by young strapping Indian men extolling the virtues of fairness creams. There are other such amateur flicks as well. If you are so inclined…
The company that played Pied Piper to legions of our sub-continent rats was Emami. Not great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats as per the first line describing the rodent diversity of Hamelin. But more like the second: brown rats, black rats, grey rats and tawny rats. All following the modern Indian male dream of becoming fairer. In the early 2000s, Emami Industries carried out a survey based on a gender bender premise. The survey results must have come out on expected lines, for in 2005, Emami got our brothers and nephews and uncles out of the closet when “Fair and Handsome” was launched. This was followed by Fair and Lovely Menz Acitve by Hindustan Unilever. Lux’s 75 year old female bastion had to fall as the King Khan forcibly took that position as well when he took the plunge – into a bathtub filled with rose petals and the women receeding into the background. I think they were needed in the picture to make it look hetero. Emami’s contemporary ad during that bashful time was all about a guy sneaking into a girls’ hostel to steal a tube of fairness cream. He is caught and chastised by his friend who advises him to hoist his sail only when the wind is fair. Stealing into and from the dames’ dorm was no fair play. Our hero (ha ha ha) is advised to go and get his own tube of fairness goo. Finally, in an interview with NDTV, the Khan laid all speculation to rest when he declared that he was neither fair nor handsome. Rich and smart – oh yes, but those options were not given I guess. The print ads (and even the later television ones) posed this seemingly rhetorical question: “Hey man, are you using lipstick?” Followed by a revealing riposte: “Then why are you using fairness cream for females?”
I can very well see where this is going: “Hey man, are you wearing skirts? Then why are you using lipgloss meant for women?” yeeesh. A very disturbing (to me) survey got published by Gillete (in 2004, I think I read) which concluded that the average Indian male spent 20 minutes in front of the mirror as compared to 18 minutes for Indian women. I can live with that given that guys usually do not carry compacts and that shaving must be consuming a largish chunk of that 20 minutes. But I wouldn’t want to be in King Gillete’s camp repeating the survey on today’s Gen X, Y, XY, Z….whatever. Times have really changed and it seems that callous people like me are still in the dark. So as usual, I trawled a quick trawl on the net to catch up and get a fair crack of the whip. I eavesdropped:
To a poser regarding which is the best fairness cream for men on an internet discussion board:
“(a woman says) My husband uses Fair and Lovely Men’s Active and he says that it is effective”
“(a man says) For 1 month use Melacare by Ajanta (at night during sleep). Use Melalight by Nicholas – at day timing after 15 minutes. Use Photoban sunscreen (Note: do not expose yourself to the Sun by using this sunscreen. wait for 1/2 hours then go outside no problem). After one month please do not use these cream. Then use 1 Melaglow by Nicholas at Night and daytime use Photoban sunscreen. For better result use Bright Night (at night time (on alternate days)) and wash it after 1/2 hours and use Melaglow. thats it you will get fairer skin”
I rest my case. BTW, I was wondering who is this Nicholas by Night fellow? If he uses his own medicine he must be glowing like a firefly in the night, no?
Whatever happened to tall, dark and the handsome (TDH)? It’s a western concept. At one level, it seems to be a case of the serpent chasing its own tail – Asians want to be whiter while the Westerners keep flocking to tanning stations to become TDH. Therefore here in Asia, TDH seems to have gotten changed to fair and handsome! Cutural cleft or a flaky fad? Culturally, fair skin seems to be associated with positive notions of class, lifestlye and beauty. In India, the upper priestly castes (Brahmins) were given the task of studing the scriptures while the lower castes toiled under the hot searing sun. I don’t think this has got to do with the English fascination that Indians still have – I think it’s got to do with the Aryans and/or the Turks and Muslims that invaded the dark land and established control. Color easily identified the servant from the master. Since in Hindu mythology, the gods were dark. Rama & Krishna – i.e. Vishnu were dark and so was Shiva. Check out the brilliant comic post on the brilliant blog Fly, You Fools on this phenomenon. I’ve lifted the image on the right from there.
Companies have cashed in to this phenomenon. Recova, Garnier, Avon (VIP Fairness Cream), Fair Ever, Shahnaaz Hussain’s Fair One, Nivea’s Whitening Moisturizer & Multi-White Whitening Facial Foam, Vaseline are some of the brands and companies active in this industry which was @ 25% of Rs. 800 crores (men’s products pack in only a quarter of the Indian fairness pancake yet) but the slice of the manly pie is growing @ 20% per annum over the last 4 – 5 years (according to ORG – MARG). There was some news of even Wipro planning to enter the mens’ grooming market. Actually their FMCG unit (Santoor et al) – but some “soft”ware this must be! Even Clarins and Shiseido are offering their wares to Indian men. Thank God, the’ve left the kids out of this for now – else you’d have had a very wholesome family experience shopping at the Mac cosmetics store in a mall near you. Despite the fact that some of the confusing ads - like Unilever’s logically puzling promise of “Gorepan se Kahin jyada saaf gorapan“ - I like these companies, they are making their shareholders richer – whether some of them want to be fairer as well, is besides the point. I’ve myself creamed off a bit from the Emami counter in the past…I am strictly referring to the moolah here, not the loofah.
But a reality check is in order. It’s a myth that fairness creams can make you fair. Skin whitening creams are effective only if your pigment (which gives your skin the colour which your parents gave you) is in the epidermis – i.e. if your beauty is skin deep. If it unfortunately is not, then this alabaster ambition will remain an albatross. Thus, fairness creams can help remove a tan or discoloration in the top layer of the skin - they cannot make a dark person fair. And speaking of inheritance, if you cross a dark person with a fairer one, the resulting offspring is statistically more likely to be dark. This is simply because nature seems to make a better choice – and unfortunately does not look at ads appearing on television.