Monday, April 12, 2010

The Worst Magazine for Backward Beauty Ideals

I remember back in high school there was a boy who sat behind me who had a big crush on me. I know, he wrote it in my yearbook to be immortalized in writing forever. Not that I had a problem with it, but I just was never interested. But of course, I was still flattered. He was from my own community, the Pakistani community, and knew several of my very close friends. We stopped keeping touch after high school but ran into each other at a graduation event, where both of our sisters were graduating from the same university. I said my hellos and gave the boy no more thought. The next day, my bestie called me to tell me that the boy had called her and said that he had bumped into me at this event. We were talking and she told me that he had said that I “looked darker, as if I had gotten a tan since high school.” To all those who don't know, being “dark” or having “brown skin” is mostly considered unattractive in the brown community. Yes, the very same community that has *drum roll please* BROWN skin!

I think the greatest insult was not that he called me “darker”, but that he meant the term darker as an insult. Darker compared to what, and to whom? My bestie being south Indian herself felt the sting of the words. Never did I think that a university educated, Canadian born and raised boy would ever have such narrow minded conceptions of beauty. But unfortunately, a part of me did know, as there are millions of South Asians here that think the same way. They will dismiss a girl for being “lovely, but with dark skin”.

I was lucky to grow up in a household where the emphasis was not on skin colour. But I know that this was because my mom is incredibly fair skinned and passed this on to all of us. It was never spoken of until I got to high school, when people would comment not on my mind or even my features, but on the colour of my skin; I was fair, and therefore, lovely. This whole thing baffled me and to this day continues. I have no idea why lighter skinned models are given a preference in photo shoots and catwalks, or why Beyonce was lightened in her L’oreal ads. I know that this obsession with whiter skin is not just situated in my own community, but within practically all ethnicities that are non-white. I just don't understand; after decades of fighting oppression for several races and ethnicities, why would any ethnic group oppress their own members to conforming to “whiter skin?” It is as if we have not moved past colonization in our minds and in our ideals.

beyonce light
image source: http://kristenlock.com/2008/08/29/does-beyonce-have-digital-vertiligo/

Of course there is the billion dollar business of skin lightening creams in India, bigger than coca-cola. What infuriates me more are magazines who promote this horrendous business. I recently picked up Asian Woman magazine at Walmart. This magazine is specifically designed for Canadian readers of the South Asian community, and lo and behold there was an article about the “dangers” of skin lightening with gems such as “whiter babies do look cuter”. The very same article that was meant to discourage women from engaging in such retarded practices which completely disregard heritage and culture tell us that if you are to procreate with a darker looking boy or girl, your baby will not be cute. I’m sorry, but if you are brown or any other skin colour, that is who you are. Erasing that with potentially lethal and skin degenerating chemicals will not make you more attractive, it is only erasing your identity, your culture and your ancestry. It is so ironic that in the recent decades there has been a movement for everyone to wear sunscreen because of melanoma. In the South Asian community the emphasis should also be on wearing sunscreen and stopping the usage of chemicals that are carcinogenic and have unknown side effects.

white perfect cream

asian woman

It disturbs me that a Woman’s magazine produced in Canada would contain articles that are completely contradictory in nature and serve to perpetuate a beauty ideal that should have been dead a long time ago. Oh yes, and this magazine goes on to make women feel even worse about themselves with a dear abbey type section filled with “advice” like this:
Q: I am completely happy with my body and I love the way I look and feel but my husband wants me to lose weight, what should I do?
A: Even though you like how you look, you should really just listen to your husband because you’re probably not healthy if your husband doesn’t agree with your weight.
...Am I the only one who finds it embarrassing that a modern day magazine would give such horrendous advice that a woman must obey her husband’s image of a perfect body? I truly hope that the readers of this magazine bear no thought to any of the articles within it. 

What are your thoughts on skin whitening? Have you ever been pressured to do this? Do you do it? What are your experiences?

