The enlightened citizens of the marketing world were awaiting this with bated breath. The Unilever baiters had often cited this particular Achilles heel as an example of the tricky rope walk that is embracing brand purpose.

But what years of sagely advise could not achieve was made possible by changes in the global cultural climate. Gigantic ripples emanating from the Black Lives Matter made it to the Arabian coastline and the walls of the Hindustan Lever office.

HUL finally announced that they would drop the word ‘Fair’ from the household brand ‘Fair & Lovely’ (or FAL as it is popularly called by the marketing community). Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Better late than never. The industry was awash with opinions and perspectives.

One wonders if dropping the word ‘Fair’ is enough and if FAL should adopt promises of glow and radiance; like all fairness creams seem to have done in the last few weeks.

What is the real transformation, if any, that FAL could attempt? Curiously enough, does the path forward lie hidden in today’s popular culture?

I suspect the answers lie in the movie series ‘Frozen’. Indeed, a strange name for a franchise that has unfrozen solidified feminine stereotypes and created new archetypes of feminine identity.

Anna is seen saving Kristoff, a counter point to older Disney movies and traditional male roles in general, where the male character is almost always seen saving the female. Her final moment of gender ambiguity comes when she single-handedly saves Elsa without the help of a male. Angry Anna as she punches Hans delivers a final strong punch to traditional feminine identity and patriarchy.

FAL should look towards the success of ‘Frozen’ and what that says about the changing world of global and Indian feminine identities.

Geena Davis, popular Hollywood actor and head of the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media had this to say ‘what I love most about it is that it’s from a female perspective, a female point-of-view and gaze. It’s so important to see female characters taking risks, making mistakes, and having to deal with the consequences of their own mistakes and being in charge of their own fate. That’s really what I most love about it.”

FAL for too long has catered to the male gaze, making the transformation from the ugly duckling to the beautiful swan, seeking validation in a world dominated by men; either as a cricket commentator or as a determined career woman; good enough to be the bride of the “lucky boy” in a tale of role reversals.

Indian women marching to the steady beat of modernity, that employment and education brings have broken through the flimsy glass ceiling of patriarchy. Today, they are no longer dependent, support actors but the lead protagonists of their own life; and they certainly don’t look searchingly for the approving male gaze.

Readers wondering if Frozen is too distant an example only need look at movies like ‘Queen’ and ‘Thappad’, to see the rise of a new feminine identity that has taken full control of itself and no longer require the certificate of merit from the man prince.

This is the real change FAL needs to make. FAL has always been the Svengali, the benefactor rescuer, salvaging the life of the helpless woman helping her transform to reach her dreams. But today the Indian woman does not need saving. She has the agency. She has her sisterhood. She is doing things for herself. Her transformation is for her independence, to feel thrilled about what she has become. To let her own aura shine through, without any hindrance.

FAL ought to no longer be a surface solution, skin deep, but work from within to amplify her natural best. No longer the pity taking Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’ but more like your everyday trainer, manifesting your core strength. Beauty for the Indian woman today after all, is the ‘curation of her self-expression’. A confident beacon signal of her fundamental uniqueness.

FAL needs to root itself in these stories of a woman in a woman’s world, exploring her boundaries at her own pace and knocking them down one by one.

As ‘Frozen’ would have said, FAL needs to ‘Let it go’ and reinvent itself completely, without any half measures.

 

By: Subodh Deshpande