To be from the western world and fair skinned is to be beautiful and successful. This is the message that’s being fed to many Asian, Caribbean and developing countries.
Racism is something we are all acutely aware of, from the historic days of slavery through to more recent struggle for equal rights. However politically we are aware of the injustice, its blatant presence in consumerism and marketing have been brushed over. Why are huge multi-national companies able to get away with indoctrinating populations in poorer countries into thinking a lighter skin tone is a way of achieving more in life? That having darker skin is a disadvantage that can be ‘fixed’ by shelling out money on skin lightening lotion and potions.
The harmful message is; to use strong and damaging chemicals to achieve a lighter skin-tone of the west and in return reap success with a happier, more successful life, than your darker-skinned relatives. That's the message being pumped into the homes of millions of households in predominantly darker skinned countries.
|Vybz Kartel before and after|
Huge conglomerate Unilever, best known for their soap brand, Dove, is one of the key drivers of skin lightening products in developing countries. In the UK, they placed huge weight on natural beauty, with their EFFIE award winning Real Beauty campaign in 2008. The TV advert depicted every different kind of woman’s figure and shape being beautiful in a non-commercial natural state. Women of every shape, colour and size championed for their new found confidence thanks to Dove.
In stark contrast Unileaver have set a completely different agenda for their Asian market, marketing products for men and women to lighten their skin to achieve a more ‘beautiful completion’.
Unilever’s line of skin products Fair and Lovely provides women with the option to make their skin lighter to attract marriage proposals and supposedly attract love. This inherent racism goes way back; lower-caste Hindus are usually darker and upper-caste Hindus usually lighter. Having lighter skin indicated wealth, and not having to work out in the fields under the sunlight. Many Asian families request to see the bride to be before marriage arrangements are confirmed. Or request for higher dowries are requested from the brides family with darker skin.
One Unilever 2008 TV advertisement even equated fairness with love: "Shottikarer phorsha, ujjol tauk . . . shottikarer bhalobasha" (truly fair, bright skin . . . true love). An extremely harmful statement to women and society as a whole, condoning racial-consumerism supremacy.
Unilever are not alone in marketing the ‘white is best’ stance. In 2008, L'Oréal went a step too far when they digitally lightened RnB star Beyonce Knowles skin tone. Beyonce whose parents are African-American and Creole was shot for fashion magazine Elle sporting strawberry blond hair and fair skin. The Féria/blonde hair colour in the advertisement was explainable. L'Oréal responded; "It is categorically untrue that L'Oréal Paris altered Ms. Knowles' features or skin tone in the campaign for Féria hair color,"
Eric Deggans, chairman of the media-monitoring committee of the National Association of Black Journalists, said Beyoncé's "skin is lighter [in the Elle ad] than the way I'm used to seeing her".
The Time magazine saga of 1994, again used skin tone. This time to darken OJ Simpsons mugs hot, to make him look more sinister and threatening while on trail for murdering his wife. Newsweek and Time both ran the mug shot as the cover story, however the darkened shot caused outrage amongst civil rights groups.
Matt Mahurin who manipulated the police photo of OJ said; "wanted to make it more artful, more compelling."
The risks of using skin-lightening creams are hidden in amongst a long list of ingredients. However there is one significant chemical that is particularly damaging; hydroquinone. The chemical is described as being a severe skin irritant and a possible cancer-causing carcinogen. People using hydroquinone-containing cosmetic products have been found to have unusually high levels of mercury, causing the chemical to be banned in the use of cosmetics in Japan, the European Union and Australia. However, if there is demand for these products, like anything made illegal, there is a black market. There are numerous natural ingredient skin creams that use other ingredients to lighten the skin by reducing the levels of Melanin in the skin. However this can be dangerous as it leaves the skin more venerable to UV rays from the sun, and in turn raising the risk of skin cancer by direct sunlight.
|Damage caused by bleaching creams|
The production of skin lightening products by any large corporation is irresponsible and short sighted. The long term affects will cause a huge number of poor, disadvantaged people to cause damage to their there skin beyond repair, trying to gain a similar complexion to western countries. It also embeds the feeling of inferiority through lack of media representation and racial hierarchy. The money hungry antics of these companies have shrouded the racial supremacy undertones and colonial mentality. This form of ‘buy in’ self-hate for purely cosmetic reasons puts the buyer both at greater health risk and financial strain while they strive for the same opportunities of lighter complexioned race members. Continuing to promote light skin success on TV and commercials will continue to perpetuate the problem.
On the reverse side is the huge market for tanning booths and machines. The obsession the west has with looking tanned and darker has been going on for decades. Helped along by tanning shops and dirt cheap pricing, bringing a whole host of medical dangers. Numerous studies have clearly stated the effects of prolonged exposure to UV rays and its links with skin cancer. Yet people are willing to take these risks in order to go a few shades darker. Still knowing the harmful effect of UV rays, hundreds of thousands of men and women opt to step into booths for that sun-kissed look. More recently spray tans have been appealing for the summer look without the price tag.
So the debate will trundle on and and no doubt people will continue to lighten and darken in the name of fashion and trend.