Eurocentric beauty standards: light skin, light colored eyes, straight long hair. Ever since the dawn of white people, humans all over the world have been trying to capture this look. We’ve got hair dyes, we’ve got colored contacts, and in many countries, we’ve got skin whitening creams.
Skin whitening creams are essentially the reverse of self tanning lotions. Apply liberally all over the skin and voila, you’re tone is lighter than the Lord intended. Now if whitening creams were as banal as self tanning lotions, there’d be no reason to discuss them. The problem is that these creams have ingredients in them that were never meant to be combined and placed on human skin. Yet despite that, they are extremely popular and make millions of dollars annually for their manufacturers.
One country has decided to take a stand on these controversial beauty products. The health ministry of the Ivory Coast has banned the creams siting that they are unhealthy and have adverse affects on the lifespan of its users. But the cream is still legal and very popular in several countries across Africa as well as some places in Asia and the Middle East.
While this is an amazing stride forward, one has to stop and ask why it took so long for such a stride to take place. It’s never been a mystery that the depigmentation of skin is unhealthy. Moreover, skin color is the way it looks for a reason which I learned from my good buddy Bill Nye the Science Guy. Lighter skin is not a marker of affluence or an easier life. It just means in the evolution of you and your lineage, the exposure to UV light hasn’t been that great. For example, my maternal grandmother is a brown skinned woman. As you can tell by the photo that accompanies all my posts, I am as white as a piece of paper. My grandmother was born on a tropical island and had a lifestyle that involved spending more time outdoors. I on the other hand was born in the shadow of skyscrapers and spent a lot of time indoors. My skin can stay light because it doesn’t need to protect me from overwhelming amounts of UV. Simple, right? None of this correlates to beauty though. I’m not inherently pretty for being white the same way someone else isn’t inherently pretty for being brown.
So what’s the actual deal with wanting lighter skin? Because we can all debate about beauty standards until we’re blue in the face and even get into cross cultural minutia but we’d still be missing the elephant in the room. Privilege! Almost anywhere you go on this earth, white privilege will follow. Whether that privilege is perceived or is literal it will depend on location, but it’s still there to some degree. White skin is supposedly pretty and supposedly the tone of innocence, joy and all of these other positive things to which dark skin has become antithetic. It’s the modern mystery of our time.
The vanity of it all is still undeniable. Light skinned people will throw money at tanning salons to obtain a cancer laden brown glow and darker skinned people will use skin whitening creams or the completely wrong shade of makeup to “brighten” their appearance. Some darker people want to be light because it’s what they see in the media as being the pinnacle of beauty. Light skinned people want to be darker because being “exotic” looking is cool. But let’s be honest, if given the chance would we really slip into the skin of someone a completely different color from our own? It’s not just the skin color we’d be adapting. It would be everything that comes with it: oppression, fetishizing, outdated racial slurs, stop and frisks, undeserved hatred, etc.
When all is said and done, the skin that we have is the skin that we have and while some alterations like makeup and tattoos can be fun, there is no need to subject oneself to an alteration that can literally speed up death.