The former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine in Sri Lanka, Kinita Shenoy, has revealed that she was driven out of her job and career after refusing to endorse a skin lightening cream by cosmetic brand Ponds, which is owned by Unilever.
Speaking to Buzzfeed News, Shenoy explained that she was initially sent a package of samples in 2017, which she ignored. However, she was soon sent a second package - this time to her home. Shenoy told Buzzfeed that these packages arrived despite having previously told Unilever marketers that she was not interested in promoting skin lighteners.
Blurring out Pond's brand name, Shenoy then shared a post about the products on Instagram, writing: “I appreciate the lovely packaging but I’m not really on board with the concept of ‘White Beauty'."
She continued: “Aren’t we past the point where we tell wonderful, melanin-popping Asian women they need to make their skin look whiter?”
This public stance only angered consumer product giant Unilever, who requested Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka's publishers fire Shenoy. They refused.
“Unilever then retracted every single brand advertising for the publication,” Shenoy told Buzzfeed.
Even though Unilever eventually decided to recommence advertising in Cosmopolitan, Shenoy felt like her relationship with her bosses had been irreparably damaged by the incident and she left her role - and journalism altogether - in 2018.
"So often, I get asked why I left journalism," she wrote in an Instagram post.
"This @buzzfeednews article explains the whole sordid story, from whitening creams to corporate bullying.
"As you all know, saying I don't want little girls to bleach themselves is probably the LEAST radical thing I've ever said. It still pissed off a global whitening cream conglomerate bad enough that they threatened to end my career."
She continued: "Racist whitening creams have ruined lives, caused deaths across rural india (via bride burning etc), and been an intrinsic part of Lankan society in the worst possible way. I wasn't going to support that and continue the cycle of colourism and violence. Don't stop speaking up for what you believe in."
She concluded: "It's easier to stay quiet but we all have a duty to our communities and our young girls to push back against cruelty, racism, and sexism so they don't have to."