Vagina Brightening: Indian TV Ad For Genital Skin Whitening Product Stokes Controversy

06/07/2012 05:30 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2012

An Indian TV advertisement for a skin-whitening shower gel has sparked controversy for suggesting that a fairer vagina is more attractive to men.

The ad for Clean & Dry Intimate Wash, shows a young Indian woman seemingly being ignored by her boyfriend. An animation shows a woman in the shower using the product, which produces a "brightening" effect around her genital area. Cut to the same girl now romping playfully with a much more interested boyfriend.

Described as 'unique,' the product is apparently designed to keep the skin 'fresh and protected from infection all day' with the added bonus that it will 'brighten darkened skin in that area ... making it many shades fairer,' according to Mail Online.

The ad sparked a backlash online. The Wall Street Journal published a scathing opinion piece by Rupa Subramanya, who labelled the concept of genital whitening "the ultimate insult."

Deepanjana Pal added in Mumbai Boss, "My vagina isn't happy about what's been happening recently in Indian media."

Blogger Sharell added: "No doubt this latest product will heighten women's insecurities about their color."

Skin whitening creams are big business in India, where the country's social caste system associates darker skin with members of lower strata of society.

TV ads for skin-lightening creams have been running for many years, advancing the notion that having lighter skin will help users get ahead in the world of work and make them more attractive to the opposite sex.

An Indian women's rights activist told NPR that women are so concerned about pigmentation that during pregnancy they will eat saffron and powdered gold in the belief that this will make their babies lighter.

Skin-whitening products, however, have long been associated with health risks. Prolonged use of some products can thin the skin, and in extreme cases leave it so sensitive that a light touch can bruise it.

Skin lightening can also have uneven results, with some areas of the skin becoming lighter than others.

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