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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Does my skin color really matter?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 70 percent of Nigerian women admit they use skin-bleaching  products despite the health hazards. That compares with 59% in Togo, and 27 in Senegal, Al-Jazeera stated.. Liverstrong.com defines skin bleaching as the process of using chemicals to lighten one's skin tone.

Iman (Photo: imancosmetics.com)
Can we really blame women who bleach their skin? We know for a fact that the international fashion scene is racially discriminatory in its selection process. This is probably why former American model and creamy caramel skin tone Tyra Banks has created the TV show  "American Next Top Model" (ANTM).

ANTM discretely promotes diversity within the fashion industry through the selection of young women from various cultural, educational, social, and ... racial backgrounds. This modeling competition, that quickly won the hearts of millions across the globe, is now heading to Africa.

Before multi-millionaire Tyra Banks builds her empire, Imam Mohamed Abdulmajid, former model and earthy skin tone from Somalia, has already led the way when she launched her cosmetics firm IMAN. On the company's website, visitors can read about Iman's vision. 
Launched in 1994, the IMAN brand philosophy hold that women with skin of color represent many races, cultures, and ethnicities. IMAN Cosmetics, Skincare and Fragances are designed for African American, Asian, Latina and multi-cultural women with skin tones in a myriad of shades.

The choice of the business ventures undertaken by supermodels Iman and Tyra Banks could be explained by the exposure they had as the first successfully brown skin women in their industry. Through their hard work, they managed to voice the needs of millions ignored women.The question is whether their efforts will pay off?

During my last visit in Cameroon, I could not ignore how popular skin-bleaching products have become. On these products, promises of making my chocolate skin tone 'lighter' were written all over. I was shocked. Whenever the salesperson (generally a man) noticed my anxious state of mine regarding the skin-bleaching labels, s/he reassured me that all products do not actually bleach my skin. Depending on the quality of the product, the lightening (or bleaching) process may take several weeks or months. Really?

The skin bleaching trend is neither new, nor unique to African women, as beauty expert and founder of skin care products, Suki Kramer explains:
While lightening and brightening the complexion is relatively new trend in [the American] culture, it's nothing new in the world over. Asian  women have been worshipping the perfectly porcelain look forever, and bleaching their skin with toxic hydroquinone to get it. [...] Lightening   creams in Japan are marketed completely differently as Asian women are looking for milky, snow white skin tone -- it's what's considered elegant and fashionable. Bleaching the skin is not only trendy, but a normal part of their skin care regimens and skincare products containing hardcore toxin hydroquinone is how it's achieved.
Skin whitening is indeed big business in Asia,  a Public Radio International (PRI) article explains. Regardless of their socio-economical background, millions of women in India, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, China use creams, pills, injections, and laser treatments to achieve the perfect pale/fair complexion. The belief is that  women with fair/pale skins are or will be successful. Cosmetics brands, fully aware of the skin bleaching phenomenon, bank on women's insecurities.
Nydia Lin is a senior executive in Taiwan for the Japanese cosmetics giant, Shiseo: "We promote the idea of whitening. Especially in Taiwan, we see many beautiful idols on TV and they are all very focused on their whitening skin. As Chinese say, 'Whitening is everything. You can just cover all your defective parts if you are white.
The skin bleaching/lightening/whitening phenomenon is indeed global. Skin bleaching comes with serious health issues that needs to be addressed and discussed. Women across the globe need to know what they really get themselves into, whenever they start using skin-bleaching products. On the other end, women need who do NOT bleach/lighten/whiten their skin, should be appreciated and encouraged by society, particularly by men (siblings, friends, boyfriends, husbands) to stay that way.

The truth is, most women spend their time and money bleaching their skin because of men. As they bleach their skins, most women hope to increase their prospects for marriage. Also, men who run after women who obviously bleach/light/whiten their skins need to stop that. They are not being helpful. Last but not least are corporations. This is a shame that powerful beauty corporations bank on women's insecurities, instead of coming up with the right beauty products.

The bottom line is this. Skin bleaching/lighting/whitening is a social issue, but also a business. Let's talk about it.