The Darkness Behind Fair Skin Commercials

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add anything to this conversation; a quick google search will tell you that many, many others have offered long, thought-out articles or research papers on the prevalence of light skin being a reinforced beauty standard in the media. But then I figured, no harm in adding an extra voice to this issue – my voice.

Recently, in Malaysia there was an ad that used blackface and depicted dark skin as something disgusting. To be honest, I was repulsed but also not surprised that corporations wanting to sell skin products would use this method. It’s one I’ve seen pushed at me time and time again since I started watching TV.

I can’t tell you how happy and proud I was that so many people were angry and voiced that anger. They shared opinions, tweeted at the company, expressed disapproval of such an ad – it ended in the ad being taken down. What did shock me was the response to the backlash: by the company and by other people.

The company gave your standard PR apology: ‘truly sorry that some elements have offended the  general public’. I was honestly hoping for something better then the company trying to do damage control by putting the main focus on those offended instead of the reason they found it offensive. To be fair, I really should have known better.

Then there were others, who I guess didn’t find the ad offensive. Their justification was ‘oh but it was just following an old legend’ and others saying ‘PC culture has gone out of hand, why are you trying to make this a race issue’. This was the most disturbing part of the reaction to me. That people didn’t understand why this was an issue, why it was a great thing that there was backlash on this video.

So here is – what i hope will be – a simple explanation on the importance of calling out light skin as a defining standard of beauty.

For ages, there was always this consensus that light skin was more beautiful. There is no definitive answers for where and exactly what point that rhetoric became true. Irregardless, companies trying to sell beauty products capitalises on that (like with any other kind of beauty standard). They need you to believe that there is something wrong with you, that your features aren’t good enough and they have the product to make you better. Just look at any beauty ad on TV. It might not be so explicit as the one that caused the controversy, but there is definitely elements of fair skin being the end goal of every woman who wants to look beautiful. Take a look at this Vaseline ad:

I can think of many different reasons body lotion would be good for the skin besides having a fair one. Even if you look at the model, her tan skin really wasn’t that dark at all. Speaking of models, if you look at any of the Youtube pages of cosmetic companies – Nivea, Bioessence, Dove, L’Oréal – you’ll notice the lack of any dark-skin model in videos.

Why is this an issue? Are people just being over sensitive? Trying to be too politically correct? Are they just jealous? (all this I’ve seen people say in comments).

When the media constantly puts out ads the glorifies light skin, the internalised message is that lighter skin is always better. This is reflected in the way people treat others and treat themselves. A dark skin person is seen to immediately loose out in life just for the virtue of their skin colour.

It makes it normal that people gasp when someone has dark skin. It makes it normal for the prettier person to always be the one with lighter skin. It makes it normal for people to see those with dark skin to be of less value. It makes it normal for people to use skin colour as a justification for discrimination. Your normalise the idea that dark skin is a bad thing. Not sunburnt skin, not dry skin, not unhealthy skin, dark skin.

Unfortunately, we still live in a society that places a huge focus on beauty. Not only do you normalise dark skin being a bad thing for others, you also normalise it for those that do have dark skin.

Indian girls (I say this because I am talking about this in a Malaysian context) often try their hardest to have lighter skin. I remember friends in high school complaining about their dark skin, wishing they were fairer. My grandmother, who loves me unconditionally, but will still give me a thousand different skin lightening products thinking it might help. My sisters and I would compare to see who was unfortunate enough to end up with the darkest skin. You create a society where people feel they loose out for something they were born with. You create a society that says all girls should be beautiful, but you only attain that beauty by being fair.

There is still a long way to go in terms of commercials capitalising on insecurities, not just with skin colour but other aspects as well. But I will not apologise for calling these companies out. This isn’t ‘making it a race issue’, it just happens to be one because most dark skin people are Indians and they have been discriminated for it. This isn’t pc culture trying to wreak havoc, this is a real issue that has effected many people and this time they aren’t just going to stand by and watch it slide.

I’ve realised there are a lot of things, a lot of issues we don’t have much control over. But for the ones we do, we are going to do something about it and we will do it unapologetically.

credit for the feature image to sarennya ❤ 

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