Wednesday, July 16, 2008

White is alright?

Dear No One in Particular,

While I have long been aware of the prevalence of skin-bleaching products in south, east, and south-eastern Asia, I was recently reminded of how detrimental such products are by this article on Jezebel. *

Interestingly, this article comes to me only a day after my mother received a huge care package from her relatives in the Philippines, which included an exorbitant amount of whitening products. Her sister sent her not one, not two but SIX bars of whitening soap and two tubs of whitening deodorant. Three of the soap bars are made with placenta -- whose placenta, I do not know, but apparently, afterbirth is a great skin bleach!

The fact that there is such a prevalence is incredibly disturbing. Jezebel links to a number of separate sites and articles that show just how dangerous such products can be. Not to sell women short, but the onslaught of media messages telling us that no matter what, we are not good enough has deadly ramifications.

I can only speak from experience on this subject, and as a woman who is part Filipina, I am no stranger to being told that I am "too dark". Of course, as an American woman -- specifically as an American woman living in Hawaii, where tans are not only de riguer, but mandatory -- I love being tan. Personally, I feel that I look better tan than fair -- I have olive skin, and as I get paler, I look more yellow and thus more sickly. Sure, there are people out there who can rock the lovely porcelain skin, but I am not one of them.
At any rate, as soon as my mother saw me she commented on my skin tone, saying that I look so dark. Really, she said I looked black -- I can't honestly comment on whether or not there is a difference between the two (she was speaking to me in Filipino) but I know that the feeling was there -- I was too dark, and needed to lighten my skin tone.
One of my Filipina aunts slathers herself in sunscreen and drives with a covering on her left arm for fear of becoming too dark. As a child, she had naturally very tan skin, and from what my mother tells me, she was teased A LOT. She also had kinky curly hair, which she now has permanently straightened. I wish I could tell you that she looks good, with her flat-ironed hair and pale skin, but she doesn't. Like me, she is olive-toned, and really, olive =/= porcelain. She looks a bit peaked all the time, but don't tell her I said so.

Naturally, this goes beyond just vanity. There are a myriad of race-related issues surrounding this. My naturally curly, tan aunt for example, was often called "black" (as in African) as a taunt, and, for her entire adult life, has endeavoured to escape that cruel taunt by becoming as white (as in Caucasian?) as possible.
When was it decided that anything dark is bad? Look at the dearth of black supermodels -- at the root of it, the myth that dark = ugly is being perpetuated. We need to stop perpetuating the ridiculous notion that to be considered beautiful, women need to be fair-skinned and straight-haired. You know who else perpetuated that ideal? HITLER. (Kidding, kind of.)

Truthfully, the entire beauty industry needs an overhaul. More models of colour (not just black, but Asian, Hispanic, and hapa!), less skin bleach. More curls, less flat-irons. More acceptance, less hatred.


*Great website, or greatest website?

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