THE PURSUIT OF WHITENESS
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Young girls have asked me how I look so fair and beautiful. Though I have always been aware of the practice of skin bleaching, teenagers and children altering their complexion for better opportunity and desirability is a shock to me.
Women applied lead paint and powder or consumed arsenic wafers to give their skin pallor and portray purity during Victorian times. The desire for whiteness later exploded in European dominated countries, as fair skin became associated with those who were civilized, virtuous, and lovely. While the rich stayed indoors, the poor worked the fields; exacerbating a class system based on color.
Skin Bleaching Today
Skin lightening companies declare that a fair complexion will make women more attractive and give them better opportunities. Fair and Lovely claims they have given “hope to millions of women around the world who desired fair and even toned skin, for how it made them feel about themselves, and for how it made the world see them.” The company even provides a fairness rating- lighter is better.
Skin whitening is a multibillion dollar industry that is still prevalent around the world. Brown and black women, desperate to become more “attractive,” turn to bleaching, cosmetic creams, chemical peels, laser treatments, steroids, whitening pills, and even injections. Chemicals in these products can cause skin rashes, thyroid and kidney dysfunction, scarring, mercury poisoning, dermatitis, and acne.
Despite movements like #unfairandlovely, many women continue to bleach their skin in secret. The media has focused on women that do it rather than why they do it. We should be examining the institutions that support and advocate for the practice rather than focusing on individuals.
American beauty brands that are selling skin-whitening creams:
Lancome- Blanc Expert- “features the latest brightening technology designed to regulate melanin production and awaken the luminosity of the skin.”
L’Oreal- White Perfect - “It fades dark spots and brightens skin to give you the fair, flawless complexion you desire.” L’Oreal was recognized as a leader in the United States, winning an award for Diversity Best Practices while selling this product in other countries.
-Olay- Natural White 7 IN ONE Glowing Fairness Cream - "its formula, enriched with SPF 24 and triple nutrient system- vitamins B3, pro B5 and E helps lighten skin tone."
- Olay is selling this cream even after launching their “Face Anything” campaign featuring a widely diverse group of models.
Nivea - “Noticeably smoother, whiter and firmer skin” - Their 2017, “white is purity” campaign, intended to be shown to middle eastern audiences, was accidentally posted to their UK social media accounts. After taking down the ad, their spokesperson stated, “Diversity and inclusivity are crucial values of Nivea.” Their whitening products are still sold today.
The popularity of these products is disturbing. If you also feel strongly about this topic, feel free to sign the petition linked below.