by Yusuke Shiga
Lots of cosmetic companies have globalized their markets by using ingenious marketing strategies, and the number of consumers of these products has proliferated. Especially skin whitening products are purchased in many countries and the inclination for whiter skin is so prevalent, yet the causes of this social phenomenon are complicated. In this writing, I’d like to focus on this trend in South Africa.
In this complicated discourse, there are two main factors, social structure and marketing strategies, specifically advertisements. First of all, as for advertisements, companies have sold the products by highlighting their great effects on the skin with pictures of consumers who successfully achieved the whiteness and nice skin condition, and also emphasized that having whiter skin improve their dating and marriage prospect. In fact, the winners of beauty competition were chosen for the models of many advertisements and encouraged people to buy the products. Moreover, these ads stressed the healthy aspects, the commodities protect your skin from the harsh rays of the sun and make your skin smooth or brighten. Most importantly, these ads said “manufactured for black by their brothers/sisters in U.S.”, this phrase tremendously encouraged them to use cosmetic products.
Concerns about social structure, racial hierarchy, and apartheid have played significant roles on seeking whiteness. The social stratification/class were determined by one’s racial category, and lower class, colored had limited access to occupation, education, housing, and so on. Therefore, for them whitening skin tone means racial uplift and getting chance to become wealthier. Within the society, white skin implicated modernity and progress, because during that time, not only wealthier people and whites but people who looking for better jobs migrated from rural area to urban area.
However, in the 1960s, an anti-skin whitening movement occurred, because black politicians and nationalists criticized this trend as “betraying the race.” They insisted to be proud of their skin color. Plus, the fact that scientists proved that ingredients in skin whitening products were harmful to skin fostered this anti-movement.
While after it was proven that using these products might cause serious skin troubles like “chubabas,” which are purpled patches of skin, some continuously put these chemicals on their skin. The struggle black Africans faced is depicted in the film “Skin” by Sandra Laing. This movie is based on a true story and shows the strong impact of the skin color in everyday life in South Africa. The ironic scene is that parents who are both white rejoiced to hear their child who had been recognized as colored before was authorized as white.
In my opinion, the main reason why these issues still persist is because there is possibility that you can move to higher class after using these products, even though you also have possibility of having “chubabas”. Especially, lower class tend to become addicted to cosmetics, due to the strong racial hierarchy in the society, and this “high-risk high-return” ideology has a powerful effect on whitening products addicts, I think. Yet, various elements are connected to this social matter, we need to analyze more from different perspectives.