Skin lightening in the nonwhite population
Skin lightening involves practices that are aimed at altering the ordinary skin tone. These practices are generally branded with local names that associate the act with depigmentation, and this naming varies in different communities. The act of skin lightening can be lethal to one’s physical appearance, reduced self-esteem, and adverse mental effects. The undesirable effects are brought about by mercury, an active ingredient composed of many lighteners. Mercury poisoning inhibits the normal functioning of the skin that leads to itchiness, skin lesions, and color change. However, a variety of peoples perception of bleaching seems to outweigh the risk associated with bleaching, and this makes it a topic of interest in this essay. Beauty contributes mainly to why people around the world go the extreme measures to get a lighter complexion. Some beliefs and practices associate white skin with preferences, attraction, and wealth, and this has been rooted since the colonial era. This essay will focus on beauty perception on skin bleaching in different continents with a nonwhite population like Asia, Africa, and America.
Over the years, even in ancient times, powders and paints were used to make a concoction for skin lightening. These mixtures would make the skin look paller without any flaw of sunburns or blemish effects. Ancient users of beauty products exaggerated their makeup by merging lead-containing whiteners marking their eyes black and applying red color on lips. Study also shows that the use of lead whitening preparation was widely used by elites in japan and china. The preparation contained a mixture containing lead-containing products and powdered rice to achieve the desired complexion that closely resembles white jade. Skin is made colorful by a component referred to as melanin which protects the skin from excessive ultraviolet rays damage. Skin lighteners are aimed at concealing damaged skin and melanin-rich skin. Bleaching agents have over the years ranged from ash, acidic substance to a dangerous chemical that is prone to skin damage like mercury and sulfur-containing compounds.
During the precolonial era, organics and minerals were mainly used in parts of southern Africa to lighten their skin. Study shows that in the past during slave trade era enslaved people and oppressed were distinguished based on their skin color and differences in physical appearances. Colonizers associated white skin or fair skin with wealth, beauty, power, and intellect, while on the other hand, people of color were seen as inferior, stupid, ugly. All these differences impacted racism and drove people to want to whiten or lighten their complexion to be likable and attractive. By the twentieth century, lightening became popular, which led to the mass production of whitening creams. Following lightening production, it was ranked on top, with its consumers being people from all ethnic groups.
In the nineteen twenties, skin lighteners were interchanged with lotions among many whites, and this made them embrace more outdoor activities. This led to skin lighteners being regarded as cosmetic, and it was primarily used by blacks for beauty purposes. Colorism and racism dominated in parts of South Africa and the United States, which had a considerable political and social impact on all the consumers of the lightening cosmetics.
The effect of mercury
Most lightening agents contain mercury as an active component. Research has shown that it chemically alters the skin in two different ways. Mercury inhibits the activity of the enzyme tyrosinase, which is responsible for catalyzing the process of melanin formation. Mercury also exfoliates the broken melanin layers or rather the dead skin through the production of hydrochloric acid. However, in the twentieth century, academic sources discovered ammoniated mercury beneficial for treating skin lesions and acne in small proportion under supervision. This academic idea was borrowed by some manufacturers to produce the lightening creams as skin bleaches. The production becomes regulated first when the United States Congress approved the food, drug, and cosmetic act.
After world war two, the detrimental effects of mercury poisoning become more common and interested the researchers. Studies found evidence of mercury poisoning in wastewater from one of the industries in japan. Food, drug, and the cosmetic act took their interest in mercury poisoning in cosmetics which had harmful effects as well. Following the conclusive and evident studies of mercury poisoning, the food, drug, and cosmetic act banned all mercury-containing products. Other countries like South Africa, European Union, and Nigeria consequently banned cosmetics containing mercury products. However, the ammoniated mercury replaced the lightening cosmetics commonly known as hydroquinone.
Purpose and impact
Much attention has not yet been drawn to the literature of social science despite the increased risk of skin bleaching. Most of the recent studies focus much on the health complications of using lightning agents. A study carried in Jamaica reflected on the essence of adult education in matters concerning health, medical literacy, and civic education. The study emphasized on locals’ awareness of skin bleaching, their experiences, and issues related to it. It further revealed that the history of colonialism and slavery largely contributed to skin lightening. Despite many countries’ independence, the impact of white supremacy still influences the social status of the nonwhite population. Many people relate light skin as a beauty indicator, and this influences their decision of skin lightening. Social discrimination between people of the same ethnicity based on the color of their skin predispose them to societal struggles, and this makes them victims. Study shows that people color is a key sociological issue for all nonwhite population. Light skin people tend to get privileges and preferences based on the color of their skin. For years light skin has been perceived as the beauty that transforms into economic capital, and this has an impact on women of color. Skin lightening has been there since the sixteenth century where a study shows that women underwent a painful bleaching process to look attractive to colonizers. For over a period of thirty years, black women have used bleaching agents that have proved to be harmful to their skins and caused damaging effects or death.
