Exposing and Boycotting Racist Ponds & Unilever

So many of you have been absolutely shocked over the "White Beauty" commercial from India that I shared in Wednesday's post about Sammy Sosa admitting he's bleaching his skin.

"White Beauty" is a bleaching cream made by Ponds, which is in turn owned by parent company Unilever.

The image on the left is currently featured on the Pond's India site, where they say, "Through extensive research conducted by the scientists at the Pond’s Institute, for various countries including India, we were able to discern that the ideal expression of a woman’s beauty is not just fair skin, but flawless fair skin – spotless and clear, free of blemishes and dark spots.

If I look at the pictures on their site, I'd discern that they believe the "ideal expression of a woman's beauty" is being free from dark skin, period.

The outrageously racist White Beauty bleaching cream commercial ads ran in India in 2008 (with similar ones for "Flawless White" in several other countries) and promoted the idea that if you bleach your skin you're going to finally be happy, beautiful, successful and loved.

In part two of this ad series -because they just HAD to make a five-part series about how a dark epidermis means the man of your dreams won't fall in love with you- the sad, dark girl gives in and decides to finally use White Beauty so she can get her man.

The scene where she opens the jar of White Beauty gives me the creeps. It plays a little like she's deciding to sell her soul to the devil:

Isn't it interesting how Ponds shows a commercial like this in India but doesn't do so in the United States? It's sad how Ponds markets this product but counts on us not being outraged, counts on us not caring about the perpetuation of racism in another part of the world. But how can any of us buy the products of a company that's deliberately enabling, promoting and profiting from culturally deep-seated racial self-hatred?

Would you buy Ponds products if they were doing this in your country? I hope not. So why buy them if they're doing this somewhere else? Why not boycott Ponds?

I don't buy any Ponds products right now anyway so that's not much of a stretch for me. However, I keep thinking about if I just boycott Ponds that's a bit like biting the tail of the snake instead of the head.

The snake-head of course is Unilever and they make everything. Here's some partial lists of Unilever products:

1) Food: Lipton products, SlimFast, Skippy peanut butter, Wish-Bone, Knorr products, Bertolli products, Ben & Jerry's AND my family's favorite, Breyer's ice cream.

2) Health and beauty products: Dove, Ponds, Vaseline, Q-tips, Axe, Caress, Degree, and Suave.

Ugh, this one completely kills me because I, and many other natural-haired ladies swear by Suave coconut conditioner for our hair. And I like my Vaseline Cocoa-Butter lotion and Dove deodorant a LOT.

So am I really going to boycott Breyer's ice cream, my Dove deodorant and Suave conditioner just because Unilever makes racist commercials and products in another part of the world?

Um, YES! I have to believe my voice and my dollars count, even if I'm only one person in a billion boycotting. And as a woman of color, a parent of children of color, and flat out as a member of the human race, I have to do more than say, "Tsk-tsk," about this.

If every single one of you joined me exposing and boycotting Ponds and/or Unilever products, and encouraged everyone you know to do so, we could make something happen.

I was reading about successful boycotts this morning on Ethical Consumer:
"Boycotts have a long and noble history of contributing to progressive social change, as well as succeeding in their more immediate goals.

One of the earliest examples was the boycott in England of sugar produced by slaves. In 1791, after Parliament refused to abolish slavery, thousands of pamphlets were printed encouraging the boycott. Sales of sugar dropped by between a third and a half. By contrast sales of Indian sugar, untainted by slavery, rose tenfold in two years. In an early example of fair trade, shops began selling sugar guaranteed to be have been produced by 'free men'."

If you don't think it can work in the present day, keep in mind that Wal-Mart is STILL trying to recover from the damage done to it's reputation after their shady business and employee practices were exposed and boycotts were called for.

We can use our combined social media influence to put pressure on Ponds/Unilever to stop making and promoting White Beauty.

Here's some ideas...

1) Write about Ponds and Unilever's White Beauty racism on your blog: The more people write about this product's existence on their blogs and post these advertisements, the more people are informed about what these companies are really doing. I'm sure a whole lot of people have no idea that Ponds/Unilever is marketing a product called White Beauty. Everybody needs to know.

2) Use Twitter to expose Ponds and Unilever's White Beauty racism: Companies care a LOT about what people say about them. Expose the product. Expose the advertisements. Challenge the idea that people need skin lighteners in the first place. Don't let racism be passed of as simply an individual beauty decision.

3) Complain to Ponds: Tell them you think the White Beauty product needs to be shut down. You can contact them here.

4) Complain to Unilever: Tell them what you think about them being the parent company of a brand that's promoting the idea that white skin is the most beautiful by filling out their contact form and complaining. Tell them they need to get rid of White Beauty.

5) Don't buy anything from Ponds or Unilever. This may be the most difficult one. Changing the products you purchase is not easy, especially when the reason to change seems so far away and huge corporations can seem so powerful. All I can say is do your best.

More and more I realize that we can't talk about the oneness of the human family if we don't back it up with action. Together we can show Ponds and Unilever that all skin tones are beautiful, not just white beauty.


Sarah Auerswald said…
This is so disgusting. What's especially crazy is that the girl in the video is so light-skinned to begin with. Like, what the - ?

