Vaseline has launched a Facebook app in India that allows users to lighten or whiten their skin tone in their profile photos. The app promotes Vaseline’s skin-lightening creams for men and feature Bollywood actor Shahid Kapur, whose face is spliced in two, half dark, half light. When downloading the app, Facebook says “Try the Vaseline Men Be Prepared Application for a fairer and spotless profile picture.”
Oh, if only this were about removing “spots.”Men have become the latest market for skin lightening creams, beginning in 2005 with the Indian cosmetics company Emani. Western brands are selling creams to men to “transform your face,” as the Facebook app promotes, including Nivea, L’Oreal and Garnier. Women have long been the target customers for skin lightening creams, with the first one appearing for women arrived 32 years ago, also from Emani.
Skin lightening, also called skin bleaching, is an extremely troubling practice because people will risk their own safety with dangerous, un-regulated, off-brand creams. Did anyone see the episode of Jessica Simpson’s “The Price of Beauty” with the young woman who messed up her whole face by using skin lightening creams? (And then Jess gave her a makeover, of course.)
There are problematic racial aspects to skin lightening as well. Although standards of beauty certainly vary around the world, one could still make the argument that advertising and the mainstream media still promote “white” or “white-looking” as the ideal. (I am not knowledgeable enough to remark upon India’s history of colonization, but I would imagine this is a factor there.) Some individuals lighten their skin themselves with creams — we’re looking at you, Sammy Sosa and Michael Jackson! But others are lightened (some would say “whitened”) via photo magic. Both Freida Pinto and Beyoncé’s modeling photos for L’Oreal have been accused of being “whitened” — although the cosmetics giant, of course, denied it on both accounts.
So, Vaseline’s skin lightening Facebook app isn’t “new” news. But that does not make it any less sad.