British governed the larger part of South Asia for a period of two centuries. Research shows that the black natives were ruled by whites. The legacy they left influenced natives to wants to lighten their skin as they considered white or rather light skin as suitable and beautiful. Currently, in South Asia, people with lighter skin are considered special or rather beautiful since they seem to have a family connection with whites. People of color, on the other hand, are associated with hard labor illiteracy and people of manual work in the scorching sun. Those with fair skin, which is partially a mixture of brown and black, were attributed to be innocent and pure. Recently in Asia, there has been huge mass exploitation of lightening creams to look beautiful which they believe its marketable and makes a person be more preferred for jobs opportunity. They believe being light makes them more attractive and easy to mingle with other people. Fair and lovely is one of the biggest industries of fairness cream in south Asia. It has faced criticism from different associations terming it as discriminatory on the basis of color and cause an offense to the dignity of women. This was because it an associate success based on skin color and gender.
Recently innovation of a product that whitens woman’s intimate parts in Asia has been received with a lot of controversies. They believed for a woman to feel more contented and beautiful, they should lighten more than just the face. The pressure to fit in societal beauty standards has forced people to extremely do the impossible to please society. In China, people believe being white covers all kinds of flaws and can be viewed as a symbol of intelligence and decency. The discrimination based on people’s color in Asia has become a norm which creates unfair societal structures that residents are obliged to live with.
The Dutch colonized Africa, followed by English, and this led to an increase in skin lightening in Africa. These high rates of bleaching were facilitated by discrimination, preference for good, job opportunities, ranked positions, beauty. The largest countries to use skin lightening in different ways were Ghana and Nigeria. Study shows that highest percentage of Nigerians use skin lightening products. This practice has gained popularity in Nigeria over the years due to privileges associated with perceived beauty and wealth in lighter skin. In Nigeria, lightening creams are not successfully regulated as you may find vendors even by the roadside. Skin lightening in Nigeria is a practice that is widely embraced because you may find, even those with fair skin tone, using bleaching agents. Societal pressure of beauty standards makes Nigerians find it even by the roadside. In Ghana high percentage of women actively use bleaching agents. In Ghana, they believe that being too dark is not beautiful and may not gain superiority in society. Most of the bleaching practices in Ghana are driven by influence from peers to want to look attractive and beautiful to the aliens. Report indicates that Ghanaians go to the extreme of swallowing pills in pregnancy to get a light-skinned baby. Experts in the medical field state that these pills can be lethal and inflict birth deformities on the unborn. These mothers do these in Ghana because they believe babies are more privileged to be born lighter since they are beautiful.
Late twentieth-century bleaching of the skin became more popular across cross-cultural communities in the United States. A lot of information on consumers who used bleaching agents was relayed through media adverts. The progressive market and awareness of the products created more opportunities for those selling to target the new clients. Conviction from the adverts that the products make people get preferred or attractive increased the consumption rate. Black Americans embraced the advert information and were lured into lighting their skin to look attractive and fit in the urban society. Lighter complexion came in with a lot of privileges in America, and this produced an unseen hierarchy. Black Americans with lighter complexion made an entry into master’s class. Study shows that black American who was light-skinned was made knowledgeable and more civilized by whites. This was evident because most of the educated light-skinned blacks emerged as leaders in the blacks community.
Beauty and standards
Beauty standards simply stand for all rotten roots regarding everything that is wrong with the industry and the country at large. The standards are just foundations for racism, sexism, ageism, colorism, and gender habits. All these are well formulated in society and attached to every brain. Their results are anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, low self-confidence, and depression. Imagine trying to hold onto an idea as immeasurable, emotional, and incorporeal, developing as beauty in an individual’s set normal. Ideally, a beauty standard should be the ideal set among women for personal and professional success. The beauty industry was specifically set up for the female gender. This idea is evident in the media and popular systems such as schools and medics. It is also seen in the law, personal relationships, and social media. According to psychologists, it is hard to differentiate what we personally term as beautiful from society’s notion of beauty.
