21 Feb 2014

Mirror, Mirror, who is the fairest of them all?

There is this constant desire that humans are plagued with. The desire to be something we are not. A desire born either out of envy or awe for something or someone. For instance, whilst a group of individuals may crave for tans, the other might wish to be a few shades lighter. Today we will delve into the wish for the latter.

In many parts of the world, men and women subject themselves through the process of skin lightening. According to webmd.com, “skin lightening is a cosmetic treatment to reduce the prominence of skin discolorations and even out the color of the skin”.

Asia is a forerunner for this fad with likes of famous brand Vaseline releasing a line for men in India. The advert features a Facebook app in which customers can “transform their face” by altering their skin tone. Popular actors and football players are recruited to endorse skin lightening products. The craze even goes as far as introducing a vaginal shower gel that was proven to lighten the skin around the genital area. A clip for “Clean and Dry Intimate Wash” shows how a husband’s attraction to his wife changes for the better, after she began using the shower gel.

The general message beauty companies are relaying: “Lighter is beautiful and more successful”.

Moving to another continent, Africa now boasts one of the main buyers of skin lightening creams, otherwise known as bleaching creams. African artist Dencia saw a market for this and set up her own skin care line called "Whitenicious", to lighten any dark spots. Though it is general knowledge that these creams are used for more than just the odd spot or two. Pela Okiemute endorses a pill that is a “healthy medication, with its side-effect as lightening skin”. Pela stands as a walking example of Gluthathione pills.

Side effects of skin lighteners are numerous and rather frightening. They range from premature skin aging to increased risk of skin cancer from sun exposure. The active ingredients of skin bleaching products are steroids, hydroquinone and mercury. The last two have been banned in the United States but unfortunately are readily available in skin lighteners elsewhere.

Steroids present in skin lighteners can cause acne, uneven bleaching, skin thinning and infections. Although it is used for treatment of psoriasis and eczema, steroid-use has to be under supervision of a professional dermatologist.

Some side effects of skin bleaching 

Hydroquinone, could cause unwanted irreversible skin discoloration when present in skin lightening products. What an irony.

Mercury has been shown to affect the function of the kidneys and reduce or even destroy melanocytes-cells responsible for skin tone. Psychiatric and neurological problems have also been associated with mercury.

An alarming fact is the easy availability of these lotions, soaps and pills to the general public. A trip to shops catering to the Asian and African community have entire sections dedicated to skin lightening products with no professional consultation prior to purchase available.  

So what is the obsession with having lighter skin? For one, media force-feeds the general public with images of scantily clad blonde, fair and blue eyed women day in day out. To be classed as full bodied women in society, we are led to believe that it's either the Candice Swaenopol way or the high way.
Many Indian actors have come forward with accusations of being denied roles and asked to lighten their skin because they were too dark. Billboards and adverts in India and Africa feature  light skinned celebrities who are worshipped by their fans. Because these public figures often appear on skin lightening adverts, it should come as no surprise that their fans emulate them on this front.
The worrying prevalence of discrimination against darker skin has led to a start of campaigns like “Dark is Beautiful” in India to raise awareness and strengthen the confidence of women who were so under pressure to be fairer, that they wanted to commit suicide.  

Depiction of the mantra "fairer skin is beautiful"

Granted the fashion and film industry has seen a change in choices of brand ambassadors to include women of colour, however, there is still a long way to go on this road that diversity breeds acceptance and darker skin colour is not a curse. Indeed I say curse as that is what many see their skin tone as. How else can you describe the tedious, expensive and health risking extremes a lot of men and women go through to be lighter.

If more of these positive groups could be supported, consumers enlightened about the effects of products, stricter policies placed on ingredients and a reduction in the ease with which customers have access to bleaching skin care is introduced, it could change the mantra that fair skin is the standard of beauty. 

1 comment:

  1. Very good and interesting writing. I was taken aback to read that men are now using bleaching creme as well. To think that loads of "white" people run during their leave to warmer parts of the world to relax and stay under the sun to get tanned - and others burn their skin away. Upside down world. The topic is very interesting and one can talk endless on it. Point is if they will not ban certain ingredients and Ministries are not doing their job by looking after their peoples health it will continue like this.
    The most disgusting thing is the one with the intimate wash. Why did he then marry her in the first place?

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