39 comments:

  1. This skin whitening craze is very common here in the Philippines too. I don't why people love to see women with fairer skin. They attribute whiter skin to beauty. I don't agree with that... I believe that skin color is not a measure of a person's physical beauty. I always say this, a dark beautiful lady will still be beautiful even if her skin becomes lighter but are you sure those fair-skinned beauties will still be beautiful when they get darker? Just a food for thought.

    Have a great day! xoxo

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  2. I hear this a lot from Asian friends and in most parts, the whitening craze is very prevalent. I've also done marketing for one of the largest cosmetics companies in the world who have whitening products in their portfolio. I will say that this issue isn't just a problem for women, but that men also feel the pressure to be fairer skinned. In India and Pakistan it might be more gender-specific and I don't know the true reason for this beauty perception, but I do know for a fact that in places like China, whiter skin is perceived as 'better' because it's associated with a higher social class. Those who work out in the rice fields get the sun, while those who have good jobs sit in the office all day and thus are blessed with a lighter skin tone. It's purely a hierarchy association more than a real beauty one, although both are intertwined to some degree. In other Asian countries the lighter skin might be more a way to look a bit more Western (considering Japan for instance has a strong Western ideal).

    It just seems ironic that in other countries tanned skin is considered more beautiful and that there, people are spending all their money on self-tanners or solarium visits.

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  3. This is such a "hot" topic, especially across the various ethnic groups. Even in my own Hispanic culture (where are skin, hair and eye colors span all spectrums), this is a big problem. You can't go anywhere without hearing mention of bad (meaning thick and curly) versus good hair (straight, less coarse), or light versus darker skin. It's such a shame! Instead of embracing the very thing that makes us all unique and beautiful, we shun it. I personally love my "dark" skin! It's one of my favorite attributes. Life's too short to worn about silly thing like skin color! Thanks for writing about this!

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  4. I am as pale as they come, so I would never need to whiten my skin; however, I think that everyone should be accepting of what they look like. We're all unique in our own ways! :)

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  5. are you kiddin' me? I knew that such things exist but c'mon, it's exagerated...
    here girls develop skin cancer trying to look "tan" ,they stay hours in taning beds..I don't get it..
    Beyonce looks sick in that advert...aww and that magazine is stupid:)

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  6. Good thing my hubz like me a little chubby. ;) Losing weight shouldn´t be dictated by another person unless you´re having health problems.

    Yes, I agree with Leah about the skin whitening craze in the Phils.I didn´t know that this is a regional going worldwide phenomenon. While in Europe and North America, the white skinned like to maintain their tan,those countries with predominatly brown skin like their skin white.So crazy!

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  7. That's such horrible advice from a magazine, especially since they influence a lot of women. Haha, I agree - we should all love ourselves for who we are :)

    Thank you for your sweet comment. I really appreciate it <3

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  8. Thanks for your encouraging comment :) I'm looking forward to following your blog now too!!!

    Have a great Tuesday,
    Hope =) xxx

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  9. It's madness that these issues still exist in our society. The Beyonce images are shocking when seen side by side.

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  10. Oh my god that guy is a fool! It's crazy to think people feel that way...I can't understand it.

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  11. i think it's terrible. ALL women are beautiful - i appreciate diversity in my ads too!

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  12. What is with that awful advice!

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  13. I think you have to look deeper into why these cultures prefer whiter skin rather than just thinking it's always b/c they want to be Caucasian. Not too long ago, "Western" culture also revered fair, white skin as it meant you came from a higher social class and didn't do hard labour in the fields, which made you darker. Then as we got closer to modern times, people of higher social status had more leisure time to spend lying on the beach while the "lower" classes slaved away in factories where they became paler - thus the opposite preference now for tanned skin here.

    As well, in Japan there are "gyarus" who idolize super tanned skin, which goes against the "Asian" belief of white = better, so just goes to show that there are other reasons for preferring one or the other. In addition, historically I think in Chinese lit there's always been a preference for fair, porcelain skin, and that was way before Caucasians were around in Asia, again disproving this assumption.