The feminine beauty ideal and beauty standards are all targets in motion. They depend on culture and time. However, the Eurocentric notion of beauty has taken the lead as it has defined the worldwide beauty ideals. The beauty trends among the whites are bound to rapidly spread among the black continent. Beauty itself is a myth since there is no biological or historical evidence for it. Anthropologists have no proof of beauty being an evolving aspect of mate selection. Notably, the notion of beauty has been in existence for many years, but it had less concern on the surface since it had more to do with the soul. Historically, makeup was taken as an adornment for communicating and emulating the gods. The link between spirituality and beauty turned over in the middle ages with the start of Christianity, where females were considered clean, virginal, and endlessly young. The physical light aspects in women like fair skin and blonde hair were seen as manifestations of the supernatural. After colonizers went to Asia, Latin America, and Africa, they presented the idea of whiteness being good and that nothing was superior to white. People then adopted the notion that being white was a guarantee of economic breakthrough, educational achievement, and decent employment. This was a major reason why people adopted the act of skin lightening so that they could emulate the whites and, in return, enjoy their various benefits.
There are many long implications associated with skin tone. In many societies, lighter skin is usually a sign of high class. Women with fair skin were associated with high levels of life compared to those of bronzed laborers. However, this is attributed to colonialism since all these notions were brought about by the colonialists. In the period of slavery, the people with lighter skin worked in the homes a=while the darker ones were exposed in the fields for the hard work. The idea that lighter-skinned people are beautiful started during this era and is still ongoing because many cultures and societies still believe that light skin is the definition of beauty. Many years after colonization, the legacy of whiteness still remains despite the fact that the colonizers themselves left. With these notions in mind, many blacks prefer to whiten their skins so they can feel like part of the whiteness legacy, thinking that they appear beautiful after skin lightening. In short, whiteness heritage is continuing mindset colonization.
The colonizer mindset is evident even today, as revealed on the faces of many fashion publications. Until recently, almost every fashion magazine had an image of a white person on the cover page. It is in every foundation range that has more than ten choices for the whites and only two for the black women. It is common to find that makeups and cosmetics meant for blacks are limited in the market while those for whites are all over. This idea is built in the cosmetics firms that continue to manufacture skin lightening creams for black people. Notably, a recent backlash shows that the skin lightening creams have racism-related product names.
Colonialism opened the way for capitalists’ efficient business structure to follow. It showed how easy it is to gain great profits from hidden insecurities that arise from a long time of being treated less than others just because of color. Throughout history, capitalism continues to propagate insecurity seeds amongst all societies. A lot of our beliefs about our bodies are only marketing accompanied by various beauty brands in order to make some money. We adapt to what we hear from others. Women did not have the feeling of normal skin until a beauty specialist categorized skins as oily, normal, or dry. Since then, women realized the existence of wrinkles, the formation of dead skin cells, and oil production by the skin and believed that the use of various creams would resolve skin issues and also lighten them.
It is not a wonder that the modern hair care regimen was introduced by a marketer and not a health expert. The idea of shampoo is evident that marketing drove people to consume beauty products but was not for health benefits. Product manufacturers convinced consumers that they did not smell nice and they had to use the beauty products to appear beautiful generally. This can be connected to the idea that blacks adopted from the whites that they are not attractive and had to use skin-lightening products so they could be beautiful. Study shows that beauty marketing and standards are built on bare psychological manipulation. The major reason for skin lightening is also related to personal beliefs, which are adopted from society’s view. Had blacks believed that black is beautiful, no one could ever use skin-lightening products. The ideal of cognitive influence is not only applied in marketing but is meant for upholding patriarchy.
It is important to note that women are mere beauties in the culture of men. Many people have argued that modern beauty ideals were developed as political weapons against feminine advancement. This was during a backlash period against feminism which is connected to feminist movements of the eighteenth century. The era had increasing policing of the looks of women. During this time, women were taken to be ugly, but the main agenda was to weaken their message. Study shows that since ancients times light skin has been considered beautiful, attractive and appealing than people of color. Colonialism and slavery made people still concentrate so much on the values imposed by British supremacy. This has made it a norm translating to the way of life, which influences people’s meaning of beauty.
