On Wednesday I went to the supermarket to pick up a few essentials that I had either run out of or had forgotten to pack from home. One of those items- face lotion. Somehow in my pre-trip packing frenzy I thought that the mosquito spray and sun block would be enough, especially because I only had 50 pounds and one checked bag to fit my life in for the year. Now that I’ve been here for a month and a week, my poor face has definitely been suffering. I had originally planned on going to the store Tuesday however, due to the crazy monsoon rains I decided to take a rain check (haha, pun intended) on my shopping extravaganza.
There was not a cloud in the sky Wednesday so getting to the store was super easy since it’s only about 1/2 a km away from my office. When I went into the store it reminded me of the bodegas you see in New York City. You know those mom and pop stores that sell everything from candy to household necessities like laundry detergent. I grabbed a shopping basket and started making my way up and down the aisles until I landed in the beauty section. Since I am not a devotee to any one brand of face cream, I thought that I would just grab the cheapest bottle of moisturizer that seemed like it would actually moisturize. I was not prepared for the “options” I had sitting on the shelves around me! Every single face lotion in the store was a bleaching cream. Every one was labeled lightening cream, fairness cream, etc. What got me even more surprised and particularly upset were the names of the products- White Beauty, Fair and Lovely, Fairytale, just to name a few. Never in my life have I seen such blatant intentions on lightening a race, at least not this obvious in 21st century.
I must have stayed planted in the “beauty” aisle for at least 30 minutes looking at all the different creams, what ingredients were in them, what kind of packaging the vials were in, and how other women my color and darker passed me by in the aisle and picked up one brand or another and added it to their baskets! I wanted to scream, you don’t need these creams to make you beautiful! Being lighter won’t change anything in the long run! Instead I stood there in silence and watched the parade of women pick up their whitening creams without any hesitation.
When I skyped my mom at home the next day and told her of my discovery at the store, she was equally as shocked, especially because we are in the year 2011. Even though this is the case, the belief that light skin trumps dark skin is hundreds, if not thousands of years old. My mom explained to me that back in the day the same thing with skin color was happening in the Black community. Everyone wanted to look white not only to gain acceptance by the white community but also, the Black community. Light skin was “in” and dark sink was “out”. Plain and simple, if you didn’t pass the paper bag test, you were just too dark to be considered beautiful.
After talking with my mom, I stated to think even more about why is dark skin so bad? How is it that non-white societies have fallen into the belief that light skin is more desirable than dark? When I wrote my Godfather about this he explained that the original untouchables were dark skinned, and maybe this dislike for darkness stemmed from there. While I think that this idea is well founded, and definitely credible, I also think that the main reason for this dark skin vs. light skin controversy stems from the colonial history of not just India, but the colonial history of all darker skinned nations. In each of these places, there are huge social and economical divides between dark skinned and light skinned people. Here in India for example, I have noticed that the lighter skinned people tend to be wealthier, have more social connections, are better educated, and in general, have a higher standard of life in comparison to the dark skinned Indians. Darker complexioned Indians tend to live in poorer neighborhoods, work more blue collar and domestic jobs like autorickshaw drivers, factory workers, maids, man servants, etc… have less education, and in general have a lower standard of life in comparison to light skinned Indians. Of course there are always exceptions, however, this color divide that is present here in India is also seen in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Now I know this just can’t be a coincidence between the Haves and the Have Nots. Why are the majority of the Haves light skinned, and the Have Nots dark skinned? It can’t be because all the dark skinned people are all untouchables. It seems to me that the colonial history of each of these societies pre-determined who could become successful and who would not based on skin color. If you looked more like the colonizer then you had a better chance socially and economically to make something of yourself than if you looked like the colonized.
So then the question remains, why do we still have the mentality that white is right? Is it because the media perpetuates it? Do we all secretly say that light skin is more aesthetically pleasing that dark sink? Do we all secretly want to be white?
I know I wrote a little about skin color in my post “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, Or is it…” but I guess this is something I am fascinated with. I knew that hair and skin complexion were closely linked, but at the same time both could be topics of their own due to the societal importance of each. I think that the last question I posed must be right in some way because why else would communities of color, especially women, put themselves through hours of salon sessions chemically straightening their hair, or using weaves, wigs and/or pieces to achieve the long haired european hair they believe is beautiful. Or why else would they use bleaching creams in climates where creams like these weren’t meant to be used. Or why else would this community try so hard to escape their darker skinned roots in order to be white.
I think that non-white communities have a long way to go before we all truly believe that Black IS Beautiful.