Facebook 'fair skin' application for India sparks row

Playing unfair
Last Updated 17 July 2010, 16:32 IST

The “Vaseline Men BE PREPARED” application, which promotes the company’s “whitening body lotion”  for men, shows users how their skin will get fairer if they use the lotion, by digitally lightening their profile pictures and removing dark spots. The lotion has actor Shahid Kapoor as its brand ambassador.

The campaign has evoked a big outcry on the network, with people posting angry messages on the Facebook page of the campaign.

Some users have accused the campaign of promoting racism and said this was possible only in India because of its people’s obsession with fair skin. A Facebook user, Erica Naylor, has commented on the page: “Transform your face... by whitening it? Ahh, racism.” Costa Rican designer Manuel Rocha says: “This is so stupid, but the people in India are even more!”

Ravikiran Marella, another Facebook user, alleged that it was a “racist application”.
“India has the biggest double standards. Imagine the horror and uproar if this was published by a Western country,” Marella says.

Another user of the networking site, Karthik Reddy, has admonished Kapoor for promoting the product, saying: “Freak you Shahid for endorsing this stupid product. You are a p***ck for doing so.”

The application is a new way of promoting the product in the Indian market that promises a fair skin for men.

Other products in the segment are promoted by stars like Shah Rukh Khan and John Abraham, with their critics saying these products are making people believe that those without fair skin cannot be successful in life.

Quite a few comments on the application’s page show how popular such products are, with some praising them.

However, the comment by one Subodh Diwakar probably captures the issue succinctly.
“It is insidious of them to take advantage and make profit out of a bias that unfortunately exists in Indian society. As a side effect of their campaign, many people are developing needless self-doubt and inferiority complex. I strongly condemn this ad campaign.”

Vaseline has defended the application, saying: “Much like self-tanning products in North America and Europe, skin-lightening products are culturally relevant in India.

In India, men use these products to lighten and even out their natural skin tone and to reduce the appearance of spots while protecting their skin from the sun.”

“The Facebook application was created for the Indian market as a culturally relevant and engaging way for Indian men to interact with this product,” it said.

Interestingly, Facebook says on the application page that “this application was not developed by Facebook”.

The social networking site also has pages created by users that are strongly critical of such fairness creams as well as their brand ambassadors.

(Published 17 July 2010, 16:32 IST)

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