In a world where all skin colours are ex­pected to be val­ued A equally, We’d likely ac­cept the con­cept of skin whiten­ing More with a sim­ple shift in per­spec­tive. By Saarah Jas­mine.


s a beauty junkie, I use al­most any­thing I can get my hands on. Take one look at my dresser and you may think I have a se­ri­ous hoard­ing prob­lem. In this process of slather­ing on ev­ery­thing from snail slime to sheep pla­centa, I’ve of­ten been con­fronted about ‘whiten­ing’ prod­ucts, and what this jar­gon ac­tu­ally means. Do beauty brands re­ally want us to be fairer? Do light-skinned Asians not per­ceive their dark-skinned coun­ter­parts as beau­ti­ful, too? At first, I was un­com­fort­able with us­ing these prod­ucts, too. How is it pos­si­ble that such a racist term can be used so openly in mar­ket­ing beauty prod­ucts? Then, with my foray into the beauty in­dus­try, I be­gan to un­der­stand the whole host of so­cial and mar­ket­ing im­pli­ca­tions be­hind the term. The word ‘whiten­ing’ here is be­gin­ning to have neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions, es­pe­cially among mil­len­ni­als – it’s an in­sult to the ‘love the skin you’re in’ con­cept, which plays a key part in them ac­cept­ing and lov­ing them­selves as they are. How­ever, there are parts of the world where whiten­ing prod­ucts are still sold bla­tantly for the pur­pose of get­ting fairer skin. A re­cent ex­am­ple of this was when a skin­care ad in Thai­land por­trayed the mes­sage, “Just by be­ing white, you win.” Un­der­stand­ably, the cos­met­ics com­pany be­hind it was sub­se­quently at­tacked on so­cial me­dia for such racist con­no­ta­tions, lead­ing to the with­drawal of the ad. This only con­firmed my sus­pi­cions that mil­len­ni­als are also re­ject­ing the view that ‘whiter’ skin is su­pe­rior. Plus, with the way that so­cial me­dia works, peo­ple have no qualms in com­pletely re­ject­ing any­thing even re­motely associated with such an idea. So, in this mod­ern age, the one-di­men­sional ‘whiten­ing’ sense is be­com­ing more and more ir­rel­e­vant. It sim­ply doesn’t cap­ture the idea of the ra­di­ance, lu­mi­nos­ity or tran­scen­dence of beauty we’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to, or any other as­pect of our skin, which we de­sire for that ab­so­lutely fil­ter­less com­plex­ion. In­stead, the no­tion of ‘whiten­ing’ seems like it only hones in on the shade of our skin. I won’t deny that cer­tain ads in other parts of Asia per­pet­u­ate this prej­u­dice against darker skin tones. But a ma­jor­ity of Asian women turn to whiten­ing prod­ucts for skin health rea­sons, such as to rid them­selves of sun spots and un­even skin tone, in­stead of out­right lightening their com­plex­ions by two or three shades.

So a lot of this sim­ply comes down to se­man­tics – as in­formed mil­len­ni­als, we should be aware, that at least for larger cos­metic com­pa­nies, the word ‘whiten­ing’ sim­ply means ‘brightening’. Darker-skinned friends have lamented over the use of the word ‘whiten­ing’, and how alien­at­ing it is when prod­ucts are mar­keted to ‘fix’ your skin colour. Ads that use colour charts to show how much fairer you can get don’t help, ei­ther. For them, buy­ing a whiten­ing prod­uct goes against their core value of feel­ing beau­ti­ful no mat­ter their skin colour. Re­mem­ber – it’s translu­cence, ra­di­ance and lu­mi­nos­ity that we’re aim­ing for, not a whiter skin tone. In this mod­ern day and age, the fo­cus is not on the shade of your skin; rather, its over­all glow. Oh, and of course this also gels per­fectly with that idea of lov­ing the skin you’re in, no mat­ter what.

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