After down under fairness creams, it is now the turn of vaginal tightening gels to liberate the new Indian woman. Is this new sexuality whose time has come? Or contemporary re-branding of age old hallowed chastity?
The summer of 2012 in India saw the launch of a vaginal whitening wash called ‘Clean & Dry Intimate’ with an advertisement that showed a husband’s renewed interest in his wife post application. In my first viewing that was supposed to make me cringe so much that my vagina would turn into a loudspeaker of its own, I was unfazed. What distinguished this advertisement from that of any fairness cream or anti-ageing solution or a sanitary napkin? Don’t all these ads chiefly promote the idea of a woman pleasing the man?
Now that the rains are here, monsoon presents us with the likes of Mahabanoo Kotwal (the actress who wrote the Indian version of Eve Ensler’s ‘The Vagina Monologues’) launching a “women empowering” vaginal tightening and rejuvenation gel that shows an entire family (from grandma to baby) celebrating the renewal of a married couple’s sex life. This simply endorses, celebrates and renders even sexier the hallowed place a woman’s vagina and chastity has in this society.
The ad received widespread flak in the online world with twitter critics completely panning it. In a hurried comeback, 18 Again started promoting itself as a “complete vaginal health solution working towards healing internal wounds, preventing vaginal infections, promoting attractive odour and encouraging natural lubrication.” The FDA sealed product with natural extracts is based on a clinical study that the company is more than willing to share through email (Source: @be18again on Twitlonger).
Dr. Anand Philip (@Uberschizo), a general physician based in Bangalore, believes the experts featured on the product website should be sued for lending their names to advertisement as per the Indian Medical Council Code of Ethics (Clause 6.1.1). He says, “The ingredients of the gel are plants and flower extracts none of which have been shown to be of use in vaginal tightening.” Dr. Munjal V Kapadia, obstetrician and gynaecologist based in Gujarat, as an aside, thinks that the presence of natural ingredients makes the product relatively safer. “There is no long term side effect, however, some women may suffer from an allergy/rash.”
Fair is lovely, and tight even better?
Bollywood make up artist and hair stylist, Savio John Perreira, says that it comes as no surprise that there is a vaginal whitening gel. “Women have been using fairness products already down there. When you use hair removal cream, it can leave scars or cause skin pigmentation. I think it’s your choice if you want make it look fairer. People have been doing it anyway”, says Savio.
Ali Zaheer, a Marketing Analyst with Insights & More, a market research and consulting firm based out of Singapore, re-affirms that for beauty products in India, fairness is still the number one factor. “It’s a cultural thing. Fairness is associated with coming from a good background and status and these are still strong perceptions that a majority hold in this day and age. Everything from good paying jobs to finding a good man is linked to having a good complexion.”
In adequate supply
Products for down there have been sold for a while now. Perennial washes have already been serving women’s needs like Lactacyd, Tulip Personal Wash and Ayur’s Hygiene Wash, to name a few. Clean & Dry Intimate actually has a range of products like the burn and itch cream, the powder to curb perpetual wetness and a bodywash meant for refreshing your vagina, kind of like a “facial.”
As far as sexual enhancement goes, which is what the vaginal tightening product ad seems to suggest, the market has till now been flooded to serve and supply men’s needs. “The internet is basically a big ‘grow a bigger penis and stay up longer’ sales engine, so if there is an existing gender expectation, it is squarely from men – to stay harder, bigger and longer. Women are new entrant to this race”, says Dr. Philip.
Gayatri Singh Dahiya, a Marketing Executive in New Delhi, calls advertising the culprit preying on Indian women’s insecurity. “It’s almost foolish to suggest that advertising ought to work on a set of moral ethics but can we at least expect they’d have some sort of a self regulatory mechanism? To plant the thought in the mind of a woman’s to want to ‘whiten’ her vagina to be desirable to her man, is downright sexist, unethical, disgusting, uneducated, and harmful.”
As per Sapna Bhavnani, Hair Stylist Owner of Mumbai’s Mad OWot, if anyone has to be taken to case, then it should be the advertising and marketing industry for making such ridiculous and regressive ads. “If you look at these fairness cream ads, majority of them don’t have any celebrities endorsing them. They usually take a normal looking, college going girl to show the transformation. She adds, “It is the mindset of the consumer that needs to change since companies and advertisers will keep working on consumer demands.”
So welcome or condemn?
Anything fair (that is automatically lovely) finds itself right in the front rows of supermarket and convenience store shelves, whether that be a cream or herbal tea. But will packaging fairness or tightness into a product for the vagina, clothed as it is in shame or sanctity among Indian women, make it a part of the laundry list of the average household?
Savio tends to think more favourably for Clean & Dry Intimate Wash. “I think it’s great that it’s open and out there. Especially for people who have been secretly inquisitive, it makes a huge difference to them.”
Dr. Kapadia says if it weren’t for such gels, people would resort to other methods. “They use certain products available at home for lubrication etc. Skewed gender expectations are already prevalent. This ad and such products just thrust them into the limelight.”
Gayatri makes her stand clear as a consumer. “It’s a classic cliché towards creating and sustaining a fascist regime of acceptable standards of beauty for a regular, healthy woman. I wouldn’t buy that wash even if my vagina turned char black tomorrow and smelled of beef steak!”
Why is the Brazilian wax considered so hip and trendy and treated no less than getting a pedicure, while a cream that talks about whitewashing post lawn mowing so bad? Can a vaginal rejuvenation cream be remotely considered a progression towards an open discussion of sex and women’s sexuality in a repressed society such as ours? Social media updates have certainly been using it as a pretext for conversations and debates with the hash tag, #womenontop!
Are we just continuously creating unrealistic standards of beauty and gender skewed expectations of sexual pleasure by marketing a product that idealizes a women’s role in bed to just how tighty whitey is her vajayjay?
Perhaps, we should kick up a row about the patriarchal positioning of these vaginal health products in advertisements (for easy acceptance) more than the apparent ‘objective’ needs that the products itself serve. Given just how little and open discussions on women’s sexual health and hygiene beyond the realm of procreation are, commercial promotions and sensational hypes might just place wider options for women on supermarket shelves instead of a chemist’s ability to decode vague medicinal requests.