Recently, Dove produced an ad that featured a Black woman removing her shirt to reveal a fair-skinned white woman, and the white woman doing the same to reveal a third woman. However innocent the intention may have been, the advertisement was met with backlash over claims of racism and was eventually pulled, according to an Oct. 8 New York Times article.  The article also states that Dove has since apologized for the ad, and that spokeswoman Marissa Solan stated that the commercial was intended to be a celebration of diversity and show that Dove body wash is meant for every woman. Regardless, this is not the first time that Dove has been accused of racial insensitivity. In 2011, the company released an ad, again with the intent to promote their body wash and show its beneficial effects on skin. However, the ad featured women standing in order from darkest to lightest, with a backdrop comparing clean and dirty skin. The word “before” was above the black woman and “after” above the white woman. According to a May 26, 2011 NBC News article, Dove responded to the controversy stating that all three women were intended to show the “after” effect. If Dove prides itself on “widening the definition of beauty,” per their website, why do they continue to perpetuate racist tropes and enforce colorist ideals? 

Similarly, a 2016 ad for Qiaobi detergent featured a Chinese woman shoving a Black man into a washing machine only for an Asian man to appear at the end of the cycle. According to a May 27, 2016 New York Times article, when asked about the ad, Xu Chunyan, an agent of Qiaobi, said that the ad was for sensational effect: “If we just show laundry like all the other advertisements, ours will not stand out.” Ads like this only promote the belief that lighter skin is superior and that dark skin is the equivalent of dirt. In turn, people who were born with darker skin see these ads and internalize the messages. It urges women and men to seek products to alter their natural complexion, only harming themselves in the long term. 

Unilever, the parent company of Dove, also makes a skin lightening cream called Fair and Lovely. Though Fair and Lovely is only sold in the Middle East, similar products are distributed throughout the world. A Nov. 26, 2016 New York Times article exposes the culture of skin bleaching in West Africa for its harmful effects on women. Some lightening agents contain the ingredient hydroquinone, which acts to disrupt the skin’s natural melanin production. Melanin helps prevent damage to cells when exposed to the sun’s harmful rays, and the Ghanaian government is worried that the use of these products could lead to a rise in skin cancer. Regardless, women continue to use lightening products, and the media continues to promote them. The article also states that in some countries, up to 70 percent of women are believed to use skin lightening products. In the same NYT article, filmmaker Comfort Arthur recounted growing up with siblings lighter than her and always being reminded that her sisters were lighter and prettier. This attack on a young person’s self esteem is detrimental and can lead to years of self-hatred and a distorted image of beauty — as evidenced by the popularity of said skin-lightening creams. 

According to an April 24, 2016 article in the Huffington Post, Nigeria seems to have the greatest use of skin lightening products, with 77 percent of women claiming to use them. These products are also very popular in many Asian countries and the United States. According to the same Huffington Post article, there is an ad in Thailand for a skin-whitening cream with the tagline: “You just need to be white to win.” Nigerian life coach Kemi Nekvapil can also attest to growing up and seeing much fairer women in advertisements, stating: “What I saw as beautiful was someone who didn’t look like me.” 

This is something that even I have experienced. In high school, several of my Black classmates complained about being “too dark” or made ignorant comments along the line of “Light skin is the right skin.” These comments only fuel the ideology behind the companies that produce skin-lightening products. They prey on insecurity and deep-rooted self-hatred. Change needs to be made, starting with the media. There needs to be more representation for individuals of all shades and fewer subtle indications, such as the aforementioned ads, that darker skin is lesser than. The hope is that future generations won’t have to grow up thinking that they are ugly or undesirable because they don’t look like the people on TV. Companies like Dove, which claims to be dedicated to body positivity and encouraging women to embrace their natural beauty, need to recognize their impact and ensure that their ads actually meet their intended goal.