Consuming lightness

by Ayano Tsukada

It seems like more people are eager to become “whiter”. First, it looked very weird to me that more people are wanting to be whiter in today’s world where “we are perfect in our own way” type of idea become more wide spread than ever. However, where the yearning for lightness comes from is far more complicated than I thought. People have different reasons and different ways to be whiter.

Evelyn Nakano Glenn shows what drives people’s desire for lightness in different regions and how that is influenced and used by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical firms.

In African and Indian diasporas, the legacy of colonialism seems like to be the biggest cause of people’s desire to become whiter. Skin tone is a major marker of status and a form of symbolic capital. In Latin America, too, skin color and tone are closely related to one’s social status and capital despite the national ideology of “mix is beautiful”. The majority of elites has light skin and European appearing whereas rural poor are predominantly dark skinned and indigenous appearing. In these countries, lightening one’s family line by marring with a lighter-skinned partner is also a common way to become whiter. Migration from rural areas to cities or has been another way to be socially whiter. And, of course, many use skin lighteners to change the appearance of one’s skin. In Asian countries, light skin is also a symbol of modernity and beauty. In Southeast Asian countries, the notion that Japanese and Korean women represent ideal Asian beauty has created the huge market in skin lighteners that are dominated by Japanese and Korean companies Whereas in East Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and China, people are wanting to have European appearing, therefore, whiter skin is necessary as well as having bigger eyes and shape noses.

Multinational biotechnology, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical corporations play an important role in the skin-lightening game. They approach to different targets by using different strategies and it seems like they are accelerating people’s desire for light skin. Connecting lighter skin to other social factors, we internalize the idea of white is right and have become more attracted to those products even more.

From above, people’s, especially women’s, desire for lightness is pretty obvious as is evident from the wide spread and growing use of skin whitening around the world. The author says the desire for lighter skin and the use of skin whitening products is accelerating in places where modernization and the influence of Western capitalism and culture are most prominent. This desire can be seen as the result of colonialism, a manifestation of false consciousness, and the internalization of “white is right” values. The fetters of self-hatred were created centuries ago, and therefore, freeing ourselves from them would not happen easily. The author also says only educating people about the diversity of types of beauty does not change the whole picture. But it can be changed. It has to.


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