Words: Beth Fuller
Featured Image: Samanta Tello
Model and activist, Munroe Bergdorf, speaks out to change the racist narrative of adverts targeted to women of colour.
This is not okay. #Nivea – Perpetuating the notion that fairer skin is more beautiful, more youthful is so damaging and plays into the racist narrative so prevalent in the beauty industry, that whiteness or light skin is the standard that we should all strive for. Advertisers have the power to change this narrative, but campaign after campaign we see it being used worldwide. Making money out of making people hate themselves is never acceptable. Whitening and lightening creams are not only physically damaging, but also ethically wrong. Empowerment is not too much to ask for. ALL black skin is beautiful, no exceptions, so celebrate us as we are instead of asking us to adhere to unattainable and racist ideals.
Since being dropped from the L’Oreal TrueMatch campaign in August for sharing her opinion on racism on Facebook, Munroe Bergdorf is continuing to challenge how the Beauty industry involves and markets towards women of colour. Most recently, Bergdorf spoke out on Nivea glorifying fair skin in their advert which is currently airing in Africa. To bring awareness to the explicit racist message of the ad, Bergdorf wrote: ”Empowerment is not too much to ask for. ALL black skin is beautiful, no exceptions, so celebrate us as we are instead of asking us to adhere to unattainable and racist ideals.”
The advert referenced is for the ‘Nivea Natural Fairness Body Lotion’ and begins with a women of colour looking at her reflection in dismay. A voiceover then starts with: ‘I need a product that I can trust…’. The model of the advert is then seen beaming brightly as her skin ‘achieves’ a halo of lightness cast over her (originally beautiful) complexion where the lotion is applied. On the matter, Munroe Bergdorf address the brand directly to her following of over 40 thousand: “This is not okay. #Nivea – Perpetuating the notion that fairer skin is more beautiful, more youthful is so damaging and plays into the racist narrative so prevalent in the beauty industry, that whiteness or light skin is the standard that we should all strive for.” Indeed, the brand seemed to apply itself to a market whereby skin lightening creams are normalised and even popular because of the Beauty industry benefiting from racist ideals.
Due to a long line of oppression against darker complexions, the way in which brands seem to speak to women of colour is starkly different to white, Western women. On the matter, OkayAfrica, an American-based publication focusing on African news and culture, clarified the hypocrisy of certain beauty brands that aim to profit from this racist narrative: “As we all know, this conversation is not at all new. The same companies which sell skin bleaching products across Africa and Asia are the same ones boosting messages of self-acceptance to consumers in North America — both in attempt to capitalize off perceived consumer trends.”
Thankfully, however, influential figures such as Munroe Bergdorf are able to raise awareness to these marketing issues which psychologically effect many women of colour. As a result, the real-time interaction of social media enabled the African advert to be brought to the attention of Western women and men, and, within hours a movement to boycott the brand was instilled. It’s hopeful then that these reactions will urge brands and advertisers to be cautious of their messaging and intent moving forward.