Many celebrities have spoken up against skin-lightening in India. Abhay Deol has famously called out celebrities, including fellow actors like Sonam Kapoor who have worked with him, for taking up offers of advertising fairness creams. But he is among the few who have actively campaigned against colourism.
A larger number of influential actors, ranging from Shah Rukh Khan, to Deepika Padukone have not, and have made money from endorsing skin-lightening products.
Then there are some celebrities who have spoken up against skin-lightening, but in fact have also been a part of skincare ads featuring skin-whitening products.
For example, Aishwarya Rai spoke about how she doesn’t believe in endorsing skin-lightening products, but appeared in an ad for L’Oreal White Perfect.
Anushka Sharma said in 2015, “I would not endorse products that propagate racist and sexist (beliefs)….and propagate social taboo. I don’t want to endorse products that propagate fair skin and all. I will not propagate anything that says this is right or wrong,” but did an ad for Nivea Whitening Cell Repair prior to that. So, one hopes that she had a change of heart and refused to endorse such products after doing that ad in 2013.
Dia Mirza, who was the face of a range of skin-whitening products from the Body Shop, recently welcomed HUL’s decision to drop “fair” from the marketing of Fair & Lovely.
However, there were some actors who put their money where their mouth is and actually never did participate in advertisement campaigns for fairness cream brands.
Sushant Singh Rajput
Sushant Singh Rajput allegedly rejected a deal to endorse skin-lightening creams. The news came out in 2018, when it was rumoured that he said no to the whopping Rs 15-crore deal. He reportedly turned down the deal saying, “We should not, in any way, endorse or promote the ideology of preferring one skin tone over another.”
Bipasha has always maintained how proud she is of her dusky skin, and recently opened up on how happy she was about the word “Fair” being dropped from the name of the skin cream, Fair & Lovely. In that Instagram post, she also added, “ Many skincare endorsements with loads of money were offered to me in the last 18 years (some were very tempting)… but I stuck to my principle always.”
Kangana also spoke against endorsing fairness creams, and there were reports of her turning down a Rs 2 crore offer in that regard. Kangana said, “”Ever since I was a kid, I have never understood the concept of fairness. Especially, in such a case, as a celebrity, what kind of an example would I be setting for younger people? I have no regrets about turning this offer down. As a public figure, I have responsibilities.”
But, it should be noted that even though any of those campaigns did not mention fairness or whitening, she did a Boroplus ad for Boroplus Perfect Touch cream which talks about “nikhri twacha” and shows skin becoming lighter from use of the product, but without explicitly talking about skin-lightening.
Swara intelligently explained her reasoning behind not endorsing fairness creams, calling out the national fixation with light skin: “This fair skin obsession has to be discouraged. It’s so regressive and problematic to put a value, negative or positive to skin colour. It’s actually the seeds of racism and it only promotes low self esteem. For me, I believe in loving yourself just the way you are. Dusky, dark or wheatish, you are perfect, all I want to tell the girls is don’t change?”
Instead, when she chose to endorse skincare products, she became the face of Namyaa Skincare, which focuses on intimate hygiene. Swara said, “I think it’s great that the brand is taking skincare beyond beauty and skin lightening to hygiene and health taking into account the practical life conditions of numerous young women in India.”
Taapsee refused to be associated with fairness products completely, be it through ads or by giving them visibility by even posing at an event sponsored by a brand that makes a skin-lightening product. She once said, “When I found out that I would have to pose at the event with the fairness brand in the background, I decided to take my name off the event.”
Ranbir might not get much positive press, but he actually turned down offers to endorse skin-lightening creams way back in 2011 itself. Later, in 2017, news surfaced that he turned down a Rs 9 crore deal to endorse a fairness cream. Ranbir never spoke on the issue himself, but news outlets reported that he didn’t want to propagate stereotypes related to racism by promoting skin-lightening.
There is no shortage of endorsement opportunities for Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, but it turns out she never did a fairness cream ad. We found out about this recently, when there were tweets going around asking if anyone can name a famous South Asian celebrity who hasn’t endorsed skin-lightening products. Mahira responded to one such tweet, saying: “Been refusing ever since I was a VJ till now. Never endorsed a skin lightening product.” It turns out, she’s actually being honest, because there is no whitening cream deal in her kitty of ads.
Randeep Hooda spoke about India’s obsession with skin-lightening and how it perpetuated problematic ideas of beauty: “It’s a colonial hangover to be fair. India, as a country, has an obsession with fairness, whereas the entire world is lying under the sun and getting a tan.”
He also talked about how he refused a lucrative deal to endorse such a product because of his beliefs: “The idea of beauty being fair should be demolished. I was offered big money for this project… but I refused, as everything can’t always be about money,”
Nandita Das has always been vocal about social issues, and it was no different in the case of India’s obsession with light skin. The actress and filmmaker not only refused to do advertisements for skin-lightening products, but also launched the ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ campaign to celebrate dark skin.
Lead Image credit: Yash Raj Films