December 12, 2007

Not Fair, Nor Lovely

There is an ad currently running for Fair & Lovely that infuriates me to no end. For those of you in the west, you may have never heard of this face cream manufactured by Unilever, targeted towards Middle Eastern and South East Asian women. It is touted as a fairness cream and their newest slogan is "Say yes to Life!" As in, "If you have brown skin, you have no life".

I wonder what a young girl with what is a normal skin tone for this region, brown skin, feels when these ads belittle anyone with a less than fair complexion. Other adverts depict young women interviewing for various jobs, being turned down for their dark skin tone. Then when they re-apply for the same position after using Fair & Lovely, they are praised and hired on the spot. Are you seething yet? They prey on the insecurities of young girls and women by blatantly mocking the model, who by the way is made tan with make-up and then is magically white and all is right with the world.

I know that the idea of fairness being lovely comes from the way that people of affluence were indoors, not working in the sun. Also part of it comes from the obsession people have with foreigners here. If someone has some Turkish blood, that makes them more European, therefore more white. I know some men specify they want a fair bride so they can breed fair children. It's revolting. On the other side of the spectrum, the west, America in particular, is obsessed with tanning and worship the sun, or tanning bed, or tanning spray.

What do you think about these creams? Ever tried them? Why do you think they sell so well here? Opinions, people, I want 'em.

(Note about the image above, It's obviously a book cover and models, Kiara Kabakuri and Amber Valetta are in a dual composite image which represents the disintegration of racial lines. I love Aucoin's books and thought this photo was appropriate here.)


  1. Unique Muslimah12:16 AM

    I feel strongly about this issue, I'm glad you wrote about it. Whenever I watch the arabic adverts of fair and lovely I cringe, like you said, does it mean if you're brown then you have no life? Like a lady doesn't get a date because she's brown, but as soon as she uses fair and lovely, yay she gets her date! Or a girl doesn't get a job coz she's brown (what happened to equal opportunities?), but as soon as she uses fair and lovely she's saved!

    I think it really is sending out crippling messages to the masses of women who watch these adverts. It's subtly conditioning us to believe that whiter is better. I don't believe this at all!

    I remember trying fair and lovely a long time ago when I was sunburnt and reduced to looking like a red crab. I didn't want to be red so I used the cream, which didn't work anyway, lol! People should be careful before using these creams, as they can be allergic to it.

    Lovely post sis!

  2. Thanks for the comment Unique, I'm afraid it isn't subtle conditioning at all, but just flat out saying, you better be white if you want to go anywhere in life.

  3. I have had these thoughts since I moved overseas. Now that I work in a school with all arab women, except me, I see how they have been really brainwashed. It is NOTHING for them to say I dont know how she married so and so ...she is sooooo dark......or the girl has a pretty face but shes so dark she wont get a husband......WTH
    I si tthere thinking.......uhmmm im darker than all of you...wonder whats in your heads about me!! :0
    It is hard to buy and face products without reading the box carefully cause most things have some type of bleaching cream in it..
    I grew up in a family of all light skinned women. I will aslo say that in the states we may not bleach our skin .....much.....cause i do see the products so someone is useing them..but we have the same mentality.. we tend to favor the lights skinned person...this is not just a problem for Arabs
    Alhumduillah now I have come to love, love , love the color of my skin..DARK BROWN!!!i only hope that inshaallah the women in this region will one day do the same.

  4. Salam, Livinlifeandlovingit, Yea, it's not even taboo to talk about it. People think nothing of commenting on skin color and equating it with beauty or goodness. Thanks for visiting!

  5. being whiter than pale I know what color does, always used self-tanner all over and getting orange - I hate those 'get a life'-commercials, and it's sad to see. Especially when all those young girls have that wonderfulle beautifull color and then they are made to want to be pale; but one always want what others have

  6. zqo, I hate it when on makeover shows in the west, they make fun of people who are pale and say, "you need a tan" It's just as insulting on the other end, I'm sure.

