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Skin-lightening for Indian men? Vaseline has a Facebook app for that.

By August 5, 2010 4 Comments

Vaseline's Facebook app invites Indian men to try a lighter look.

Judging by Hollywood (and “Jersey Shore”), many Americans covet nothing more than the perfect tan. Imagine a Facebook application that allowed these tanning enthusiasts to tint their pasty profile pictures with a faux bronze glow.

No big deal? Now imagine a similar app inviting Indian men to lighten their skin.

If you just uncomfortably shifted in your seat, took offense, or spat an expletive at your computer screen, you’re not alone.

Vaseline’s new skin-lightening app for Facebook users in India is causing a ton of controversy. Created to promote Vaseline Men UV Whitening Body Lotion, the company argues the app is a harmless exploration of their new product. “Much like self-tanning products in North America and Europe, skin lightening products are culturally relevant in India,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

While I absolutely don’t know enough about Indian culture to form an educated opinion on the matter, I do know that something about the concept irks me. And it has nothing to do with whether or not people choose to alter their skin color, but with how Vaseline is framing the decision.

The "Be Prepared" app invites users to upload a picture, lighten their skin, and "PREPARE your avatar for different occasions."

The text on their web site reads, “A fair complexion has always been associated with success and popularity. Men and women alike desire fairness, it is believed to be the key to a successful life.”

Whether or not anyone believes that seems irrelevant. I don’t need a company explicitly telling me (or my Indian friends) what to desire. The issue may be “culturally relevant,” but the company is still gleefully exploiting peoples’ insecurities and making big bucks off of them.

So is the app “unacceptably racist,” as Kunnath Santhosh, creator of his own protest page, alleges? Or is it just an international interpretation of beauty, no different from the GTL of “Jersey Shore” (that’s gym, tanning, and laundry for anyone not well-versed in the wise words of The Situation)?