    Yikes, sorry for the super long comment/lecture, but I just felt the need to clarify a few things before all the hating begins :)

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  14. Hey MizzJ! Thanks for the comment! :)
    I totally agree that there are underlying historical preferences for the fairer skin as ideal, but I think that if we situate whats happening with only regard to the historical preference then we are not doing it justice. I know that even in India, the laborers were the ones who had darker skin, and therefore were of lower social standing and were not to be idealized the way that porcelain skin was idealized. BUT I think that today, in India especially as I'm sure its the same in China, that there are various social standings that clamor for the same light skinned ideals. I think its a product of marketing brought together with the embedded historical notions which marketing execs could play off of as being part of the cultural ethos and way of thinking. William Mazzarella had a great article on the KamaSutra condom and how Indian ideals were intertwined within the campaign, and I know that his analysis can be used for skin lightening creams as well. But if you look at WHO is doing the marketing for India, there are very few in-nation advertisers left. They are mostly foreign owned advertisers who sell foreign owned products in an effort to sell them an ideal of beauty that is just frankly, outdated. But they rely on the perpetuation of the historical narrative of skin lightening being ingrained within the culture to further the selling of these products. The only company that is owned by Indians for skin lightening is Fair and Lovely, if it is still owned by Indians, I am not too sure. But I just think that it's a bit wrong to sell, market and perpetuate the ideals of these products and just solely saying that its a continuation of a historical phenomenon.

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  15. You are exactly right Marz, regardless of the historical and/or racial preferences or not, the fact of the matter is that they're promoting one type of beauty as being superior to another and that's just wrong.

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  16. this is utter insanity,

    but this post = awesome.

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  17. ugh, I find the whole whitening thing disgusting and I wish people would just stop. Tan is beautiful!!!

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  18. Wow, I'm always amazed that here we are in an entirely new millenium and this is still an issue in the world!

    After working with many people in the beauty industry, I've come to the conclusion that the whitening process in very unhealthy and I can't believe how many companies promote this...It's an unhealthy, unnecessary scam...

    Excellent thought provoking post...maybe you should email this to that boy...

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  19. i think it's offensive. both to dark and light skinned women. There's nothing wrong with whatever colour you are. I'm very pale and often find i get different reactions depending on whether it's "fashionable" to be white this season.

    Missy
    For everything about fashion:
    http://thefashionfusion.blogspot.com

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  20. What the heck. Her natural skin tone is gorgeous. Why mess with that? Ridiculous!

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  21. This post really made me think. The comment from your colleague is so unbelievably inappropriate. And I wasn't aware of the ad of Beyoncé. That's insane.
    A really perfectly written post.
    *Nathalie

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  22. very informative post
    i dont use cosmetics have to try it now

    take care
    enjoy life

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  23. I'm very much with you, it's quite crazy and puts a lot of pressure on people. Being freckled myself I understand the desire for 'unblemished' skin, but dark is not a fault and personally I find darker skin in many ways more beautiful than cheesy white. In the end we should all strive towards accepting ourselves as we are.

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  24. It is so shameful that this is the message that are conveyed to women. However, reading posts like yours gives me hope that there are women out there like yourself who will work to change such embarrassing ideas.

    Kisses,
    Stephanie

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  25. they photoshop ads so horribly nowadys!

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  26. I am glad you are confident about your skin color and don´t get mad with all those kind of comments. I think people should remain with their skin color and that is it and people shouldn´t be altered in magazine. But skin color is not the main thing that they alter so do not feel bad.

    xoxo
    B* a la Moda

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  27. It's so unfortunate to hear about people being ridiculed for skin color. It's so dumb. We should all love our bodies the way they are and be confident in our own skin. The picture of Beyonce is especially terrible. I remember when that photo first came out. It's so stupid that she would be photoshopped to have lighter skin. We all knew what Beyonce's skin was really like. All it did was create controversy.

