Beauty is Two-Faced

“For the black man [woman] there is only one destiny. And it is white.” — Frantz Fanon

Not only metaphorically. But literally.

My interest in black women and embodiment has developed into a study of the medicalization and racialization of beauty. Is black really beautiful? I discovered that many black and Asian women actually go to great lengths to literally make themselves as white as possible.

So my analysis looks at skin-bleaching as pathology (as a disease, as a medicalized public health problem),and skin-bleaching as structural violence (as the internalization of colorism, racism and the historical privileging of whiteness).

There is a lot of good literature around these topics. Amina Mire has written a great essay titled Pigmentation and Empire where she explores a number of interesting issues about the politics of skin color and the skin-whitening industry in Africa, but also in the West. She brings up some curious things about the industry and the practice. So while on end sking-bleaching is viewed as a practice of self-harm and self-hatred for the majority of black female bleachers, the whitening industry is totally different for white women in the West where bleaching agents are extensively used as anti-ageing therapies. For white women, these products are “presented as a legitimate intervention designed to ‘cure’ and mitigate the disease of ageing” by making skin smoother, getting rid of wrinkles and blotting out “age spots.” The practice is sanctioned for one group (poor, black women), yet permissible for another (middle-class, white women). Even the medical literature illustrates this discrepancy, potraying black women as victims, with their badly damaged skin, a futile attempt at becoming white, while a lot of the new anti-ageing biotechnologies involve the very same harmful chemical products. In the West, they are marketed as “health promoting” and “regenerating” for the skin, wheareas in the third world they are sold as skin-whiteners (because white is of course beautiful), often discretely and cheaply though highly toxic, and often unregulated, even when they are marketed in ethnic shops and salons in Europe and North America.

Problematic? Yes. The structural differences are already more apparent than I thought.

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~ by misswretched on October 23, 2008.

One Response to “Beauty is Two-Faced”

  1. thanks for this useful post

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