Wednesday, 21 July 2010


I was at work yesterday and there was an event on by Unilever, dealing with stress and stress relieving products and solutions. Apparently they had a great time.

The synchronicity came via my email inbox, in the form of one of the weekly updates from Weekly

This past week, Vaseline launched a controversial Facebook application that encouraged users to lighten the appearance of their skin. The application was targeted at users in India, who were asked to upload their profile photos and whiten their faces.

This isn't the first time Unilever -- which owns Vaseline -- has used less-than-discreet attempts to market the virtues of white skin in India. Back in 2008, the multinational began hawking a skin-whitening product called "White Beauty."

The difference now is that by using Facebook, Unilever has the potential to reach its more than 500 million users around the world, and spread its racially charged message that white is beautiful.

The skin whitening industry has taken off across India and other Asian countries, and creams are sold on shelves in black neighbourhoods in the U.S. as well. The last thing we need is a tool on Facebook to extend this disturbing trend online.

While Unilever's application is offensive, it gives Facebook the opportunity to draw a line in the sand of what sort of applications it is willing to host, and what kind of values it hopes to advance. As the largest social network in the world, the company has an unprecedented opportunity to advance tolerance and understanding. Let's make sure it serves that purpose rather than serving as a platform for prejudice…”

I’ve long known of this practice, which I find both sad and quite unfathomable. Though I have no issue being of pale skin, I can’t see in anyway why it could be viewed as more attractive than a darker skin tone. Of course, the root of this in society is deep, if not, thankfully, universal. Yes, everyone is entitled to individual choice, so Unilever could argue they are merely serving a demand; but any reinforcement of the notion that fair skin equates with beauty, success and prosperity is not only farcical nonsense, it is insidious prejudice to the extreme.

One of their official lines is:

Vaseline Men BE PREPARED What kind of look should Shahid sport? Chocolate Boy or A Lean Brawn?

I’d laugh, if this wasn’t absolutely genuine, and therefore so truly offensive.

Other posts include:

Vaseline Men BE PREPARED doesn't transform you. It unleashes what is hidden under your skin. It helps in getting rid of 5 types of dark spots and patches and gives you a naturally clear looking skin.

…Make yourself more presentable by reducing the dark patches and spots on the face. VASELINE MEN is the solution to all these worries…

…See the dark spots vanishing and your skin tone getting fairer…

Aside from the very basic premise in this misguided belief of paler equalling better, and the huge psychological wrong in that, there are the long term side effects such as skin cancer, liver damage and kidney damage to consider.

Though Unilever may argue that their product is not physically harmful, which I would doubt, it still serves to perpetuate a myth that leads to people using poorly labelled under the counter products not knowing what dangers they are letting themselves in for.

These products are not make-up. They contain Hydroquinone and Mercury, to actively alter the melanin scattered within the basal layer of the skin. Hydroquinone is a severely toxic and very powerful chemical used in photo processing and the manufacture of rubber, and Mercury (in the form of Mercury Chloride & Ammoniated Mercury) is carcinogenic, that being a substance that tends to produce cancer.

Both products perform a similar process. In the short term they will initially cause the skin to lighten by inhibiting the production of melanin. Without melanin formation in the basal layer no brown pigmentation will be visible. Mercury will slowly accumulate within the skin cells striping the skin of it’s natural pigment leaving behind the tell tale signs of gray/ blue pigmentation in the folds of the skin. In the long term the chemical will damage vital organs and lead to liver and kidney failure and mercury poisoning. This is Sixteenth Century England all over again.

For many years beauty has been associated with being fair. Though of course it can be, many of us thankfully truly see beauty in all skin colour, though clearly there are still millions of people who feel that they must pursue ‘whiteness’, at whatever psychological or physical cost.

It would be wholly ignorant of me to talk of this simply from the perspective as a White Englishman, with no referral to The Hindu Caste System.

Hinduism’s primary emphasis is on a universal family, that we are all one. That in itself is quite wonderful. However, as is so often with religions, they become mastered and moulded by those who desire power, and in the case of India, this weakness lay, and remains so, in the caste system. We must understand this, and acknowledge that there is perhaps no other nation in the world that is as openly racially (namely, colour) prejudice as India. That it seems abhorrent to me that one would be viewed as ‘unclean’ because of darker skin, this still lies fundamentally embedded in the Hindu faith, and it is nigh on impossible to argue against another’s faith. Perhaps once, in simpler times many centuries ago, the caste system served a purpose for some good, but surely this is no longer the case, and yet ‘untouchability’ still remains in many forms. Democracy, equality, freedom and individual rights should belong to all.

Banning such products will not stop them. The only way we can make a positive impact on preventing this ‘disease’ from spreading is through continuous campaigns raising awareness via the media and governments. To shout out that all colours, all creeds are equal in their beauty.

And so to Unilever – that is a good way to truly start relieving stress.

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