Media on standards of beauty
Since colonial times obsession with beauty has taken a toll in society which makes it a cycle. Everybody desire to stay young and look attractive despite the knocking old age. Commercial adverts on anti-aging products beauty creams have dominated all over social media platforms, television, and magazine. Clearly, there is widespread interest in the beauty that closely associates it with youth or rather young. This universal obsession has been the source of what many people may define as beauty standards. It is an idea that has led multiple men and women in illegality to modify their beauty regardless of their status or ethnicity. The act of lightening one’s skin is a practice that has been present for ages since the colonial era. The only motive behind bleaching being to look attractive, get job preferences, to fit in the society.
The perception of beauty is variable depending on the location or where you travel, since you may find it not being in line with what particular society view as being beautiful. Study shows that media play I bigger role with the information they relay about beauty. Many people perceive beauty as per the media information. This creates a long-term effect on one’s memory since it’s stored in their subconscious minds, and nothing can erase that. The idea that having affair skin is better is being spread widely across the word by heavily advertising through media, magazines, billboards, broadcast. Study shows there has been a lot of societal pressure for people to live according to the standards. The core belief that makes people think success can only be gained by being beautiful or having a lighter complexion. Celebrities and people in political powers have embraced this practice of skin bleaching, which influences many onlookers to follow their suit to be at the level they are.
To sum it up, worldwide, people engage in skin lightening so as to live up to societal pressure and standards. Societal beauty standards are resembling a white mean you’re always doing the right thing. Some communities and cultures stick to bleaching phenomena, and this is even instilled in new generations with regard that they are making them better and acceptable in society. Study shows that in, some cultural setup beauty standard compels someone to go to the extreme in the name of making life better. Some better and prestigious things are believed to only be acquired by elites and beautiful people. The bleaching trend is rapidly growing at a high rate that everyone wants to take part in it. Recently men also embrace the phenomena to fit in societal pressures.
Colorism impacts and appearance
Study has shown that social systems that give privilege to the women of color exist in our society. This societal setup puts women of color under pressure to transform their appearance. Evidently is some community colorist standards are communicated indirectly by the public figure images. These women in public images impact people negatively other women psychologically. The current study reports that all this pressure of skin lightening inflicts low self-esteem on black women. It further revealed that light-skinned women were found to be more confident, and their esteem was high. The result showed that self-esteem and interaction go hand in hand in women of color. The core belief that light-skinned people are intelligent and beautiful may limit the blacks to explore their potentials due to preferences.
The beauty perception in societies may inflict fear and lack of self-confidence to the black people, and this may limit their potential. Studies have shown that dissatisfaction with skin color can also cause blacks to be dissatisfied with their general body appearance. Social norms that relate people of color not to be appealing can negatively impact people. Studies have shown that this may cause emotional disturbances like anger and depressed moods. Despite the negative impacts of the colorist system, historically, women of color have been found to feel good about their exterior than other white people.
Scientifically bleaching agents has proved to be lethal with supportive evidence of several studies carried by scientist. Studies have shown the application of bleaching agents on the skin affects the cells on the superficial layers of the epidermis. It further shows that the process inhibits the normal functioning of these cells, causing their removal or death. The report shows that inhibiting this process has negative impacts on the skin which include, skin lesions, makes the skin more prone to ultraviolet rays, and this can lead to serious complications like skin cancer. It further reveals that bleaching reduces the thinness of the skin layer, making it more prone to chemical and bacterial agents. This equivalently translates to reduced ability of the skin to protect the inner cells, which can be fatal and easily leads to skin trauma. The use of bleaching agents could decrease the strength alongside physical and mechanical attacks. The homeostasis function of the skin might also be compromised by reduced thinness of the skin. Cells distraction by bleaching agents might decrease the ability to preserve heat and water. Decreased skin ability comes in because of reduced superficial cells of the skin. Bites and insects can easily reach deeper layers due to weakened superficial layers of the skin. Bleached skin is very delicate to physical trauma and injuries. Weakened skin by bleaching agents makes it easier for the entry of bacteria.
According to the results obtained from scientific studies conducted showed that bleaching agents disrupt the normal functioning of the skin, making it more susceptible to physical and chemical damage. The existing belief that lightening the skin makes somebody attractive is not in agreement with scientific research because it seems to have more risks than benefits. However, some studies were in agreement with the practice basing their arguments with cultural setup and beliefs imposed during colonial times.
Petit, Antoine, et al. “Skin lightening and its complications among African people living in Paris.”Journal of the American Academy of dermatology55.5 (2006): 873-878.
Petit, Ludivine, and G. E. Pierard. “Skinlightening products revisited.”International Journal of cosmetic science25.4 (2003): 169-181.
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