Skin color is an emotive topic.
Many whose skin is white desperately beach themselves for hours and days in order to look, somehow, less bleached. But some whose skin is naturally darker seem to believe, for so many subjective and, sometimes, cultural reasons, that the ideal is for their skin to be lighter. And I am in no way specifically referring to either Michael Jackson or Sammy Sosa here.
However, the emergence of of skin-whitening Facebook app in India, courtesy of Vaseline, has aroused much interest around the world. The headline on the ads for the app carries with it the promise of a more handsome you, a more eligible you. It reads: "Transform your face on Facebook with Vaseline men."
I know that Vaseline products have, for many years, effected many helpful transformations for so many people. Yet, the cultural triggers involved in the creation of this app might offer some dark nuances for the idea of romantic love and everlasting passion.
In India, especially northern India, the app's targeting at men reflects the idea that lighter skin color suggests its owner comes from a higher caste.
The sheer normality of such a notion seems evident, given that this campaign features Bollywood actor Shahid Kapur, who most certainly doesn't look as if he needs to lighten his features in order to attract the attention of his target sex.
The people behind the app claim it is already a huge success. "We started campaign advertising (for the application) from the second week of June and the response has been pretty phenomenal," Pankaj Parihar from ad conglomerate Omnicom told Adelaide Now.
However, I wonder about the real-world application of such an app.
What happens when the lady in question finally meets the man and discovers that he is quite a few shades darker than his profile picture? Does she scream in pain and rush back to the bosom of her friends and family? Does she stand, stare, and then sue? Or has his charming personality come through so much through his Facebook messages that superficiality is tossed to the wind like a Bollywood dance number?
I ask these questions because this skin-lightening thing is not a one-way affair in India.
In the interests of, well, adventure, I went to the Vaseline India site and discovered something that might, to some, vibrate on a scale between sad and macabre. For there was a large ad that played on women's apparent insecurities about the difference in shade that might exist between their faces and their bodies.
"Four out of 5 women believe their body is darker than their face. Are you one of them?" the home page asks, sensitively. It then offers women a solution. Vaseline Healthy White Body Milk. I am fairly confident there is no such product as Vaseline Unhealthy White Body Milk. Or even Vaseline Healthy Black Body Milk.
But who could not be fascinated when the site goes on to suggest that you grab a pack of this healthy product so that you can use its very helpful shade meter? And if you think Vaseline is somehow alone in this pursuit, please check out this lovely ad from 2007:
We are all such insecure, superficial beings that we leave ourselves open to the belief that we must change ourselves in order to be attractive to someone else.
For myself, I believe that a lot of America's problems would be solved not by manipulation of skin color, but by simply importing the idea of arranged marriages from India. Facebook could set up a separate site, for parents only, just so that they could make social connections and find their headstrong offspring appropriate partners. Just think of all the bother that would save.