I thought that the practice of
skin-whitening / skin bleaching had ended with the 1980s but apparently not
so. According to Amina Mire writing in
this weeks Counter Punch, " there is an emerging skin-whitening industry" where expensive skin bleaching products are being marketed
as anti-aging creams for white women with promises to “restore” and “transform”
aging skins, and as skin lightening creams with the promise of “White Perfect”
for Asian women which is the second largest market after white women. Black women are using the creams less, however when they are used they tend to
be the cheaper and therefore more toxic variety. African women who have chosen to use
skin-bleaching creams have very often suffered devastating disfigurement from
the toxicity of the creams as well as condemnation by society at large. However before we condemn the many Black and
African women who have chosen to use the creams we should note that even today
many communities believe the lighter the skin the better especially in
women. It may not be as overt as say 50
years ago but the colour / hair complex and associated colonial mentality within
our communities still exits.
The article is interesting as it provides a
brief history and background to the skin-bleaching industry which originally
was targeted at both Black women and southern white women in the US as early as 1889
for whom it was marketed as
white person objects to a swarthy brown-hued or mulatto like skin, therefore if
staying much out of doors use regularly Satin Skin Vanishing Greaseless Cream
to keep the skin normally white”
“Dark” skinned southern and eastern
Europeans were another target market for whom the bleaching creams helped them to pass
for “white” northern European just in case they did not appear white enough
in a country where “invisible blackness” existed (light skinned Blacks
‘passing’ for whites). For these women
using the creams could be seen as part of an acceptable day to day beauty
routine. Whereas for Black women there
was no hiding from the “whitening” aspect of the creams which at any rate would
be a giveaway once the hands or other body parts were visible not to talk of
their African features.
Another interesting aspect of the
skin-whitening market is that the media have always discussed it in the context
of Black women and the terrible damage the creams cause rather than as a global
practice by women of all skin shades and races. Nonetheless the damage to Black women has resulted in the
“marketing around the world, of a new and,
conceivably, ‘safer’ but high expensive skin-whitening commodities and
combatant technologies”. The main target
of these expensive creams are wealthy Asian women to “modify skin tone” and to
equally rich white women as an “anti-aging therapy”. What is strange to my mind is that creams containing 2 % hydroquione that have
caused damage to African women are now being used as anit-aging cream for white women
with double the amount of hydroquione. One such cream called “Lustre” is made by a US pharmaceutical company and is sold in beauty salons and dermatology offices in the US.
Mire also makes the connection between the
pharmaceutical industry and the cosmetic industry. Transnational biotechnology, pharmaceutical
and cosmetics corporations are engaged in the research and development and mass
marketing of a plethora of new forms of skin-whitening products which can
“bleach out” the “dark skin tones” of women of colour and can remove corporeal
evidence of anti-aging processes, unhealthy life-styles and overall pollution
from the skin of white women”
In short a one stop solution that cuts
across racial, class and lifestyle boundaries that plays to both the desire for
eternal youth and racial superiority.
The largest cosmetic company in the world
is L’Oreal who also serve as a prime
example of the pharmaceutical, cosmetic industry link; in this case between
L’Oreal and Sanofi-Synthelabo which is the third largest pharmaceutical company
after Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. (Incidentally
L’Oreal still uses animals in its research laboratories.) Naturewatch
In this way L’Oreal is able to blur the
distinction between cosmetics and pharmaceutics which as Mire points out has
“serious social, medical and political implications”. The accompanying advertising is a mix of pharmaceutics,
cosmetics and straight up racism. For example, Vichy, a L’Oreal subsidiary that is a pharmaceutics / cosmetics mix is able to market
skin lightening as “skincare biomedicine”. To advertise their product “BI-White” they show a supposedly
"Asian woman peeling off her black facial skin with a
zipper. As her black skin is removed a
new ‘smooth’, ‘whitened’ skin with no blemishes takes its place. The implications of this image are blunt and
chilling. Blackness is false, dirty and
ugly. Whiteness is true, health, clean and beautiful."
There are now even skin lightening pills on the market that allow people to "lighten their skin from within" and come away with a "Hollywood" complexion.
And theres Fair and Flawless "for those who seek extreme lightening" and they can even make custom creams if you send them your picture. The company is Von Hoven Cosmetics Inc and they sound like a pretty fearsome bunch so I am not saying much else.
Whilst writing this and doing some googling I came across a discussion forum on the topic of skin-lightening/whitening on something called the Ask Me Help Desk. I find it quite depressing that there are women, and they are mostly women out there who are really into this kind of makeover but I suppose they are at least discussing the products on the market. According to one person there are "natural" creams and pills on the market. How can any skin lightening product be called natural? and pills at that.
On one level I have some small degree of
sympathy for women who use these products. Sympathy for the apparent
dissatisfaction with their bodies that drives them to waste time and money on
useless products. On the other hand their vanity, self hate and inferiority complexes makes them victims of advertising and consumerism and for this I have no sympathy whatsoever.
suggest we all irrespective of our race or sex, use natural oils of one sort or
the other depending where you live eg palm oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, agan
oil or olive oil. Right now I use unrefined agan oil from the Essouria region
or when that runs out olive oil for my hair body and face – lovely! A friend of mine who has the most perfect skin at 60 plus has used nothing but vaseline all her life. Whatever we women and men choose we should all learn to love our bodies and grow old with some degree of grace and self-respect!