Two self-inflicted anxieties dominate the psyche of men and women of Pakistan. The perception amongst its women that their beauty is directly proportional to the fairness of their skin and the widespread belief amongst its men about their congenital impotence. The disorder of the first category has created a phenomenal combination for commerce and chemicals to find their final destination on the faces of ‘wannabe’ fair ladies of Pakistan. From Multinationals at one end to the village-based industries at the other we produce 164 brands of whitening creams that not just promise ‘fairness’ but also a fast-track and affluent marriage. Led by ‘Fair and Lovely’ and followed by lesser known names like Golden Pearl, Emex, Stillman’s Cream, Due Whitening Cream, Skin White and Sandal beauty cream, the Pakistani market, TV and billboards are inundated with advertisements of fairness creams. In all fairness, most do not deliver on what they promise. There is enough medical information available that suggests that laden with mercury, bleach and other chemicals some of these creams are in fact damaging to the skin and can have other long term harmful consequences.
The second category of complex relates to the centuries old perception that regardless of their macho appearances and utterances, most Pakistani men in fact suffer from a disease called “men’s weakness”. This disease is so acute and demands such urgent attention that the walls all along the main roads from Karachi to Khyber are plastered with information giving graphic details of these weaknesses and the addresses of those who can promptly cure this unrelenting deficiency.
While the products for women’s complexion and men’s weakness may be totally unrelated, both have some striking similarities. Both are based on skin-deep perceptions and values. Both appeal to the insecurity of the ignorant. Both promise rapid accomplishments. Both promise a success rate in days rather than weeks or months. Both are questionable on ethics and both have a potential for fakeness, fraud and harm. Interestingly the ‘awe of the white’ and the ‘complex of weakness’ are also reflected in the principles of our foreign policy.
So what is wrong with the women’s dream to whiten their complexion and the men’s desire to mitigate their weaknesses. Let us look at the bigger picture. The corporate and the media have gotten together to promote a skin-deep and debasing value of female beauty and superiority based on the colour of her skin. This unfair and unethical approach is driven by the singular motive of making money at the cost of ignorant colour-conscious females. The possible harmful effects of these creams are never spelled out. The product description is often carefully wrapped in buzz words such as “ Skin Lightening technology that synergistically integrates Vitamin B3 (Niacin-amide) with UVB and UVC sunscreens.” The Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) has never bothered to analyse these products and make public their contents. The doctors and medical associations have not felt it necessary to raise their voice on an issue which concerns public health as well as bio-ethics.
Are these superfluous whitening creams consistent with the much advertised Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of organizations? Also, why are the ‘hakeems’, ‘vedhs’, ‘siniasi babas’, and other quacks allowed to dupe the public with their harmful gimmicks. There is a need to bring these issues out of the closet and discuss them in public, with facts, figures, laboratory reports and expert opinions, so as to highlight the truth behind these questionable products and practices. As one of its tasks, the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) must play its role in combating quackery. Unfortunately on July 12, 2012 a bill which was not even on the agenda of the Parliament was presented and passed without any discussion. According to this hurriedly passed Bill, the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) was unceremoniously dissolved, taking away the distant hope one might have had to see an end to these malpractices. Must we take a cue from the fake degrees of the parliamentarians, and mold our laws to promote the rule of the quacks.