Advertising Fairness Creams Will Now Attract A Penalty. It’s A Great Move But There Are So Many Loopholes That Can Be Exploited
There is one story my mother always tells at family functions and it is about the fateful day I was born with a full head (and body) of hair and covered in dark, flaky skin. The doctors assured her that I’ll be shedding this skin for a clearer complexion within a month. So the woman got to work massaging me with baby oils and caring for my poor skin, post which I emerged from the chrysalis with beautiful olive skin, matching her own, that put her fears to rest. I would still be dusky growing up and while my immediate family couldn’t be bothered, the people around me would give me colourful nicknames; which a child should never be subjected to. I was always referred to as ‘the darker one’ since my elder sister was born with very fair skin; some people “kidding” about me being adopted because of this skin tone.
My story is not uncommon in our country, in fact, it is the experience of every dusky woman born in this culture. Most of the time, the pressure comes from the family itself. Matrimonial ads seeking a ‘fair bride’ mixed with subtle ways young women are discriminated against for their skin tone, all contribute to this trend.
I was never chosen to be the flying angel in my school’s play and instead was stuck playing the villainous roles in Indian epics like Ramayana; because India’s obsession with fair skin goes so way back, that it’s not even traceable anymore.
For contemporary times, the mix of careful marketing and celebrity endorsements managed to keep this obsession alive. We still have major A-listers advertising these products and big companies earning millions from their sale. The solution for this social evil should come from the people but since it is difficult to change long-held ideas and values, the Government has decided to take a different route. A new amendment to Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954, aims at many companies claiming to “cure” superficial ailments, one of it being fairness creams.
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The bill proposes a fine of Rs 50 lakh and imprisonment up to five years for ads promoting pharmaceutical products for fairness of skin, deafness, improvement of height, hair-loss or greying, and obesity among others. According to Money Control, the docket includes, “any audio or visual publicity, representation, endorsement or pronouncement made by means of light, sound, smoke, gas, print, electronic media, internet or website and includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper, invoice, banner, poster or such other documents: Provided that label or wrapper is an advertisement only if it contains any information or claim other than provided in the rules.”
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While we do applaud this stand, we wonder how much real change it can bring about. As of September 2019, The Indian fairness cream market was worth about 450 million U.S. dollars. They also have sponsor backing, with major FMCG players making and distributing some kind of fairness products. People are not in a hurry to stop buying these products, even though they have physical side-effects like damaging skin because of the presence of bleaching agents and psychological ones of unyielding results. These companies can even find a loophole in the law (if passed) by listing their product as cosmetic and not pharmaceutical.
This move will also mean that is will spawn a bunch of ads for these creams in disguise. You know how Smirnoff would talk about cassettes and CDs? Yeah, you could never find those on the shelves because they didn’t exist. Or when we were sold Mcdowells water, which you also couldn’t buy anywhere? Yeah, we think they will find a loophole and exploit it. It’s only a matter of time.
Unfortunately, we have elevated expectations from our policymakers, companies, and advertisers. I mean, how is an advert of a woman having to lighten her vaginal region in order to be deserving of attention from her husband…in any way logical or appropriate. We call BS!