Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

The Promise of Fairness: A Linguistic Analysis of Skin Lightening Advertisements in India

The Promise of Fairness: A Linguistic Analysis of Skin Lightening Advertisements in India

Jahnavi Narkar

This study aims to shed light on the factors that dictate the discourse on skin lightening in India by analyzing the language used in online advertisements for skin lightening products. In many cultures, light skin is considered desirable and often represents cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1979). In such cultures, people, mostly women, often engage in the use of skin lightening products and treatments. Light skin is considered an important element of female beauty in many Asian cultures. Asia is one of the largest markets for skin lightening products with hundreds of local and international brands in India alone. In conjunction with the premium placed on light skin, stigma is attached to the lack of cultural capital symbolized by dark skin. In most Indo-Aryan languages, using the word for ‘dark’ to describe a person’s complexion is considered offensive. Euphemistic words like ‘wheatish’ and ‘dusky’ are used instead. This also applies to Indian varieties of English. This study analyzes advertisements for skin lightening products on the English and Hindi platforms of the e-commerce website Amazon,, along four comparative metrics – the language of advertisement, the targeted gender, the price of the product and its country of origin. The dependent variables studied are the specific words used to describe the bleaching properties of the product, the product itself, the targeted user prior to their use of the product, the qualities the product promises to impart to the user, and the conceptual metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) used in the advertisement. This study highlights the role of language in the construction of the notions relating skin color to class, gender, and caste.

April 5, 2019 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. I think you have picked a great topic to write about. It seems that the way you structure your paper is very solid– I can get a clear sense of the way your argument flows. I think that a follow-up research question that would be great to explore is how can language can be used to change the constructed notions that relate skin color to class, gender and caste?
    I would love to read your paper!

    Comment by Dina Charara | April 23, 2019 | Reply

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