Repository logo

Combining Global Expertise with Local Knowledge in Colonial India: Selling Ideals of Beauty and Health in Commodity Advertising (c. 1900–1949)

Accepted version

No Thumbnail Available



Change log


Hussain, Mobeen 


This article traces the evolution of branded commodity advertising and consumption from corporeal health concerns to the racialisation of beauty through skin-lightening cosmetics in late colonial India. It centres two empirical foci: the marketing of personal hygiene products to Indian markets, and their racialised and gendered consumption. This article argues that the imperial economy tapped into and commodified ideals of cleanliness, beauty and fairness through marketing—ideals that continue to pervade contemporary South Asian communities. Contrary to claims that multinational corporations permeated Indian markets after the economic liberalisation of the late 1980s, there is a much deeper genealogy to the racialised imperial economy operating in European colonies. This article also examines the phenomenological underpinnings of imperial whiteness in colonial encounters to demonstrate how certain commodities appealed to Indians as ‘modern’ consumers, as well as how middle-class Indians and local entrepreneurs became active participants in the demand for, consumption and production of personal hygiene commodities.



4702 Cultural Studies, 35 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services, 3506 Marketing, 44 Human Society, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, 47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4303 Historical Studies, 4404 Development Studies

Journal Title

South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Informa UK Limited