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White = right-The controvery over skin lightening

This post was originally posted last week on Hand Me Up, a fashion charity project that I am working with that is currently in development. Please check out the blog if you have a chance for updates on this project and for some great articles on fashion, with a ethical twist!

This past week I read a blog post that made me literally stop and think. On the blog Insights, Canadian-Pakistani blogger Marz, writes about the disturing trend that is skin lightening. Whenever you see any ads featuring non-Caucasian models or celebrities, there is a good chance that their skin has been lightened. As well, many of the visible minorities who are hailed as “beautiful” by the mainstream media, tend to have lighter skin and more Caucasian features. Don’t believe me? Take up a magazine and quickly flip through the images with unfocused eyes. You’ll quickly notice that the faces will blur together without distinction.

The fascination with white skin is especially prevalent in Asia, where you can find tons of products all designed to give you fairer skin. Before you start jumping up on the soapbox though, it’s not all bad. In many countries, there is a long standing historical preference for whiter skin as it implied a higher social status, since those with darker skins were often poorer labourers in the fields. As well, Asian skins are more prone to skin darkening and pigmentation when aging rather than wrinkles, so that is also another reason why bright, white, skin is seen as youthful.

I have to admit that after visiting Asia and reading Asian magazines, I became very curious about the color of my skin. Every single girl in the magazines had the whitest, purest, faces and I vowed to have that for myself. Right away I purchased a set of whitening products in order to attempt to make myself fairer, criticizing myself silently when I would wake up having “darker skin” days. I wore sunscreen everyday on every inch of my skin and avoided walking in the sunlight, or tanning on the beach – one of my favourite summer activities. When a coworker complimented me by saying I looked fairer that day, I was secretly pleased with the “fruits of my labour”. Was I really any whiter? Very likely not as the level of whiteners in most drugstore products is too low to have any effect, but as you can tell, the subtle influences of marketing are very powerful.

When you take this idea of promoting brighter skin and just turn it into loving whiter skin, then you wander over that line from healthy interest into dangerous obsession. It was frightening how easily my perception of my own skin colour changed so quickly. When all you see are images of beautiful women with white skin and everyone around you reinforces that ideal, then you become brainwashed into thinking that is what you should strive for. Though I recognize that I should just learn to love what I am, a part of me still can’t give up that pure white ideal. Considering that I feel that I am a strong, independent, media literate and smart modern woman, and I still feel this pressure, then how can younger and less secure woman resist? The only solution is action. Write to editors, write your own blog posts, or videos, or photos, whatever you can to speak your belief that every colour is beautiful! And most of all, tell every woman you know that she is beautiful – no matter what size, what age, or what colour she is.

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