Dark Is Beautiful – campaign against skin color discrimination

New Rules for Fairness Creams Fight Discrimination

Fairness products: 0
Indians of every shade between dusky and ivory: 1

Ads for fairness creams have long been teaching us that glowing, white skin will bring high-powered jobs, fame and the adoration of many, and even that special someone.

Unilever thinks Priyanka Chopra is too dark? Let’s hope that’s the last time we see an elaborate love story about charming a shallow man with newly radiant, pinkish white glow.

Good news: The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) recently issued new guidelines for skin lightening products in a move to fight longstanding prejudice against dark skin. The new rules aim to reinforce an existing anti-discrimination mandate that says “advertisements should not deride race, caste, color, creed, or nationality” (ASCI code, Chapter III 1b). Singling out the Rs. 3,036 crore fairness products industry, ASCI now specifies that advertisements should not portray dark skin as less desirable or less attractive.

Advertising should not communicate any discrimination as a result of skin colour. These ads should not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour. Specifically, advertising should not directly or implicitly show people with darker skin, in a way which is widely seen as, unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned. These ads should not portray people with darker skin, in a way which is widely seen as, at a disadvantage of any kind, or inferior, or unsuccessful in any aspect of life particularly in relation to being attractive to the opposite sex, matrimony, job placement, promotions and other prospects.

Advertising should not associate darker or lighter colour skin with any particular socio-economic strata, caste, community, religion, profession or ethnicity.

Read the full memo Guidelines for skin lightening and fairness products

Will ad agencies find loopholes? Most likely. Still, I am optimistic. While these guidelines won’t ban ads for fairness creams altogether, pressure to change the common portrayal of dark skin as inferior is an important step. The media didn’t create India’s obsession with fair skin. However, media certainly has played a huge role in perpetuating it, which means they are also in a unique position to influence us away from this deep-rooted bias. That ASCI passed these rules is no small victory; rather, it’s a great opportunity to create a society that celebrates diversity instead of equating fairness with beauty.

Are you ready to take part in the movement to celebrate beauty in all colours? Here are just a few ways to get involved:

  • When you see an ad that is discriminatory and goes against the above regulations, file a complaint with ASCI. You can do so via the online form, an email to contact@ascionline.org, phone call (+91 22 2351 3982 or toll free 1-800-22-2724(ASCI)), or by post. Learn more at ASCI Online.
  • Join the Mumbai chapter of the Dark Is Beautiful campaign by sending a note to disbcampaign@gmail.com and following their social media feed for updates on upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.
  • Share your personal experience with discrimination and small steps you’ve taken against it, whether it was by engaging family in a constructive dialogue, speaking up in your community, or something else. Contact Badal ja!—this space exists precisely to share your stories.

Further Reading