Valerie Campbell: Why The Affirmation?
I am sharing this story because a lot of us are still falling victim to the media’s fallacy of what it means to be beautiful. Caucasian to be exact! – and with that comes the subconscious and sometimes blatant ideology of “the lighter your complexion the more beautiful you are”.
A large number of black women are choosing to bleach their skin to appear lighter than their natural skin tone.
We only need to look at the popularity of bleaching creams in countries with large population of dark skin people to see the extent of this epidemic. The global production and marketing of skin-bleaching products has become a multi-billion dollar industry, servicing all parts of the world, particularly the Global South (Glenn, 2008). A large number of black women are choosing to bleach their skin to appear lighter than their natural skin tone.
Christopher Charles, PhD, a senior lecturer in political psychology of the West indies has conducted extensive research on this subject and states that it’s about following the standards of Eurocentrism. Historically brown light skinned blacks, who were the product of “relationships” between black slaves and white slave-owners or colonial rulers, often had greater access to land and resources as a result of their white ancestry.
Today, lighter brown skin still reads as a marker of privilege and access. During the slavery period [over 400 years] fairer skin slaves were treated better than their dark counterparts. Their mixed race offsprings were also treated better and given easier laboring tasks. Fair skinned slaves also cost more at auction than dark skinned ones. So this ideology has survived over several centuries, which brings me to the reason that propelled me to write this article.
The person in the photographs had a black body and a light face. It looked nothing like the girl next to me.
My younger sister whom I adore [more than Peaches in Nina Simone’s Four Women] is an aspiring model with abundance of optimism. She went for a photoshoot recently with an agency in Manchester that alleges to have 15 years plus experience. Couple of days later the CD with the pictures arrived. She was elevated, happy as Larry. By the time we loaded the disk in the laptop, her excitement had rubbed off - we were both anticipating wide eyed, waiting for the software to load [Do you want to save these images to the cloud? NO, just load]. When the pictures finally emerged, I was lost for words. The person in the photographs had a black body and a light face. It looked nothing like the girl next to me. I understand the concept of post-production - this was more of a face transplant. I was relieved my sister had the good sense to trash the pictures, but I couldn't help but wonder about the hundreds of young women who had a similar experience, but lacked the understanding or guidance. They inadvertently acquiesce to this vicious cycle of an ideology.
If you pathologize people who lighten their complexion, you ignore the racism that incites them to do it.
You could easily extend this experience by walking down to your local supermarket like I did, and take a look at the magazine ailes. Shockingly there wasn’t a single magazine with a black face on the cover. When I asked a staff member why there wasn’t a brand that matched my skin tone from their array of makeup brands, the response was pathetic.
Donna Braham, M.D., a dermatologist says that "most advertisements for [skin products] depicts people with a lighter complexion." Some say that people bleach as a result of racism, trying to meet the white ideal in order to get preferential treatment [from Caucasians].
I believe the biased notion of beauty as portrayed by the media and echoed in pockets of society needs to be challenged at every turn. I am not convinced by the tokenism you might find in the spread of a special issue of a glamour magazine, more akin to an exoctic experience [like fake tan] rather than a change in consciousness.
We need to eradicate bleaching as a form of self-hatred, and pronounce to our young black children that…