I will be honest. I have nowhere to begin with this post. I’m reading the book Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed and it’s bringing up a lot of deep rooted issues that I have with myself. This book is a collection of essays on the experience of growing up Latinx and most of them with the Latinx diaspora. Some of the experiences deal with colorism and people being judged on the basis of their skin color. That dreaded “C” word…colorism strikes again. If you’ve never heard of the term, it means when there’s a prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
While I won’t go too deep into the book (the review will come very soon), I will talk about the feelings that I have associated with colorism. I think we can all agree that judging someone unfairly based by the color of their skin is wrong. However, I do it sometime. I say this as a dark skinned. I had an experience recently in which a student, who was dark skinned himself I might add, was calling another student, one younger than him, “charcoal” and he laughed with his friends (some were not black) and it annoyed me to my core. It’s not funny!
I remember when I was a little girl growing up, everyone (including myself) thought it was funny to call another student names for being so dark skinned. We would call her “tar baby” or “blackie” and while I didn’t think it was right that we were doing that, no matter how she felt, I went along with it and it was wrong. I felt really bad for going with the crowd and what really hurts is that it came from our own African American community?
Which brings me to the topic of skin bleaching. Skin bleaching is the process by which substances are used to reduce melanin concentration in the skin to lighten it. Its very popular in Asian countries, African countries, Jamaica, and here in the United States. According to a report by the World Health Organization, half of the population in Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines uses some kind of skin lightening treatment. And it’s even higher in India (60%) and African countries, such as Nigeria (77%). It may not seem like it but here in the U.S., skin bleaching products contain ingredients like hydroquinone to help lessen dark marks and hyperpigmentation.
Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean that it’s safe. A lot of the skin bleaching products out there are actually illegal. They contain mercury, steroids, and hydroquinone bleach. They can cause kidney problems, blood poisoning, and cancer. Those are some pretty big risks people are taking for lighter skin, but hey, beauty is pain!
Why do people bleach their skin? People with lighter skin tones are seen as prettier or more attractive. They tend to have more opportunities than their counterparts with a darker complexion. According to an article on the National Library of Medicine’s website, it was stated that “Black women with lighter skin are more likely to marry men of greater social and economic status because of their perceived attractiveness and presumed characteristics regarding femininity and morality.” Unfortunately, a lot of our influences comes from a Eurocentric standard of beauty. According to another study article, “The widespread belief in the inferiority of those with dark skin partly justified the white supremacy of the colonial and antebellum periods of American history.” It was also reported in that same study article that “…Blair et al. (2004) examine the influence of Afrocentric features—a composite measure that includes skin color—in a sample of 216 young black and white male inmates in the Florida correctional system. They find that whites and blacks with more Afrocentric features serve longer prison terms, but curiously and contrary to prior work they report that whites receive longer sentences net of other covariates.”
So again I ask, is it worth it? If I was being totally honest, I keep going back in forth in my mind on if I myself will seek skin bleaching treatment. As my opinion currently stands, I actually would bleach my skin. I know a lot of people disapprove of it, but just like with cosmetic surgery, to each his own. I feel like if it helps you to feel better about yourself and you’re not going overboard with it, it’s fine. Just don’t lie about it. We can tout how we believe it’s inside that counts but lets be real, according to society (and it’s been like this for hundreds of years), if you’re lighter, you have more opportunities and you’re treated better. Facts are facts. If it helps you to feel beautiful or gives you more confidence, then yes. It’s more than a vanity issue, it’s for better treatment.
Companies here in the US. like L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson has vowed to make some changes. L’Oreal has pleged to change the wording on their products and will remove the words “white” “fair”, and “white” from their labels, however, they’ll still keep making the products, they’ll just put it under a new name. In 2020, J&J announced that they will stop selling two products marketed for dark spot treatments.
I’m not saying that if someone makes fun of you, you should just change how you look or if you have body dysmorphia you should change how you look as well. We see it all time. Look at celebs like Lil Kim, Khloe Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Michael Jackson, Janice Dickenson, Tori Spelling, and many more. We see the harmful effects of addiction to cosmetic surgery. While some are praised for their outward beauty, deep inside they’re still broken and have to use filters to feel better about his or herself.
Same with skin bleaching. There are countless celebs like Lil Kim, Tamar Braxton, Nicki Minaj, Sammy Sosa, Michael Jackson, Blac Chyna, I mean the list goes on and on. It’s common practice if they want to be more of success or have more fame, they do it. It gets their name out there.
What would you do? Would you bleach your skin for better treatment or do you see it as morally wrong? Let’s talk in the comments!