I’m told that my grandfather didn’t like me much. I was a dark child by his standards. I don’t remember much of that, he passed away when I was very young. But I do recall neighbourhood women teasingly asking me the secret of my ‘darkness’ and my childhood mind conjured an explanation of my own: Because I applied dark mustard oil on my skin, my skin had gone dark.
Thankfully in the early 1980s, Himani hadn’t introduced their fairness massage oil for infants – Himani Healthy & Fair, else I would have been offered a ready alternative to my mustard oil.
The contemporary fairness story begins in 1975, a few years before I was born, and Hindustan Unilever’s Fair & Lovely in a few years became almost synonymous with fairness creams in India. Realising that the Fair & Lovely stranglehold over the skin-lightening business was tough to break, Emami instead attempted to break the market by introducing Fair & Handsome in 2005, a fairness cream for men (much of Fair & Lovely consumers were/are actually men, even though Hindustan Unilever positioned the product targeting women).
Fairness creams have always been a controversial product. The concept that the lightness of skin colour is directly proportional to beauty (and therefore subsequent success) is something that most sensible Indians disagree to. But such age-old prejudices have proven hard to shake off. Fairness creams continue to sell, even though their effectiveness is debatable.
Himani Sona Chandi Healthy & Fair had come to my notice almost a year ago, but it was only the day before that I happened to notice it again on the supermarket shelf.
I then tried to locate an advertisement for the product and posted it on Twitter.
Most reactions were that of shock, though some held a different view.
Fairness products have all the right to exist in the market and we also have all the right to question the prejudice that they propagate through their product promotions.
Wonder how Bhai (that’s what I called my grandfather) would have reacted to Himani Healthy & Fair.