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NEW DELHI (AFP) - Skincare group Vaseline has introduced a skin-lightening application for Facebook in India, enabling users to make their faces whiter in their profile pictures.
The download is designed to promote Vaseline's range of skin-lightening creams for men, a huge and fast-growing market driven by fashion and a cultural preference for fairer skin.
The widget promises to "Transform Your Face On Facebook With Vaseline Men" in a campaign fronted by Bollywood actor Shahid Kapur, who is depicted with his face divided into dark and fair halves.
"We started campaign advertising (for the application) from the second week of June and the response has been pretty phenomenal," Pankaj Parihar from global advertising firm Omnicom, which designed the campaign, told AFP.
Indian cosmetics giant Emami launched the first skin-whitening cream for men in 2005, called "Fair and Handsome" and advertised by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan. It came 27 years after the first cream for women.
Since then a half dozen foreign brands have piled into the male market, including Garnier, L'Oreal and Nivea, which promote the seemingly magical lightening qualities of their products in ubiquitous advertising.
In 2009, a poll of nearly 12,000 people by online dating site Shaadi.com, revealed that skin tone was considered the most important criteria when choosing a partner in three northern Indian states.
"More and more, there's an anxiety in the mind of men about having fair skin," sociology professor T. K. Oommen at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told AFP.
"Indians believe that if you have fair skin you belong to the higher caste, the Brahmins," he added, explaining that a succession of light-skinned colonisers in India reinforced the association of fairness with power.
"The Aryans, who came from central Asia, in addition to the Portuguese, the French and the British colonisers ruled over the country and probably contributed to this negative perception of dark-skin."