I think we all need to love ourselves for who we are, and we also need to acknowledge that cosmetic companies are always going exploit us for those parts of ourselves we dislike...
Sarah Auerswald said…
Oh, and it's especially disappointing since their Dove brand does their "real beauty" campaign. This makes it all seem just like a cynical attempt to grab market share wherever they can get it.
Anonymous said…

Here via twitter (RT of a RT ... etc ;) )

You have some good points, just wanted to mention another possibility/add another perspective - while I don't agree with the adverts/video, it may not necessarily be trying to inspire racial self-hatred (admittedly I didn't watch the whole series of adverts).

Pale skin tends to be all the rage in asian countries (eg: go to Thailand, Malaysia, China, etc and it feels like every second ad on TV is for whitening/lightening cream) - not so much because they're saying white (caucasian) skin is superior, but because pale skin is traditionally associated with being wealthy (so I've been told anyway) - ie: in times of old, if you were wealthy, you could afford not to work (ie: farm), so you weren't outside in the sun and therefore didn't get tan ....?

Perhaps that's an oversimplification; agree the video in this case does seem to take it somewhat further, just saying that perhaps it's not so much racist as a case of cultural differences?

just my opinion anyway. enjoyed your post regardless and thank you for the links & food for thought.
nick said…
I would certainly boycott Unilever products if I used any of them but I don't, apart from a very old tub of Vaseline I've hardly touched. We don't even have Bertolli's olive oil, we get Sainsbury's own brand.

Jenny has a few Dove products, I must point out the White Beauty business which she's probably unaware of. An outrageous product and outrageous marketing. As Sarah says, like all capitalist companies they're just out to grab market share wherever they can. They don't care less if the products contradict each other.
pooneh said…
count me in on the boycott!
April said…
You should also contact Ben & Jerry's directly. They've projected an image of being committed to social causes from their inception. I'd be interested to see what they have to say about this.
Eve said…
Thanks for the links. I just emailed Ponds and Unilever to let them know I am officially boycotting their products. I can't believe this campaign is going on in the year 2009.
Liz Dwyer said…
The mixed messages to grab market share really are reprehensible. I guess real beauty isn't as important as "white beauty" in India. Ugh.

Evil Cackle,
Love that name!

I hear what you're saying about pale skin being associated with not having to work in a field/you're balling outta control and tossing cash around, but I don't know if our society really appreciates the impact of colonialism and centuries of being ruled by white people -- and how those white people used their "white beauty" as a justification for the dehumanization of entire groups of people. That does something to the psyche that's much deeper than what we probably realize.

This also to mind that classic saying about the difference between erotica and porn-- you know it when you see it. This is one of those instances where you know racism when you see it. It's pretty unambiguous in the marketing of this product. Even the name... not that anything's wrong with being white and beautiful but if you're in India, how about calling the product Indian Beauty? -- what am I saying? I don't think the product should even exist!

What'd Jenny say when you told her about this? I went shopping today to swap all my Unilever brand beauty products for other ones. They don't have my piece of market share here anymore till something changes.


That's a really excellent idea. I'm interested in hearing what they have to say -- as is my 8 year-old who was pretty upset that he couldn't get any Cherry Garcia today.

Thank you for doing so! I really think we can make a difference - Keep spreading the word.
Kari Carlson said…
Liz - I think Dove is one of the sponsors of the Oprah show. I just sent her producers an e-mail and said they should check out your blog. You could send them one too. At least she's had the Dove women on before. It might take a little more research - but I swear I see Dove mentioned at the end of the show a lot.
Anonymous said…
I think that there are many good points in this blog. I do think it is important to remember that here in the states, we buy plenty of products in order to darken our skin. I think much of this is a cultural difference. "evil-cackle" had mentioned this before. In Asia it is a sign of wealth if you are able to keep your skin pale and out of the sun. I lived in Asia for a while and whenever I would go on vacation and get a tan, my Chinese friends would be very upset with me. I like my skin tan, they like it pale.
I am not saying that I believe that skin-whitening is a good thing, but I do not think it is important to look at all sides of this issue.
I will also add that I do think the commercial that is posted is pretty horrible and a disappointment. I will still think twice about what products I buy.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for sending that email to them. I'll email them as well. Good looking out.

Sure, some people try to make themselves darker, they think a tan looks healthy or whatever. But if those tans became permanent and never faded, a whole LOT of people would stop getting them. Plus, no historical racial supremacy is associated with darker skin. I lived in Asia for awhile too, China specifically, and I saw how folks wore makeup that was too light to appear lighter. Again, I don't think we can underestimate how deep racism goes.
Koi Nahin said…
I saw the South Korean versions of these five part commercials. It's exactly the same (definitely came out first), only the people were (obviously) South Korean.

You want to know what the WORST part is about these commercials (aside from the fact that it's not new at all)? Each of the main "characters" in these ads is a famous Bollywood star (the man is "Saif Ali Khan", the current girlfriend is "Neha Dhupia" and the jilted lover is "Priyanka Chopra")! Indians tend to absolutely REVERE and in some cases literally WORSHIP their stars, so this is really, REALLY disturbing, but again, nothing new, sorry to say.

I used to believe that the obsession with white skin stemmed from the British colonial forces who brought their racist attitudes with them. Now I know better. Obviously, the British didn't help, but the problem comes from a caste and class issue. India's economy is, and has been, a largely agricultural one. For a developing country, that means labourers on the field in the really hot sun, with the landlords being inside for the most part.

Labourers = lower classes = usually people from lower castes. Opportunities for advancement for people who were in the higher castes.

Landlords = upper classes = *always* from the upper castes.

Hope that makes sense, and sorry for the really late, uber-long post!

Popular Posts