2 + 2 = 5

// 14 November 2010

How’s about this advertisement from Malaysia for a bit of obnoxious, cynical doublethink? (Hat tip: twostoreys)

For those who can’t watch the video, it shows a series of smiling women dancing, while music plays, accompanied by the following voiceover:

Brown and beautiful. Yellow and beautiful. Black and beautiful. White and beautiful. Dark brown and beautiful. Light brown and beautful. Brown mixed with yellow and beautiful. We think women of all colours are beautiful. But if you’d like to try to be a little fairer, you can’t do better than Fair & Beautiful.

The product in question is one of those skin lightening creams used by many non-white women in pursuit of a heavily racialised and colonialist beauty ideal. According to the NHS, many such creams are also great if you need more in the way of high-dose steroids and bleaching agents, to give you that little bit of je ne sais quoi which only permanent skin damage can provide.

The makers of this advertisement are clearly aware of the many criticisms that have been levelled against these products. Their solution? To give lip service to the idea that all skin colours are equal, while in substance their product profits off the back of the idea that some are more equal than others. And that those of us who are inferior need to Buy More Stuff to make up for it.

The whole business is made even more hamfisted by the bafflingly detailed emphasis on gradations of skin colour that are – to put it charitably – minute. As a friend of mine commented:

Also the discrete categorisation of “black”, “brown”, “dark brown”, “brown with yellow” is really disturbing. Ethnic identity is not like mixing crayon colours.

What a load of rubbish.

Comments From You

Kate // Posted 14 November 2010 at 2:10 pm

This is appalling. It really annoys me that we are never supposed to be content with our skin colour. Women with darker skin are always supposed to want to have fairer skin and women with fairer skin (like me) are supposed to want to have darker skin (in the form of a tan).

On that note, there was a great performance poet, Hollie McNish, on Woman’s Hour last Thursday. She performed a poem which dealt with this very topic.

Does this link work? http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vrxjs#synopsis

Meryl // Posted 14 November 2010 at 2:19 pm

Oh, pass the bucket. Or just the bin will do.

They can’t pretend like it’s just some sort of post-racial cosmetic choice like dying your hair. They particularly can’t because the preference for whiteness is right there in the title: “fair” traditionally means both “pale”/”blonde” and also “beautiful”, intrinsically linking the two, right?

nell // Posted 14 November 2010 at 3:07 pm

]I hate that as a black girl this is something that i have gotten used to. Even in Africa the lighter you are the more beautiful people think you are. my little sister who is just twelve deals with this because she is darker than me and my other siblings, i have found bleaching creams in her bedroom on a number of occasions and after confronting her she broke down and told me how unattractive she feels. i have always been content with my skin colour but it angers me that girls my age who are slightly lighter will always be considered more attractive. Black men do not have to deal with this as much as black women and most of the time they are the ones making horrible remarks on dark women. once i watched a youtube clip on some rapper saying the most derogatory remarks on dark skinned women. he said that he will never sleep with a woman who is darker than him (he is a very light skinned mixed race whose mother is a dark skinned black woman) because they are just so unattractive.

This self hatred has to stop

Mica // Posted 14 November 2010 at 3:17 pm

It is ridiculous. Non-white people are damaging their skin to look fairer when white people are risking skin damage and skin cancer trying to get tans. I know that companies would sell shit if they thought that it would be profitable but would it hurt them to take into account the damage they cause when they advertise and sell things like this?

Gennie // Posted 14 November 2010 at 3:41 pm

Ha, this reminds me of when I was living in Thailand: I saw an advert for Dove’s skin lightening cream – the same ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ Dove. What a joke

Gemma // Posted 14 November 2010 at 5:39 pm

This is a newbie question but what does colonialist mean?

Jolene Tan // Posted 14 November 2010 at 7:45 pm


Here’s a starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonialism

clarice // Posted 15 November 2010 at 3:42 pm

In my opinion this is reality.If you want people to buy what your selling, you’ve got to be good in making them believe that it is what they need and it’s effective.It’s marketing strategy.But the sad reality on the other hand, was that people are made to believe that they are not good enough with just being themselves.Maybe that is why these products are being patronized by many people.

In this case, what do you think should be done to address this ‘brainwashing’ if I may call it?

Manda // Posted 15 November 2010 at 4:45 pm

Clarice, what can we do to address this ‘brainwashing’? Well, continue fighting racism and sexism and try to have widespread education and awareness of these issues, so that people (girls and women in particular) will have a stronger self-image and therefore be unwilling to be manipulated like this and made to feel ‘not good enough’.

All that will of course take a l-o-n-g time! So what we could do now? Tomorrow? Launch a campaign against it, maybe urging people to boycott these products and not buy into this insidious rubbish, I guess. Posts like Jolene’s are great. But MUCH more publicity is needed. As much as Dove uses to market this stuff. And that takes money most of us haven’t got.

clarice // Posted 16 November 2010 at 4:22 am

@Manda: I have to agree that proper education and awareness is needed. And it would really need a great deal of time before this could happen.A campaign would be good but it takes a lot of persuasion and money to be able to organize this kind of event.

On that note, what if we are the ones who are marketing this kind of product, what do you think is the best way to market it, in such a way that we are not promoting, and advocating racial discrimination? And more importantly, we are promoting a strong self-image of individuals of themselves?

(just a thought that we should be able to reflect upon ourselves.)

Naoki // Posted 16 November 2010 at 9:01 am

Why do people try to get their skin color lighter? I don’t know why some companies are selling those skin lightening creams to the people. Do people really think that the lighter skin is better? If so, some people might just believe the biased ad, and they might forget their true beauty. I think the authenticity is very important because the color they have is what they have, and the companies wouldn’t have those products for their profit.

Jolene Tan // Posted 16 November 2010 at 3:00 pm


I do not consider it important that the product continues to be sold. If we take out the racism, misogyny, consumerism and classism that fuel the marketing for this product and it turns out there is no way then to sell it, I am not going to cry myself to sleep over some cosmetics firm’s lost profits. Maybe they can turn their energies to something of actual use to humanity instead.

Hollie McNish // Posted 6 December 2010 at 8:27 pm

I made a video about exactly this, it’s so awful: see what you think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ_pKXoevK4

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