Wow, You Look Great! Did You Get Paler?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer is fast on the approach in the northern hemisphere, and though it may be a blessing to some, it can seem a curse to those who want to keep their skin as pale as possible. Today, I take a look into skin-lightening creams.

Much has been said about the harmful effects of skin-lightening creams, yet many still continue to use them as a method of "enhancing their complexion" a.k.a. sacrificing health and positive body image for an unreachable ideal. I focus on this topic because it powerfully affects how South Asians (particularly women) treat and view their bodies. With the use of these products and precautions against spending time in the sun, they perpetuate the idea that white is right and skew the way dark-skinned people view themselves. A similar scenario is created with other beauty markers (such as hair and weight), which are indelibly linked to Western beauty ideals.

Though this phenomenon is not exclusive to South Asia, it hits me on a personal level. Some of my own family members use skin-lightening products, saddening me because I do not possess the language to tell them how beautiful they are without them.

Beauty expectations round the globe are used as a form of control. They lend credence to an unshakable hierarchy and enable some major social policing by others around you - if you don't look like the desired body, then you are devalued. And that echoes throughout all societies.

I do not believe we will ever stop viewing beauty as a sign of value in society. However, I do believe that if self-care and positive body image is promoted for every person, there will be less internalized hatred. Degradation of dark skin color is just one example that leads people to extremes. If the message were given that every body is beautiful, then these straining attempts at altering the unalterable may be exposed for what they really are: dangerous and useless.

If you'd like to read more of my opinion posts, check out Discrimination and Mixed Metaphors.
You may also be interested in my other posts about South Asians, including The South Asian Question in a New York Minute and Finding My South Asian Identity through Literature.