Fairness Creams and the Metrosexual: Analyzing the Discourse of Male Sexuality as Played Out in the Indian Media

Ms. Srilakshmi Ramakrishnan
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Marian Salzman, Executive Vice President - JWT Worldwide, and global trendspotter borrowed the term “metrosexual” (coined by Mark Simpson, 1994) in the mid-90s, to identify an emergent phenomenon among urban men that was first noticed in Sydney, Australia. She explains that a metrosexual is a heterosexual urban male who is interested in shopping, his own appearance, fashion and trends. A spate of articles had recently appeared in the Indian media about the rise of the metrosexual on the subcontinent. Intertwined with this discourse of male sexuality is the preference for a lighter skin tone, long embedded within the Indian psyche. This owes at least in part to its Vedic associations with purity (2500 BC) and also to the long years of colonization by the British.
This discourse of male sexuality in the Indian media especially centered around the launch of two personal care products – Fair & Handsome, a skin bleaching cream that specifically targeted the male population, and Lux International, bath soap and body wash, for women. Until recently, advertisers resorted to stereotypical representations of women as consumers of skin bleaching creams and lotions. With the launch of Fair & Handsome as a fairness cream exclusively for men, Indian society is witnessing a discursive revolution that breaks taboos, overcomes social embarrassment and allows men to openly acknowledge their interest in personal care products. Simultaneously, this also opens up a potentially huge consumer market for the advertised brand.
The second advertisement under study is the television commercial for Lux International which features ShahRukh Khan (the famous Bollywood movie star, who is regarded as the embodiment of Indian metrosexuality) in a bathtub of rose petals, expounding Lux as the secret of his beauty. Historically the brand has been known as the beauty soap of movie stars and has always featured actresses from the Hindi movie industry. While this particular spot was created as a special advertisement to celebrate the 75th year of the brand, it appears to have been largely misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it has turned out to be the biggest attention-grabber and most talked-about advertising gimmick of the day.
This paper explores the discourse of male sexuality in the Indian media through an analysis of the two afore-mentioned advertisements, newspaper clippings and a focus group discussion with eight male college students in the age range of 21-22 years. The study was carried out in Chennai, the largest city in southern India, from June to December 2005. Drawing on Visual Social Semiotics (Hodge & Kress; Kress & van Leeuwen; van Leeuwen & Jewitt) as an analytical framework, this study examines the interplay between whiteness as a normative construct alongside the emergence of the metrosexual, as interpreted by the residents of Chennai. Simultaneously it also offers an insightful commentary on the shifting societal dynamics with respect to men’s personal grooming and the presentation of ‘self’ (Goffman, 1959).

Keywords: Advertisements, Discourse Analysis, Multimodality, Skin color, Sexuality
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies and Humanities
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Fairness Creams and the Metrosexual

Ms. Srilakshmi Ramakrishnan

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Language, Reading & Culture, The University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona, USA

Ref: I06P0362