  7. I think women from African and Asian countries have it worse because their skin is dark.

    There is a beautiful saying in Egypt:

    Il samar noss il gamal

    But how our actions so contradict that!

  8. Salaam Alaikum,

    Where I live the streets are full of tanning shops, because despite the risks of skin cancer and premature ageing, women are desperate for that 'golden glow'. It's so sad that people are made to feel dangerously unhappy with themselves.

  9. AsSalamu 'alaykum Sister,

    Firstly Belated 'Eid Mubarak : ).
    I'm pretty late getting here but this really annoys me as well so I just had to put a word in.

    I'm from West Africa and I assure you that we have very similar (if not worse!) adverts back home for Fair&Lovely products, Clear Essence and the like. Comments such as "she's dark but pretty" or the reverse are so common. People talk about how "Black is beautiful", African Pride and all that but when it comes down to it light-skinned is viewed as better than dark. There are even well-known jokes that mock darker skin.

    Ya Allah!

  10. Anonymous9:59 PM

    Dear Mona,

    I am so glad you wrote about this...I hate those ads...they are so revolting to me and insulting! No one should ever feel that their skin color determines what kind of life they should have...Allah made us all beautiful in an array of skin shades that make each of us unique and special...Who the hell wants to be fair just to look like something they arent anyway? I hate that...I just happened to have slightly lighter skin than my 2 beautiful daughters and the society tells them they should look a certain way, that disturbs me...I teach my daughters to love the skin they are in and that they are beautiful...unfortuneatly media plays a role and sometimes the younger one says " I want to be white" like so and so... Which gets us to talking all about it....I dont want us growing up where they here messages from stupid creme ads that confirm this nonsense! What I dont believe is that it is so acceptable to air that junk...any way , more women need to speak out about that...You dont see no Fair n lovely creme for men do you? Hmmmm....

  11. Thanks for your comments a. & Eman. It's really a huge problem on this side of the world all together. I pray for the day when value isn't placed on skin tone but on character.

  12. no one is ever happy with themselves, if their hair is curly they want straight, if their hair is straight they want curly.

    If you're tan you want to be fair, if you're fair you want to be tan. Its human nature to be dissatisfied with ourselves in some way, I don't know why.

    I know my husband is constantly belittled by his family and by himself as well for being as dark as he is. He is incredibly insecure about it, but I love his color as much as I'm apathetic about mine (ghostly pale). I never necessarily wanted to be any tanner than I am (I can't tan so its futile anyway) but I personally find people with darker skin tones to be more beautiful, hence me marrying my husband. He finds very white skin to be beautiful hence him marrying me. Its a match made in heaven so to speak.

    If I had ever cared about what my culture says about skin tone I would have had an issue. I can't tan therefore I can't be a golden goddess. I'm also not blonde. Strike two. I'm also not busty. Strike three I'm out.

    And I really don't care much.

    Maybe I don't care much about my own culture because I am such a rockstar in my husband's. Which is entirely true, and possibly says a lot about me :-S ... oy. I fully realize I'm considered beautiful in Egypt because of my fair skin and light blue eyes and I basked (slightly) in the attention when I was there. It gives you a boost of self-esteem. I guess if it were the other way around I would have more of a problem.

    And that makes me sound incredibly self-centered.

    I do know that I have an issue with the racism, which I guess could be an offshoot of the skin-tone issue. My husband's best friend wants me to find him a convert wife, but when I mention any of the wonderful African-American converts I know he's not interested.

    That makes me mad.

    Its such a complicated issue.

  13. Molly, I love your outlook.

    I know! about the disinterest in AA converts. I tend to think brothers look or ask for converts basicly because they want a white girl. Middle Eastern culture puts value on fairness so that's what is desirable. I guess everyone wants what is exotic to them.

  14. Also need to make another point

    my husband is obsessed with us having a blonde-haired blue-eyed baby. Which genetically is impossible between us (blonde at least) although blue eyes are possibly an option.

    My worry is that if we have 3 girls and only one of them ends up with blue eyes, is he going to favor her over the others?

