All that you can be

by Hsinmin Wang

As a woman, what do you want? The eternal desire of beauty, to satisfy self-esteem, getting better occupations and a happy marriage? Believe it or not, you can get all of these as long as you have a light skin tone. Just spending several pennies buying a bottle of skin lightener, woman can achieve whatever you want. “Because you’re worth it.”

It is the message we get from our daily life, a image constructed by beauty merchandisers.

In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses three questions: 1) “How is skin lightening interwoven into the world?” 2) “What are the media and messages, cultural themes, and symbols used to create the desire for skin-lightening products among particular groups?” 3) “How do consumers learn about, test and compare these products and what they seek to achieve?”

I’d like to categorize the attitudes toward global trade of lighteness into three discourses: beauty discourse, public health discourse and global marketing discourse. Assuming you have already read this chapter, this article composes of criticism of the book.

Shall we regard there is an invisible manipulation of people’s aesthetic?

Beauty discourse

The main idea of aesthetic comes from each country’s culture and ideology. “White is right” is comprised of culture and ideology, though nowadays scholars tend to assert that people’s preference on lighter skin is the outcome of colonial racial ideology, but I want to highlight the importance of culture influence here. In fact, we can also discover the highly valued “white is good” culture in history. White means noble, purity, innocence and intellect whereas black means lazy, evil, and ignorant, isn’t it just like the image of angel and satan? Angel can give anything you want and ask nothing in return but Satan will take away one’s soul.

Public health discourse

Obviously frights over mercury, hydroquinone, corticosteroid and peroxide couldn’t beat up the eagerness on demolishing black pigment and melanin. When authority severely banned the toxic in skin lighteners, it neglect the reason behind the demand on these products—color discrimination.

Yes, I swear I know the importance of healthy skin., but what if I can only get what I want from lighter skin color? I admit that I don’t like when scholars talk about skin lightener always trying to emphasis the toxic chemical ingredients in cosmetics and skin care products. It made me feel that they view woman trying to lightening their skin as a ridiculous behavior. In my personal opinion, toxic skin productions are not only a public health but connoting social hierarchy problems.

Global marketing discourse

It’s impossible not to mention the role of mass media and internet in global markets. Especially with the rising of social media, in one hand it enhances the influence of mass media, on the other it spreads the concept of western aesthetics to the world and changes people’s outlook. Under marketing strategy, audiences believe we can control our own body, the body is changeable. Look at those celebrities, they must have done something to make their skin tone so different. I recognize the beauty industry’s marking strategy is not only to change the aesthetic but to provoke a concept that one’s body is one’s property which can accumulate social capital. In a way encouraging people to chase the “improvement” of body.

To summarize the pursuit of skin lightening, I regard these behaviors more likely to fulfill Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For safety (employment); belonging (sexual intimacy) and esteem (confidence), and unfortunately the beauty merchandizer penetrates it.

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