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EDITORIAL HEADLINE Pradip Rodrigues

What does the popularity of skin whitening products say about us?

Pradip Rodrigues

Recently Health Canada sounded the warning about unauthorized skin-lightening products sold online and in retail stores because of possible health risks.

Health Canada has seized several unauthorized products from retailers that contain prescription drugs that have concentration greater than 2 per cent. These products can cause irreparable damage to one’s skin and even cancer.

But that is not stopping thousands of people of colour in Canada and millions around the world from slathering their faces and bodies with skin-whitening creams and lotions.

The statistics compiled by the World Health Organisation is staggering. In 2011, it was found that 40 percent of African women bleached their skin and with affluence and societal changes, that number keeps increasing.

In 2017, a study found that Asia-Pacific made up more than half of the global market for skin lightening products, with China accounting for about 40 percent of sales, Japan 21 percent, and Korea 18 percent.

In India, the women’s fairness cream category is expected to cross Rs. 5,000 crores by year 2023 if not sooner.

While it is a fact that thousands of South Asians women and many men as well regularly use skin-whitening creams to achieve a level of fairness, it is impossible to find anyone willing to admit using such products. It is almost as hard as getting a man to admit they use Viagra. It is needless to say a dark and dirty secret that many South Asians in Canada use frightening quantities of skin-whitening products.

While women living in India have to deal with discrimination as a result of colorism or shadeism, (which means that people belonging to the same race discriminate based on one’s darker shade) South Asian women in Canada are acutely aware of their brownness when compared to Caucasians and adding insult to injury is having to deal with shadeism within their own families and communities.

One may feel proud being Indian, but that is not to say that many Indians for example are proud to be the color brown. This may explain why so many light-skinned South Asians attempt to pass off as Spanish. In fact, I once overheard a South Asian twenty-something woman at a social gathering proudly reveal that people she encountered socially and at work often thought she was Spanish which she took as a compliment. She is not alone when it comes to hiding her ethnicity if possible.

When it comes to darker-skinned South Asian girls and women, their darker shade becomes more of an issue as they approach a marriageable age. That is when they have to deal with rejection from hypocritical men from their own ethnic backgrounds who prefer fair-complexioned partners regardless of their own swarthy looks.

Very few dark-skinned women will ever honestly admit that they would love to be a few shades lighter if not simply white, but the popularity of skin whitening creams paints a disturbing story at a time when the Canadian population is less white than at any time in its history.

South Asian activists, especially women activists who constantly fight against racism faced by people of colour in Canada, should instead start to focus on discrimination faced by women in their own communities, this form of discrimination is more insidious and way more psychologically damaging to a woman. If South Asian societies and communities could truly embrace and accept their many shades of brown, sales of skin-whitening creams would plummet. The growing popularity of such products in the west speaks volumes about women of colour obsessing about white skin. Too many of us equate dark-skin with unattractiveness, this is the pressure many dusky women face every day.

The growing popularity and use of skin-whitening creams is a symptom of a much larger problem. So, while Health Canada is rightly concerned about the deleterious effects of such products on one’s health, it is up to us to realise that our on-going preference for light-skinned women risks scarring them both inside and out. -CINEWS

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