Friday, June 25, 2010

Bleach my skin?

Self-portrait: A lighter and darker photo manipulation.
5.16.10 - The largest producer of movies per year in the world is Bollywood. The Indian equivalent to Hollywood features actors and actresses who are very light in complexion compared to the average citizen of India or its surrounding countries. I have noticed a trend of casting very "fair" (read: lighter) actors and actresses, and for the few darker-skinned ones that make it through, there is extensive face/body makeup and intense lighting that is used to make them look lighter. 

I remember my mother and aunts telling me to stay out of the sun or else I would be dark for the rest of my life, or being offered bleaching creams so that I could have a "fairer" complexion. I never understood why my darker skin tone was so wrong, but now I understand that the media the people in my life were exposed to, was showing that to be beautiful was to be lighter skinned – my loved ones just wanted what was best for me – they wanted me to be accepted and to be…White(er).

The unethical depictions of women of color in mainstream advertising is most troubling because I believe that advertising, in many ways, has directly enabled the perpetuation of racism. Not all advertising is bad, but those unethical ads that are prevalent in the mainstream environment have had some negative effects on the world. Western advertising, colonization and globalization has heavily influenced media-making in other countries. Looking at movies made in India or Africa, it is interesting to note that the biggest stars also “happen” to be the lighter than a majority of the population of their country. The most famous foreign actors and actresses have blue or green eyes (contacts), blond hair (dyed), and noses and lips (cosmetically changed) to look like Caucasian American and European stars. Thanks to intense production lighting, heavy post-production editing and lots of face/body makeup, darker-skinned stars can achieve the ultimate goal – be several shades lighter.

 I remember getting made fun of in high school because the back of my hand was a different color from my palm.
The internalized oppression of Western beauty ideals is perhaps one of the most poignant and cyclical consequences of White privilege. Advertisements that encourage skin bleaching affects men and women of all colors. It affects a young multi-racial girl who risks serious medical consequences by using skin-bleaching cream to look like her favorite Bollywood or MTV Arabia actress. It has influenced the girl’s mother who pressures her to stay out of the sun so that she doesn't “get dark," and it limits the ability of the woman's White friends to have an authentic relationship with her due to all of the walls and defensive mechanisms this woman has built up for her protection. The idea that "the lighter you are, the prettier you are," has definitely affected me; now I'm confident of my skin color and shade, but I still see little things or hear big things once-in-a-while that trigger my internalized insecurities.

*This text was adapted from a short essay on unethical advertising and skin bleaching that I wrote while an undergrad.

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