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  28. That is very sad, and I dislike the fact that skin colour has to be such an issue. I remember when I was younger that I was much, much paler than my sister. I commented on that, as an unthinking 3 year old child would. "Hey, sis! I've got lighter skin than you do!" Off she ran to my father who came back and gave me an hour-long lecture of wishing to be white. I didn't wish to be white. I merely commented that I *did* have lighter skin. It's such a shame how such a simple thing as diversity is turned into something 'ugly'. And that magazine! It's horrifying how unprofessional 'Abbey's Answers' are...

    Marz, on a happy note, I am so glad you are back! Thank you for your lovely comment on my latest post. Nina Garcia is a great inspiration! Take care!

    xoxo

    -cathy-

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  29. i am just amazed by this because i would do anything to have beautiful golden dark skin! and asian cultures are sooooo beautiful so it blows my mind that they feel they have to look "white" and the dear abbey thing, it just the funniest thing i have ever heard!!!!

    when are we just going to start loving ourselves exactly the way we are?

    http://laurenlanzaosias.blogspot.com
    be a follower, not a hater

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  30. i'm so disappointed in that magazine's advice!! and i totally feel you about the whole wanna-be-white thing. it's SOOO severe in south korea. and since asians have small eyes, all the ladies (even some males) do plastic surgery to get that western "double eyelid" and make their eyes bigger. it's been happening so much, it's almost like a given... crazy! and people go great lengths to be white; in the summer you'll see tons of women with umbrellas to avoid sun tanning.

    i have to admit though, i'd rather be lighter skinned, but that's just because i honestly dont think i look good tan. i have too much acne, that the darkness just makes my acne look more messy. xD but i wouldn't go so far as to do surgery. i think it's funny how americans want to be as tan as they can be. harhar.

    wow, sorry for the long comment. i just totally understand what you mean about all this jazz. :) glad to see you blogging again! :D

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  31. That's the worst advice i've ever ever heard!! The whole skin whitening thing is prevelant in the black community too, it's so sad.

    Merci beaucoup for stopping by darling - your wonderful comments are always very much appreciated =]

    Stay safe and chic ma chérie,
    English Rose x
    http://iamanenglishrose.blogspot.com

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  32. This post definitely speaks directly to me. I'm Pakistani as well, and although not really fair, I am comfortable with my skin colour. I get really annoyed when ever I go to visit pakistan and I see ads for skin lightening creams, and all my cousin's using them religiously as well.

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  33. It's not always the easiest thing to do, but the healthiest thing a person can do is just accept the skin tone they were born with. Forget tanning to look darker (and risking skin cancer) or bleaching/lightening to look whiter (which exposes your skin to tons of chemicals).

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  34. I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. This post entry is very interesting. I have a lot of Pakistani friends, and they have lamented before about how much grief their mothers would give them if they went out into the sun for too long. A few of the girls even use a product called "Fair and Lovely". I, myself, have read a couple of Indian beauty/fashion magazines, and some of the advice that those "help columnists" give out is baffling, and very startling (as you have stated). I just wish everybody was comfortable enough in their own skin! But I suppose it's always easier SAID than DONE, right?

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  35. Wow I never knew "brown" people thought that the darker you are, the more unattractive you are too... I guess that happens in every culture. I'm Chinese and know a lot of people who would spends so much money on whitening products too which I never understood. Dark skin = beautiful and exotic. Not saying pale skin isn't, but I prefer to be dark and tanned any day.

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  36. How interesting... I wonder who's to blame for these products -- is it society demanding it or is it the magazines feeding insecurities? Chicken vs egg if you know what I mean.

    For me, I am very fair and have been teased for looking "ghost like" or "unhealthy". But, it's my natural skin colour -- how can that be unhealthy? One friend was visiting tanning salons frequently and heckling me all the time for my pale skin tone. Ironic considering how unhealthy tanning beds are...

    About that weight advice -- what if the lady weighs next to nothing and her husband actually has an unhealthy view of what beauty is???

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  37. I have dark pigmentations on my nose, cheeks, and forehead. I am now on Triluma. I am using it for three weeks, I have not noticed any irritation yet and no result for that time. I am so embarrassed by this spots so I hope it will help me.Skin Lightening

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