13/06/2013 06:49 BST | Updated 12/08/2013 06:12 BST

The Dying Art of Beauty: Skin Bleaching


Despite the unprecedented freedoms that decolonisation has brought many Black and non-white people - especially in specific regions of Africa and Asia- freedom and its fulfilment along with contested meanings remain a preoccupation within Black and Asian cultural discourses and practices.

This can be seen in the rise in popularity of skin bleaching.

At the same time, while political and cultural nationalisms have led to greater political and civil rights, racism has not been eradicated. Ethnicities no longer remain securely anchored in their old homogeneous appearances, but re-configured through the inner differences and contradictions of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion.

These internal differences produce new contestations over race, the meaning of Black, Arab and Asian representation and post-colonial freedom, and the negotiations that are increasingly traced on the intimate contours of the body and the self through practices of personal consumption as skin whitening. The influence of the former colonial powers still lingers on in the cultures of their former colonies. The empires ruled by the likes of Britain were not just a collection of countries; but a way of envisaging the world, including the assumptions of what is right and wrong, with many implicitly racist attitudes.

The post-colonial root of African problems is directly related to skin colour. Under the cloak of personal preference, light skin among African women has replaced dark skin as the native ideal. Furthermore, in social mores Africans tend to idealise light-skinned members of the population as it is believed their skin colour is associated with an overall better quality of life. But why?

Edward Said challenged the concept of Orientalism - the difference between east and west - and stated that with the start of European colonisation, the Europeans came in contact with the lesser developed countries of the east. They found their civilization and culture very exotic, and established the science of Orientalism, which was the study of the orientals or the people from these exotic civilizations.

There aren't many pharmacies or beauty stands in the Middle East, Africa or Asia that don't stock some skin lightening creams, soaps, powders, lotions, or treatments - the cliched saying 'Black is beautiful' certainly does not exist here. Whether you call it racism or shadism, how can being automatically considered a lesser being not have impact on an individual.

Women from all socio-economic backgrounds go to unbelievable lengths to become just a little whiter. Even jargon in India gives evidence of this prejudice. Dark-skinned people are described as being 'moyla' which literally means dirty and a person who is described as 'shundor' (beautiful or good-looking) is someone who has fair skin. Women are the target, and they are going to great lengths to be as pale as possible, whether it's by using whitening creams or actual medical procedures. While skin-whitening products have been popular in Asia for decades, the U.S. has recently picked up on its potential within the past four years, and is now a multimillion-dollar industry. The belief is that a porcelain-white face is the feminine ideal, as well as representing wealth.

The celebrity world may be deemed by post-colonialists to be dominated substantially by the white celebrity. Thus, making people believe that stardom and fame is more readily available for those of white ethnicity. The famous Beyoncé image caused controversy when first published. Gossip websites described the Beyoncé images as 'bleached out' and 'photoshopped', launching an online poll to ask if the whitening was 'a slap to blacks?'

But the target has even moved beyond the ethnic minorities in society, but to whites also. The rise of fake tan, connoting exotic glamour and expense. But is it all just glamorous nonsense?

Skin bleaching could be deemed as another example of products that are a sustained patriarchal attack on women's bodies also.

The glamorisation of the 'white face' because of western values inflicted upon Asian and Black cultures contribute to low self-esteem, mental illness and always wanting to be like the 'others'. How did being light or fair-skinned ever evolve to becoming the standard of beauty?

Unlike Americans or Europeans who prefer a healthy tan, the opposite is prevalent through almost every other culture: light-skinned girls are deemed 'prettier' than darker-skinned girls.