In many parts of Africa and Asia, the mainstream concept of beauty is often associated with lighter-skinned woman. Skin-whitening cosmetics are a multi-billion dollar industry, and their products support the idea that lightening dark skin is both achievable and preferable.
The #UnfairAndLovely campaign is challenging that. The hashtag gained momentum on different social media like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, inspiring women to celebrate their darker skin. It began in the United States with a photo shoot, Pax Jones behind the camera and sisters Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah, whose parents are from Sri Lanka, modelling. All three are University of Texas students.
They shared the photos online with the hashtag #UnfairAndLovely to challenge the idea that “fair” (as seen in the name of the popular Fair and Lovely skin-lightening cream) means more beautiful.
The campaign then took off. Jones, who is black, said in an interview, “I wanted to explore how overly colorism translates into a global phenomenon, and how that impacted others from ethnic backgrounds different from my own.”
— Count VanDerMattson (@VanDerMattson) February 28, 2016
There have been other movements in the past against colorism. In India, a petition against Indian cosmetics company Emami called on them to withdraw a particularly discriminatory advert for Fair and Handsome cream. Another campaign called Dark is Beautiful (see Global Voices report) in 2013 pushed back against the idea that dark skin is somehow uglier or inferior. The following year, the Advertising Standards Council of India banned discriminatory commercials for skin-whitening products.
The African nation Côte d'Ivoire also banned skin-whitening creams, citing concern over lasting damage to health.
For #UnfairAndLovely, many women shared selfies on Twitter with the hashtag:
— Tina Elaine (@sipstina) February 28, 2016
— Sangeetha (@fallenvirgo) February 29, 2016
— rosie (@myboyjimin) February 28, 2016
— Davika (@DavikaStaar) February 28, 2016
— Ushka (Thanu) (@ty_ushka) March 9, 2016
Hashtag humour: #UnfairAndLovely
A sarcastic reaction to the colourism experienced by S.E. Asian women. pic.twitter.com/SFfIDdiQJi
— Femi Oke (@FemiOke) February 28, 2016
Some men joined in, as well:
— S. Casanova (@LuchadorChris) February 27, 2016
— Aqib (@Tumharaabbu) February 27, 2016
Indian YouTube star The Techy Tantrika uploaded this video in support of the campaign, sharing some of her own struggles.
In the video, she criticizes the Eurocentric idea of beauty: “I don't understand this concept of wanting to look like a different race. It doesn't make sense to me.”
Pax Jones told the Huffington Post that the campaign is “meant to be an inclusive space”:
It is for the dark-skinned queer, trans, genderqueer, non-binary, poor, fat, differently abled people of colour.
#UnfairAndLovely has teamed up with an existing campaign #ReclaimTheBindi to encourage South Asians to take pride in their culture and bring attention to the issue of colorism. The Reclaim the Bindi Week is taking place between March 8 to 14.