Chelsea Roff: Your Vagina Isn’t White Enough

As if women didn’t already have enough body parts to worry about shaving, waxing, and — YES — bleaching, a new commercial for a product called Clean and Dry Intimate Wash wants women to lighten up their apparently too-dark lady parts as well.

In the commercial, a notably light-skinned Indian couple sits down for a morning cup of coffee. But something about the dynamic between them is undoubtedly off. The husband can’t even bring himself look at his wife, much less drink his coffee. The woman appears uncomfortable and self-conscious. Fortunately, Clean and Dry Intimate Wash swoops in to the rescue. The woman takes a shower and POOF! comes out with a new, improved, and (of course) much fairer vagina. Her husband now gazes at her lustily. Because, you know, no one wants a woman with a dark vagina.

What the heck were the makers of this product thinking? Here’s what one ad executive had to say:

It is hard to deny that fairness creams often get social commentators and activists all worked up. What they should do is take a deep breath and think again. Lipstick is used to make your lips redder, fairness cream is used to make you fairer-so what’s the problem? I don’t think any Youngistani today thinks the British Raj/White man is superior to us Brown folk. That’s all 1947 thinking!

The only reason I can offer for why people like fairness, is this: if you have two beautiful girls, one of them fair and the other dark, you see the fair girl’s features more clearly. This is because her complexion reflects more light. I found this amazing difference when I directed Kabir Bedi, who is very fair and had to wear dark makeup for Othello, the Black hero of the play. I found I had to have a special spotlight following Kabir around the stage because otherwise the audience could not see his expressions.

Seriously?! Women should make themselves whiter so their girlish features can be seen more clearly? That’s one of the most ridiculous rationalizations of racism and sexism I have ever heard in my life.

Unfortunately, this commercial is not an isolated case. In fact, the ad is just one particularly disturbing example of a larger trend in India that encourages women to use skin-lightening creams (which have been found to contain mercury and other toxic chemicals) to meet Western standards of beauty. Ironically enough, while young American teenagers are burning themselves to a crisp in tanning beds, Indian women are lathering themselves in cancer-causing lotions to get a fairer complexion. And who should be surprised when the messages we all (man, woman, Indian, and American) get inundated with everyday are:

You’re not good enough.

Your body is nasty as it is.

You need _____ product to be beautiful.

The Western consumerist culture (which is increasingly being imported into “developing” countries like India and China) not only encourages women to adopt unhealthy body ideals… it demands them. Women who meet these standards are more apt to get jobs, be respected in the workplace, and rise out of poverty. Beauty practices like tanning and bleaching are often dismissed as harmless, a normal part of being a woman. But let’s consider the facts: Skin cancer, breast cancer, and cervical cancer are on the rise, and there’s no doubt that toxins in our environment are a significant cause. Eating disorders are becoming prevalent in countries and cultures where they used to be unheard of. As Western countries export their technologies and socioeconomic structures to help “civilize” other peoples, we send out these pathological cultural values as well.

So what’s to be done about it? How do you fight a machine that’s so widespread and amorphous, so subtly highjacking the minds of millions?  I think it starts with speaking out against ads like this, with women AND men taking a stand against toxic sentiments put out by corporations and members of the media. Refuse to buy products that demean and demoralize women and people of color. Make your voice heard online.

Take for example, Ashley Judd, who famously took a stand  this week against several tabloids’ speculation about her face looking “puffy.” #TheCoversation she’s started is taking the Twitterverse by storm, with people all over the world expressing a similar sentiment:

“We’re not going to take this anymore.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts, both related to this advertisement and larger trends of sexism and racism around the world. Do you think ads like this are harmless? What can everyday people do to take a stand?

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Chelsea Roff

About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is Managing Editor for Intent Blog. She is an author, speaker, and researcher writing about science, spirituality, women's health, and humanitarian issues. Visit her website to read past writings, watch video interviews, and see her teaching schedule. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Kelly Ray says:

    what is it with men and war? battlegrounds, church, politics, vaginas, etc… is there something in the beer?

  2. Tiku Shah says:

    This makes me so angry!!! WTF indeed! Especially since the models/ actors look so white!! I don't get it! As a woman of colour and Indian I think this is exploitation on and emotional, mental and physical level!!! Grrrr! Who is the manufacturer??