    Methinks yes, and that bothers me.

    a lot.


  15. Molly, I love your honesty. Blonde is always in here. If they only knew half the blonds in America come from a bottle! I don't know your husband of course, but I don't think he will favor anyone. I have 4 kids a boy and 3 girls. They don't all have the exact same skin tone, no one is favored (at least by my husband) even though my husband and his family and all of Egypt differentiates between light, to yellowish light, to wheat color to tan to black.

  16. Anonymous4:29 AM

    This is so trueand so wrong.

  17. Just now seeing this - wow. Too sad that image plays such a strong part in life. I'm white - well, tanned because I darken easy in the sun - and WHO CARES? Who should care? I was raised to be accepting. I had never heard of skin bleaching. I have lost African-American friends because THEIR peers gave them crap for hanging out with me - trying to be too white.. wth? .. it's not contagious. But anyway, bleaching? Not 'til I was an adult. One day I went to the pool with a Greek-origin friend - she was beautiful, she was SMART, and successful - her skin was actually rather fair - lighter than my natural color! She had this funny change in color around her neck... meaning, she'd been bleaching her face, but not much past her neck. She told me she bleached. I was absolutely aghast. Shocked at the concept. I tried to accept her need to do this to herself, but despite myself, I REALLY lost a lot of respect for her, and eventually her friendship. Yes, I should have been stronger, but I was blown away. Years and years later, I still am. I see those bleaching products and am as amazed as if they were ads for bloodletting tools, snake-oil magic potions, or something equally archaic.

  18. Wow Connie, it just really saddens me that women all over the world go to such ridiculous measures to meet the current standard of wherever they live.

  19. I'm from Canada and I've only ever heard about this sort of ridiculousness about skin colour. Aren't all women beautiful? The whole concept that someone's beauty hinges on their skin colour seems like caveman mutterings. Hasn't mankind learned anything?

  20. Sapphirefly, I agree, it's a real shame people can't open their minds to different ideas. Some here see a plain white girl with blonde hair more beautiful than a stunning brown girl only because of coloring.

  21. Anonymous11:07 AM

    visting your blog as a newbie. Lovely and put a smile on my face. Had to put my two cents in. You are right on about this. I am the darker of my sisters and would hear nonsense all the time- constant comparisons. Thank Allah for my parents who instilled enough self esteem in us and not let it become an issue.

    Sad part is now I see in my kids- 2 kids are darker 2 are 'lighter' and they know it cuz history repeats itself - It heartbreaking when extended family draw their attention to it and they get the feeling that they are loved less by some because of their skin color.

    I always give them Hadhrat Bilal's example- he will escort the Prophet's ride SAW in to Jannah cause Allah love our actions not the color of our skin.

  22. Lordsfavor, That's just sad that people point that out. I know people like that as well and it's really obvious to the kids. Good for you for setting them straight.

  23. A totally twisted flip side to this issue..

    I am american of serbain decent. When I was born, the doctors were ready to declare me albino (complete lack of color) until I opened my tiny eyes are they were a very pale blue (and not pink).

    Through most of my life, I could not tan.. only turn bright red and peel horribly. I finally accepted my paleness, and decided to feel good about it, and quit trying to be darker in any way, and to protect my skin. I came to feel good about it.. and enjoyed my pale skin, and its contrast.

    THEN.. I came to egypt. I have seen the fair and lovely commercials, and find them disgusting. Its the same claptrap I was exposed to as a child, in reverse. But you know what happened to me on arrival? I was told repeatedly to get a TAN by egyptians! That I was too pale.. too white.

    In my time here, I have found that the egyptian sun is kinder to my skin that anywhere else I have lived in the world, and have finally picked up some color, but I did not TRY to do this. I still refuse to abuse my skin that way.

    Somehow, everywhere you go, its not just the person themselves who seems to want to be the opposite of what they are.. but those around you too.

    I am stubborn.. I accept me the way I am.. and they can too.

  24. It's a strange thing really, everyone thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.


Thanks for commenting!