These skin-lightening commercials will infuriate you (and should shame India’s ad industry)

Whiter than white.
Whiter than white.
Image: Reuters/Arko Datta
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Advertisements for skin-whitening products in India may no longer be able to depict dark-skinned people as losers, unworthy of professional success or personal happiness. New guidelines by the county’s advertising sector watchdog might force the beauty companies to abandon such discriminatory portrayals.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released draft guidelines on its website that you can read and comment on here. Its concern over the ethics of lightening creams is hardly new, of course. Since 1978, when Unilever first launched Fair & Lovely cream, the fairness cream market has grown to a Rs3,000 crore ($500 million) industry.

A part of its popularity stems from marketing and ads like these. Here are five ads that might make you cringe—and wonder why it took the ad council so long to do something:

  1. Fair & Lovely can launch your million-dollar career:  A girl is derided for her skin colour at a job interview.  She returns with fairer skin and loads of confidence.
  2. Pond’s White Beauty can help you get you your dream man (who dumped you in the first place for being brown): In this mini-series, the girl (played by Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra) wins back the love of her life (played by actor Saif Ali Khan) by turning “pinkish-white.”
  3. Clean and Dry Intimate Wash can change your sex life: A brown vagina, the color of coffee, can ruin your sex life. Whiter privates will keep your man happy.
  4. Emami Fair and Handsome can make a man as desirable as Shah Rukh Khan: Why should girls have all the fun? Boys deserve dazzling whiteness too. This product promises to make men as appealing as Bollywood’s biggest superstar. The special dude-only cream saves darker men, who secretly used women’s fairness creams, the agony of emasculation.
  5. Nivea deodorant will give you whiter armpits. Why not just add more body parts women should feel insecure about? In this commercial, Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma floors her lover with beautiful and bright armpits.