Penny Arcade Aka Susana Ventura is a performance artist, author…
Looking in the mirror and feeling a tad pale, pasty and washed out? Pondering a fake tan, sun bed or a trip to Tenerife to put some colour in your cheeks? Obviously, you’re not the only one who’s unhappy with your reflection. Here in the UK, geezers have long since been sucked into the male grooming dream and the fab abs fantasy of Men’s Health magazine, but the advertising world has found a new frontier where metrosexuality and disposable incomes are nouveau novelties.
India’s men are feeling the pressure to be pretty and it’s not simply slick hair, buff bods and swift shaves they’re after. Asian boys want to be whiter. Garnier’s recent advertising campaign in Asia features John Abraham, one of Bollywood’s dishiest hunks. In the adverts, Abraham is concerned by his complexion. He’s a little darker than he would like to be.
The suggested solution? No, not therapy to improve his self image. Nor a lesson in subtle racism or a celebration of cultural heritage. The answer is….the daily use of a Garnier Men’s skin-whitening cream, a potion introduced to India by L’Oréal. Yup, that’s the very same cosmetics company that in 2007 was found guilty of racial discrimination after it sought to exclude non-white women from promoting its shampoo. Oh, and the same company that was accused of whitewashing Beyonce. Oh, yes, you’re worth it…if you’re the right colour.
John Abraham’s involvement in the Garnier campaign has led to a barrage of criticism, but the market for products designed to lighten skin is so huge that L’Oreal has deflected bad press via a tough skin which strangely, doesn’t stem from one of their products.
Across Asia the industry will be worth as much as $18 billion (£11.3 billion) this year, according to one estimate. Hmmmmm, want skin like a rhino? Become a billionaire on the back of people’s insecurities.
A senior Unilever executive who was responsible for stoking sales of Axe deodorant (branded as Lynx in Britain) told The Times last year that Asia represented “the last empty space on the map” in the world of male grooming products. The growth of metrosexual males has been fuelled by the launch of fashion magazines, such as an Indian edition of GQ, analysts say. The upshot, unsurprisingly, has been a surge in the “feminisation of men’s products”.
Kiran Kaur – a Sikh human rights activist in west London, is unimpressed with the growing trend. “The ad simply reinforces the idea that you’ve got to be fair to be anything in life,” says Kiran. “It says that if you’re fair and good looking, you’ll be a wonderful daughter-in-law or husband, your skin colour determines how successful you’ll be in life. The ad reinforces age-old prejudices.”
While on the topic of male grooming, it used to be said that the way to tell the gays from the straights in a changing room (should that be of interest) is to check out their body hair. Clue: the gays clippered/waxed/sugared, the straights didn’t. Then, in a pseudo-macho protest at the depilation craze and blind consumerism, the gays went underground and embraced the cult of ‘the bear’. They took to plaid shirts, trucker caps, beards and beer bellies with a furred fever that said fuck off to fashion, then became fashion.
It was once safe to assume that even at the peak of the smoothie fever, only the vain and quite adventurous would take to shaving their balls. Like, isn’t shaving your face enough grief? However, it seems that such intimate grooming is now so commonplace that Gillette felt it necessary to produce an infomercial for sack-shaving virgins. But why would you do that? WHY?
Because, as Gillette informs us, ‘when there’s no underbrush, the tree looks taller’. Of course! One might forget the joys of gaining an ‘optical inch’. One does have to applaud the copywriters at BBDO for the line, ‘consider the unique topographical features under your hood’.
Thanks for that, Gillette, but you know, my hood is all good, cheers. And L’Oreal? I’m worth it, but your products aren’t.
First Published: Jan10/TheHospitalClub.com