Fair and Lovely (Not)

Where I live in Oregon people go to tanning salons and expose their skins to G-D knows what to get some color. Here in Bangladesh where the average person is darker then President Obama they face the opposite  dilemma. Woman, and to a lesser extent men have been under cultural pressure that is reinforced  by the media and corporations that lighter skin is more attractive. The Anglo-Dutch company Uniliver that manufactures soap and cosmetics with the tagline “Fair and Lovely” say this about their products: “Our brands help people to look good, feel good and get more out of life. Celebrating life for over 40 years in Bangladesh and today, a company bringing world class consumer products to millions of people in the country we are Unilever Bangladesh.” Sound familiar?  It’s a sensitve issue that I brought up in class last week that went over like a lead ballon. I wish someone would start a campaign here in Bangladesh with the slogan: “Brown is Beautiful.”


8 thoughts on “Fair and Lovely (Not)

  1. Alicia

    Hi again Geoffrey,
    I most definitely was surprised by the importance skin color was while in B-desh. One of my good friends recounted the one time in his life he was in love, but the relationship wouldn’t end in marriage because he was “too dark”. He thinks he is ugly because he is a darker tone than other men. (I think he is beautiful.)
    It was common that we would be complimented on our fair skin, and in return compliment them regarding their dark skin- stating that in America dark is beautiful.
    I too was astonished at the amount of lightening products that were available. I was first introduced to skin lightening creams by my college friend who is from India. I had no idea!
    I love dark skin and wish I weren’t as pale as I am, what an odd world we live in! We want what we don’t have.

    I also noticed that when we took our photos to be developed, they were lightened to make the B-desh people look more ‘attractive’ while it made me and my friend look like ghosts.

  2. Geoffrey Hiller Post author

    I’m not at all surprised about the photo lightening. Thanks for pointing out the way that men also suffer with this. What a horrible situation for your friend. Some parts of the country- especially up north in Dinajpur…..you know…. the woman look like right out of a Vogue magazine spread esp. with all of the beautiful clothes. But most importantly it’s their “charm” that is so attractive.

  3. Ben Rasmussen

    So true Geoffry. I am an American/Danish photographer who grew up in the Philippines and am still amazed by the amount of marketing power put behind whitening products here. Ponds has a product here called “White Beauty” that promises to give users a “radiant pinkish-white glow as it lightens.”

  4. kbw

    excellent points…i remain amazed at all the comments about my light skin (from everyone from beggars to elites)..and all the beautiful hues that i saw. missing also are the physical costs of using such creams-potions esp. adulterated ones and the perpetuation of colonial attitudes.

  5. Sajib

    Ah..yes, the obsession of white skin among Bangladeshis… its sometimes just sickening. I used to think we can always thank the British Colonials for injecting this racism into us. But, now, i think its the media that takes all the credit.

  6. Robert Selby

    Hello, Geoffrey. Thank you so much for your wonderful photo and text expose’ of Bangladesh. I am very interested to teach English there and have researched everything I can about the country. Your site has been the best help I’ve found.

    I taught for 10 years in Guam where brown is the most beautiful color. Locals had the same prejudice against their natural color which astounded me: they are beautiful people. Contrary to a post here about the British empire, Guam was dominated by first the Spanish and then the Americans. I suspect the local preference for fair skin is a confused equation with economic, military, and political hedgmony that the fair-skinned West has held in contrast to third world societies. Envy may have obscured the indiginous qualities and the foreign deficiencies.

    Perhaps we of the West can help by proclaiming our admiration of others.


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