Self Improvement Or Self Destruction: The Growing Practices Of Skin Bleaching

The media, whether on TV, print, or internet advertising, plays a huge role in influencing women of all ages to have the perfect bodyimage. Images of women are everywhere and sell everything from food to cars. This representation in the mass media is a reflection of how they are made out to be in a consumer society. However, in the process of trying to achieve the perfect look, women not only compete with each other but they also lose confidence in themselves.

Skin bleaching is a growing problem in the Somali community. Amira Adawe, co-Author of Skin-Lightening Practices and Mercury Exposure in the Somali Community investigated the effects of skin bleaching and conducted interviews with several Somali women who use bleaching products daily. She found that they mixed 4 different creams together: Lemon Herbal Whitening Cream, Lulanjina, Diana and Dermovate. The women who were interviewed stated that they use these products to hide dark spots and be more attractive to men. Another interesting point was that they didnt want to stop using the creams because they feared skin discolouration.

The significance of skin bleaching didnt actually hit me until someone I personally knew bleached their skin. After an awkward encounter of trying to figure out who she was when she approached me on the street, I realised that not only was her skin 10 times lighter than it used to be, but I just couldnt bring myself to ask her why she did it. We had a long conversation and not once did we mention the fact that she now has a completely different skin complexion. I was hesitant and didnt want to make her feel uncomfortable but I still couldnt believe what I saw.

Skin bleaching also happens in many countries across Asia. I tuned into a documentary aboutbleaching in India and women are not the only ones using whitening creams. I listened to a young boy talk about bleaching his skin because people told him that no-one would marry him. I hate being dark, he said. It was so shocking to me that a boy so young could not see the beautiful complexion he had and wanted to change it to feel attractive, to feel accepted. Why is society becoming obsessed with having fair skin? Why are people changing the way they look to feel better about themselves?

Interestingly, there were advertisements in India starring Shah Rukh Khan and he was promoting Fair and Handsome- a whitening cream. In the short 40 second ad, he tries to persuade a man to use it in order to attract the ladies. After following his advice, the single man used the cream and all of a sudden, he is the ladies man, with women swooning over him. The advert isnt in English but the message was pretty clear - You will never be successful nor will any woman feel attracted to you unless you have fair and lighter skin. Get this cream now.” 

All over the world, there are different ways of showing that being whiteor lighteris the beauty standard. Go to your nearest shop and look at the fashion magazines or look at billboard advertisements, completely dominated by white faces and hardly any representation of coloured women. If you actually look at the diversity of people from India, Jamaica , Somalia or Morocco, with different shades of beautiful brown to dark skin and then look at what is actually being represented in beauty pageants and fashion magazines - all of them are light skinned women and thats all you will ever see. Inevitably, women will start to absorb the message that having fair and white skin is the norm, that its beautiful and unfortunately, achievable. It leads to women bleaching their skin that will only bring harm to their bodies.

It was only in 2015, when Jourdan Dunn made history as the cover star of British Vogues February issue. She was Vogues first Black British supermodel to feature on the front page since Naomi Campbell in 2002. Thats over a decade. Thats 146 covers being shot, edited and distributed to newsstands and not one has featured an individual black model.(Guardian, 2014)

Some people see it as an accomplishment but its sad to think that for more than a decade, not a single woman of colour was featured on their front page. Shocker. We can only hope that fashion magazines start to show more diversity when choosing their cover stars and  that young black girls have people to look up to and aspire to in fashion magazines. If white faces are all we are seeing, its not surprising that young girls will see that and think their skin colour is not good enough.

This issue is something that is affecting our generation on a daily basis - especially on social media. Pictures of light skinned women are praised whilst dark skinned women are slandered and Im seeing this within the BLACK community too. Comments such as Ill never date dark skinned women and dark skinned girls are unattractivenot only shows self hate and ignorance towards fellow black people, but just imagine how much that affects someone elses self esteem. The black community need to love and support each other the most and we need to celebrate each others beauty.

Dont let anyone make you feel like you need to alter your own look to be beautiful or to feel accepted. Dont compare yourself to photo-shopped and airbrushed women. Believe in your beauty, have confidence in your beauty and love yourself first.

Some of the side effects of skin bleaching includes:

-          Skin peeling

-          Skin burns/cancer

-          Awful smell

-          Stretch marks

-          Uneven skin tone

-          Hair loss

-          Pimple breakouts


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