Recently, I got given a sample of a Kiehl’s cleanser to try, and was excited to try it as I was ready for something new. I invested in using it, and went to buy the full size, I saw that the cleanser was a ‘Clearly Corrective Skin Purifying Cleanser’ and is one part of a ‘Clearly Corrective’ range designed to illuminate the appearance of skin, ‘tested and developed for Asian skin’, and ‘helps visibly diminish dark spots and discolouration’.
Now, let’s be clear here. What we / they are talking about is skin whitening. I was scandalized. Firstly, because someone thought to give me a sample of this, subconsciously making the decision that it was something I needed; secondly, because this language is so insidiously coercive. Seriously, ‘diminish dark’, ‘discolouration’, ‘corrective’, ‘purifying’ – this is the language of skin care, and what our children are hearing when they look in the mirror at their dusky skin.
The beauty and skincare industry makes serious bank by perpetuating the dangerous rhetoric that you are inadequate. You are never beautiful enough, you are never perfect the way you are, self-improve, lose weight, change your body, change your face, and change your skin. And we wonder why so many people, and brown-skinned women especially, struggle with confidence.
No one has a choice of what skin tone they are born into and no one should feel the need to change their skin tone because it is not revered as beautiful.
Throughout Asia and the subcontinent India, almost every beauty product incorporates some form of whitening agent that only becomes apparent when the tiny text on the back of the product is studied. My father can’t even buy a deodorant that has some sort of whitening agent in it and he lives in Thailand. Seriously? “Oh, Mads… Mujhe tumse pyaar ho gaya jab maine tumhara gorapan dekha bagal ke neeche!”
We need more stars speaking out about all skin tones being beautiful, and less stars (ahem, Aishwarya, SRK, Priyanka, Salman) endorsing fairness creams. We need more dark skinned role models, speaking up and being heard. How can India be so fiercely and proudly independent of colonialism, yet this ideal of paleness still survives? We will never be paler than Prince Harry, let’s leave it be.
A final word taken from the amazing tumblr of writer, Belle Cosby:
“Put down the bleach. Your skin is not dirt that needs to be cleaned out like yesterday’s shirt. You are comprised of sienna, chestnut, and warm mahogany. Dark as the night sky, constellations are tucked neatly underneath your bones. Your skin reminiscent of the hot chocolate that warms winter nights. Like rings around a tree stump, you too have history etched into your melanin. Don’t let the glaring whiteness, blind you from the beauty that you are. “