If it wasn’t bad enough that Indian women are constantly being criticized by judgmental mother-in-laws, the media industry has concocted a brand new worry for us: the colour of our private parts.
Last time I checked, Nivea’s skin-lightening cream for underarms - promoted as “The Biggest Freedom Movement for Women”- was about as bad as it got. Even the multitude of hair removal creams available were treading a careful line. But a recent ad for Clean and Dry “intimate wash” launched on prime-time TV, promising women “protection, fairness and freshness” below the waistline, takes it to a whole new level. The ad depicts a young woman looking miserable and simultaneously wistful as she longs for a solution to her problem. Apparently Clean and Dry is what she’s been looking for, and post-use she’s all smiles, literally “brighter” down there, free now to frolic around with her man.
Advertising has always been about convincing people to buy things they don’t necessarily need (as Mad Men’s Don Draper so eloquently put it: “what you call love was invented by men like me to sell nylon socks”). For the most part advertising is relatively harmless if you take it with a pinch of salt. When celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan promote men’s skin-lightening creams (thank you Photoshop), you know you have to draw the line somewhere. But I think it’s been crossed here. Tapping into, and leeching onto the fear Indian women have of being ostracized because of their skin-colour, advertisers do what they do best: create a solution to an artificial problem.
The ad has received considerable media attention already with some critics commenting on India’s “fairness obsession”. Do we really need to be seen this way? How do we empower our women if they’re constantly being undermined by their own culture? Ads like this only serve to make them feel dirty and undesirable and for impressionable youngsters, can have lasting negative effects. For a country that’s progressed so much in some respects it’s appallingly lacking in others. And even the growing cosmetics for men industry can’t hope to compare to damaging ads like this. So much for equal standing; you only have to peruse the matrimonials section of the paper to see every man is looking for a “fairer” partner. Perversely, the same doesn’t apply in reverse. It’s a twisted statement of our society, and young women especially are susceptible, wrapped up in morbid age-old perceptions of what beauty should be.
Which begs the question: what’s next? What part of a woman’s body is still “fair game” as far as the media is concerned? You can’t fault the agencies for being out to make a quick buck- it’s a huge and lucrative market.
But for once advertising, take the high road.