Dear Lux, I don’t want a whitening body wash

Nor do I want 'visibly fair and glowing skin'

By Farheen Abdullah

KARACHI: I am a sucker for fragrances. I am obsessed with anything and everything that smells good. Hence, using a body wash that smells good is an important part of my routine and Lux’s purple body wash meets the criteria. Every time I go grocery shopping, I buy a bottle of the body wash. Always the purple one. Until yesterday.

While shopping at one of Karachi’s biggest stores, I noticed that the shelf where the purple and pink body washes are usually placed was empty. Instead, another corner displayed three shelves full of white bottles containing Lux body wash. Or rather, bottles containing Lux ‘whitening’ body wash. You read that right, the bottle was literally titled ‘whitening body wash’ for ‘visibly fair and glowing skin’.

lux whitening body wash

Not thinking much of the situation rather than pure disappointment at not being able to find the purple bottle, I moved on to the next item on my grocery list. But now that I think of it, why does Lux have a whitening body wash? And why is it being displayed like a new product on three shelves in one of Pakistan’s biggest stores? Perhaps the white variant has always existed and I never noticed it, or maybe it just got introduced. Whatever the reason, the placement of the product seemed very well intended and surely it was not because of stock shortage that the purple or pink variants could not be found, for how else would a store manage to have atleast a hundred bottles of a single variant?

lux whitening body wash

It has not even been a year since the Black Lives Matter movement sparked debate across the world and protests were carried out to end racism in the world, specially in the U.S. Less than a year ago, Fair & Lovely, which was being sold as a fairness cream for decades chose to rebrand their image. The product was titled Glow & Lovely and set out to embrace all skin tones. Campaigns were run by Unilever globally to redeem itself.

Only last month, Unilever removed the word ‘normal’ from its beauty products in order to promote inclusivity. It seemed like Unilever was finally stepping in the right direction with its values and marketing strategies. Until I saw the white bottle.

For ‘visibly fair skin’.

Why? Why is Unilever Pakistan, or Unilever Global for that matter, selling a body wash that is meant to turn one’s skin white? Not only is that scientifically ridiculous, it downright promotes the belief that white skin is something that should be aimed for. The bottle of body wash promotes colourism when it tells its consumers to turn their brown or dusky bodies into ‘fair and glowing’ ones. And surely the bottle isn’t supposed to be ‘just another body wash that smells good’ for had that been the purpose, the description would have said so. The purple bottle reads ‘for long lasting fragrant skin’ because it is supposed to make one smell (and feel) good. And we all know what the white bottle says.

And why should a whitening body wash or a whitening cream exist in the first place? To teach consumers that they need to alter the way they look? To reinforce the idea that white is better? To push a complexed society like ours into buying your products?

Perhaps, Unilever is in the process of changing their approach and the white bottles are being rigorously displayed to finish existing stocks. But why do the stocks exist in the first place? And why do consumers have to bear the brunt of a mistake that Unilever has made time and again?

I don’t know how long the body wash has been around. But it’s been around for way too long. And Unilever has been careless way too many times.

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