    1. Chelsea says:

      I absolutely agree, Tiku. I'm not sure who the manufacturer is, and I did quite a bit of hunting. All the news stories just refer to it as an "Indian Company" and leave it at that. I did find a website you can buy it online though. I guess you could always leave an angry review there. If you find out who the manufacturer is, let me know!
      http://www.healthtag.com/clean-and-dry-intimate-w

  3. Jaden says:

    this is rather sad. women shouldn't be force or subjected to this because of a man's want or desire. i believe in cleanliness and what not. do they even realized the toxic chemicals can affect it? can or may cause cancer or any type…..ovarian, cervical, etc. guess they didnt think about that.

    1. Chelsea says:

      It's unfortunate the lengths people will go to "be beautiful" these days. I just moved to LA, and I run into people all the time who have gotten crazy elaborate cosmetic surgeries in order to get closer to that oh-so-unattainable notion of beauty. I think it's more than just to please men… we've been taught that if we don't look a certain way, we won't be loved by anyone.

      1. Jaden says:

        i agree. it's sad how the world even now is so dominated by men. even more sad when culture and ways play a part of it

  4. Jonathan says:

    There is a push-button solution to this and many other madnesses. Turn off your TV and never turn it on again.

    1. Chelsea says:

      I don't own a TV. But I do go to grocery stores and get slammed by magazine covers at every check out counter. I see billboards objectifying women every time I drive down the street. It's everywhere. I wish it was just as easy as turning off our tvs!

      1. Jonathan says:

        The truth is that we live in a world where advertising is everywhere, and it's not just women, dark skinned people or any individual sect that is being targeted. Everyone is constantly bombarded by a variety of forms of advertisers and even "friends" telling us that we are not good enough. One thing I've learned about these annoyances is that they will never go away just because we complain about them and even if they do they will be rapidly replaced by another, often much worse, attack. So what can we do about it? Well, rather than to try to stop this relentless torrent I choose to work on myself and have come to realize that I am perfect just the way I am and always have been just as every one else is. It is much easier this way and now when I see the ads aimed at me as a man (work like a slave for a shiny car/big house/fancy clothes, etc.) I just chuckle. Once you've stepped out of the "I'm not good enough" box then all this stuff is just ridiculous and funny, like listening to infants speak. Anyway, my suggestion: meditate, take time for yourself to learn who you really are and how beautiful you are no matter what. You were perfect and are perfect and always will be perfect. Peace to all.

  5. Nupur says:

    To the Guys- Bleach your dick as well to be loved by
    the women. this is utter ridiculous.

  6. When are we going to stop this body hatred and support and celebrate each other in all our diversity? This ad is just yet another example of how women are constantly having this dysfunctional message reinforced that their bodies are not good enough exactly as they are. When will it all end? Maybe when we take a big enough stand and say we're not going to tolerate this madness any longer? Turn off your tvs, stop buying these emptyheaded glossy mags that reinforce that you need X to be worthy. Decide that you are more than good enough and don't believe this craziness. It's appalling in this day and age that we are even needing to discuss this as a serious topic. Great article Chelsea!

    1. Chelsea says:

      Amen, Michelle! Thank you so much.

  7. yvette says:

    Only if he bleaches his first,

  8. DanP says:

    What a load of rubbish. Us men are interested in putting our penises inside women’s vaginas. Every vagina is pink on the inside, so don’t worry about the packaging

  9. indu Arora says:

    I feel disappointed about this entire thing! I feel disappointed in each person who is involved with promoting, designing, creating of this product! Human being are supposed to grow using the immense potential in their reasoning, mind and intellect. In so many ways this product is harmful..first it is harmful to the mind of young women who may think that beautiful is WHITE, what boys want is WHITE, instead of working on keeping their body healthy, they focus on keeping everything WHITE instead of keeping the mind and the heart clean. This infact clouds the mind and emotions. Secondly ~ it focus on what MEN want and that real happiness is in satisfying the MEN! The truth is to find the solace in self and then share that peace, love to everyone else around instead of running after pleasing someone ~ who soever it may be! Third~ it is so harmful to the body, bleaching such a sensitive area….the thought itself is scary and the effects it shall have on the body are far more than scary! Fourth~who passed this advertisement and product..is there no sensor board there! I feel it is such a waste of time, money and energy to put out products like this! Wake up Human Being~ if not NOW then WHEN? Utilize your potential to raise standard of living instead of bleaching things! Maybe one day we can come up with a product that can bleach clean those human minds and heart which need it the most~ actually there is one already~ Yoga and Meditation! Namaste

    1. Chelsea says:

      Wow, Indu.Absolutely! Couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you for sharing… it inspires me to know I'm not alone in feeling this way. Namaste.

