For much too long, cosmetic firms have made money off an alleged “need" among Indians to lighten their complexion. Advertisements for fairness potions have not just preyed on false social insecurities, but even tended to heighten them. Such ads shall not go unpunished anymore. The government intends to tweak the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954, to ban ads that promise stuff like magical hair regrowth, lighter skin, or a libido boost. A violation could attract a fine of up to 50 lakh and land an advertiser in prison for as long as five years.

Advertisers had it coming. Ads that show women miraculously transforming their destiny for the better with skin lighteners are so common, they don’t even raise eyebrows. This suggests a deep-seated complexion complex. It is a pity, all the same, that the law has had to intervene. The ad industry claimed to have high standards of self-regulation. But on fairness creams, it chose to pretend that a real need was being fulfilled. That fraudulent notions of beauty were being fostered seemed not to matter. It is time for ad agencies to examine the values they’ve been upholding.

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