“Transform your face on Facebook with Vaseline Men!”
That’s the slogan for Vaseline’s newest service, a Facebook application designed for Indian users that allows them to lighten the pigment in their profile photo.
The app was developed to promote Vaseline’s line of skin lightening creams for men by cashing in on India’s notorious preference for lighter skin tones.
The first skin lightening cream for women was introduced in India in the late ‘70s and the men’s cream, known as Fair & Handsome, followed in 2005.
Confirming this obsession with lighter tones, Shaadi.com, an online dating site in India, polled nearly 12,000 people in 2009 and asked what they look for when picking a partner. An overwhelming response showed that users considered a fair complexion to be the most important criteria in choosing a mate.
But India is not the only place where fair features seem to be favored. From Africa to Jamaica, London and back here in the United States, skin bleaching is a billion dollar business internationally, and seems to be a common practice among people with darker complexions.
And reports have speculated that skincare lines and fashion magazines engage in digital bleaching where computer technology is used to make a covergirl appear lighter than she actually is.
So what is this unnatural obsession about?
In a 2009 article, cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Anup Dhir told The Times of India that, “Indians are obsessed with fair skin because they acquired this legacy from the British era. As our rulers were fair skinned, we also run after fair complexion.”
Some believe that the cosmetic brands, themselves, are the driving force behind the phenomenon. By developing skin lightening creams and advertising them to a darker consumer, they are effectively broadcasting the notion that fairer skin is more desirable.
Perhaps the origin for such a notion is rooted in language. Take the word fair. It can be used both to describe a light pigmentation or as a synonym for ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’.
But whatever the root cause, Vaseline’s new Facebook app is sure to stir controversy.