      1. indu Arora says:

        Namaste ~ Chelsea! If not NOW then WHEN!!

  10. sree says:

    in india there are fairness creams for men tooo ;)
    I returned to india after living in usa for 10 years. I am a guy.
    After taking a massage in spa, a girl was selling facial to me by teloing that i would look fairer. ;)
    Generally there is prefernce for lighter complexion for both sexes. Unsure when this new private parts stuff came up.
    In china taller people arevmore likely to get a job.

    1. Chelsea says:

      It's unfortunate. The standards and stigma absolutely exist for both men and women, although I do think both genders face different challenges. Not that it's a matter of who has it "worse", but the fact that women have not traditionally been members of the working class definitely create more significant challenges as they seek to gain equal standing with men in the work place. Recent studies in occupational psychology show that women who are rated more attractive are much more likely to be hired after an interview than those rated less attractive. In the same way, people with foreign sounding names are more likely to not be called for an interview at all. These are unconscious prejudices that have a subtle but significant impact on everyone — men and women alike. I think when we become more aware that these prejudices exist — not just in others, but in ourselves too — we empower ourselves to consciously overcome them.

  11. Desh says:

    Incidentally, I too explored this very issue but from the Indian angle and prejudices. Often, and by the uninformed, bias for fair skin in India is linked to Caste system and to HInduism, which runs completely against the facts. Here is the link – http://www.drishtikone.com/varna-caste-system-and

    Interestingly, in Kamasutra women have been divided into 4 categories, and these are based on their features and "gunas", not skin color. That makes sense for a treatise on sex.

    1. Chelsea says:

      Very interesting article, Desh. Thanks for sharing. I love reading different cultural perspectives on issues like this, and you definitely approach it from an angle I haven't explored before. What do you mean by that makes sense for a treatise on sex?

  12. Hmighty says:

    This ad is very wrong esp. its meant for Indian ladies, where are all ladies groups who generally do all tamasha for shorts clothes and esp for valentine's day. i think they didn't understand this ad esp for indian ladies. why are here to promote the fairness cream. we don't require there are many other home made remedies. i dont think so our indian mens need fair vagina . fine i can understand everyone want his wife should be fair. but these promoters made a ad and try to change indian womens life or they are trying to spoil their lifes. i think people stop making these kinds of ads.

  13. crusanton says:

    This is disgusting, I agree. However, how many of the women replying on this article are wearing eyeliner, mascara, blush, foundation, lipstick, etc……as they type about their outrage over the vagina bleach article? Yes, they should be outraged, but their addiction to make-up has fueled this industry and until they "QUIT" make-up no progress will be made.

    1. SofiaT says:

      Crusanton, am not sure we can make this comparison. Personally I do not use such products on a regular basis, however I can understand those who like to use them. Mascara, lipstick, blush etc are used to emphasize certain fascial features, and when used in moderation they create a nice-looking image that make women feel good and appreciated. Natural beauty is of course appreciated as well, however I do not see any danger in using those products sometime. However, the product that the Indian commercial is advertising gives a completely different message – not sure if the effect of the product is real, what I am most concerned in the message. The message that white is better than black or brownish or any other color, therefore change it so you can feel good and appreciated. This is something totally unnatural and it s a recipe to unhappiness. I saw the commercial some days ago, not sure what is the situation right now. I do hope they have stopped showing it after all the debates.. if not is has to stop soon!!

  14. bethany says:

    We're all pretty in pink on the inside. Let's quit trying to be who we're not on the outside and be what we really and truly are….ourselves. Whether it be brown, white, black or yellow- just 'be free' and enjoy this beautiful ride called life. If that's not good enough for your partner, then you're too good for him baby. Love yourself and the rest will follow <3

  15. Lori Marques says:

    Goddamit, what the hell is wrong with people, I'm satisfied with the color god gave me, I'm proud of me just the way i am, ain't nobody gonna tell me to bleach cause i have the wrong color, I am the right color.They are going to far now , bleaching ur private body part that is sickening to say the least. women ur beautiful just the way u are, dont need no artificial stuff to make u stand out, ur good to go just as u are.

  16. Lori Marques says:

    Goddamit, what the hell is wrong with people, I'm satisfied with the color god gave me, I'm proud of me just the way i am, ain't nobody gonna tell me to bleach cause i have the wrong color, I am the right color.They are going to far now , bleaching ur private body part that is sickening to say the least. women ur beautiful just the way u are, dont need no artificial stuff to make u stand out, ur good to go just as u are.

  17. Sapna M says:

    The ad talks about keeping it clean and dry. Where does it speak about fairness? You guys are being ridiculous. Chelsea, wth is wrong with you??

    1. Guest says:

      if you watch the ad over again you will see it says clear as day "freshness & fairness" and the brown skin "peels off" to white….there are also similair products where you can dye your pubic hair to match the hair on your head – also equally ridiculous and possibly harmful, google them, they exist!

  18. Gabriela says:

    Want to make a Cause?? http://www.care2.com/ lets sign on it!

  19. M C Pargaien says:

    Its not the sexism and racism which is getting reflected in such kind of aberrations of modern society . When more and more societies eagerly embracing consumerism and materialism under the influence of MONEY and every thing is getting converted and measured in monetary terms then there is not much to surprise and get vexed. For a Product Manager it’s another branding campaign to bombard consumers who are eagerly waiting with wallets laden with money. Lets ignore them ..

  20. Ski says:

    An entire brouhaha about fairness creams but do you notice the "fair skinned" going into tanning salons or burning their skins with uv radiation to get color? Nothing is good enough for the human psyche.. Before crying outrage at the want for fairness, understand that as humans we are never "satisfied" the way we area.. Kareena Kapoor uses a bronzed when she comes on Joffre with Karan and said admits it.. He goes into a tanning salon or else how would a fair guy like him look all pink and toasty?

  21. Amy Pasek says:

    All of this pressure from the media for women to be perfect should be criticized, but how? Where do we get our info? The media! It's a case of who's going to police the police? They can make the rules because they control what we watch. I can't call a tv station and tell them to please stop airing a specific commercial or tv show because it's making me feel bad about myself. Until we BLOCK OUT THE MEDIA CAUSING THE PROBLEMS, we will get nowhere! STOP BUYING PRODUCTS THAT PROMOTE UNREALISTIC IDEALS! BOYCOTT SHOWS THAT USE ADVERTISERS WHO PROMOTE UNREALISTIC IDEALS! And not just for women! Shows that exploit children (Toddlers & Tiaras), shows that depict unhealthy women (Top Model), and yes, even shows that make men feel like they're not good if they're not buff (wrestling)! We perpetuate these problems just as much as the media does because WE WATCH THEM!!! SO JUST STOP WATCHING, BUYING, LISTENING, AND LOOKING AT ANY COMPANY THAT PROMOTES UNREASONABLE IDEALS!….NOW!

  22. Brittany says:

    Though this advertisement doesn't necessarily represent the wash in the correct manner, the trend of skin lightening in the intimate areas (including the vagina, anus and even scrotum for men) has become extremely popular over the decade or so. There also are treatments and solutions to skin lightening available that do NOT contain harmful cancer causing ingredients like Hydroquinone. These products not only advertise the lightening of intimate areas but also other areas of the skin like underarms, elbows and knees which as you age can darken due to excessive shaving and waxing. These products (such as Intilight and Brighten) can also be used (safely and effectively) on age spots on the face to help reduce the signs of aging! These such products are completely safe to use, containing all-natural ingredients and provide effective results without putting your own health at risk.

    The advertisement for Clean and Dry Intimate wash does not depict all the uses for these sorts of products appropriately, making it seem as though this trend has come about only in a sexist manner. The trend should not be so dismissed, as many people pride themselves in attaining a lighter and brighter complexion all over their body, while using safe and effective products.