The Twisted Fairytale of Skin Lightening Products

“Skin lIghtening products are widely discussed in the community, light skin is equated to beauty. Growing up hearing light, white and fair you are naturally drawn to these products, it’s a form of word of mouth from one aunt to the next; it’s a case of you trying to fit in”

“People like to ingrain an idea of beauty and that it relates to your skin colour. If you’re light you are classed as beautiful and if you’re dark in complexion, you’re not so beautiful. If you’re white you can’t go wrong” 

“If a woman is dark, this is less easily compensated for, and in the marriage market, she is considered less desirable. Lighter skin tone, all in all, carries confidence, status, respect and value for us”


“If I think about it goes down to the fact my cousins are a much lighter skin tone to me and they were considered more beautiful. I was the black sheep, the black ugly duckling”

“Girls are considered a burden in our culture and having darker skin just makes it harder for parents to send her off for marriage”

‘’Being lighter is like the way to go about being appreciated beauty-wise, that I need it and that its solution to my life’s biggest problem: my dark skin. It’s access to validation, to belong, to be accepted, loved, respected”

“If a girl is dark she is told ‘put this on your skin, a little bit of haldi (turmeric)  it will soothe your skin and also make it glow’ – they start with the word ‘glow’ and then as you get older you will hear words like ‘lighten, fair and white’. It’s practically telling us that we need to convert into this skin tone to be considered beautiful. It’s sort of like a cult thing, there’s this sort of ‘rite of passage” 


“My mum said, “Your skin is almost black, stop sitting in the sun”. My dad didn’t really say anything, she advised us to stay in the shade. 20 years later when I’m sat in the sun I’m wary of how my complexion may change”

“The way people treated us was noticeable; my mum dressed my siblings in pink and yellow; striking colours and I was dressed in darker skin tones to match my skin tone so blues and greens. I have grown up with this mentality and till this day I will avoid wearing yellow and pink”

All these quotes are reflections of lived experiences, we want to express our appreciation to these women for sharing their stories and being the voice to a muted subject. 

Imagine being told and made to feel like you’re not good enough, having every little decision questioned from your sense of fashion, choice of partner and even being able to roam freely outside in the sun – all on the basis of your skin tone. It sounds like we are living in the ages of Rosa Parks yet thousands of women (men too) face this dilemma. Regardless of age, race or location, women feel the pressure to look different than they do, to gain the esteem of others and approval in their own eyes. The prime value placed on having ‘light’ or ‘white’ skin. This is Colourism. 

Though the admonitions appear cruel it revolves on understanding that the standard of beauty abides by a ‘colour-struck’ world. To an extent, it seems to be a take on euphemism, by discretely disclosing what is a ‘racial judgement’ however describing ‘light skin’ as a biological essential and a way of life. 

Women buy skin lightening products as there is a discourse which equates light complexions as the global standard of beauty, basis of power and status. The use of skin lightening products has been as common as it has been controversial. Although legislation is attempting to control the availability of the most toxic skin lightening products, they are still easily available in stores across the UK such as beauty complexes, ayurvedic stores, the black market, pharmacies and online.  

Negative health effects associated with these products include a number of cancers and Ochronosis. The most harmful chemicals found in these products are hydroquinone, mequinol and retinoid. The long-term use interrupts melanin production and creates irreversible damage on melanocytes causing skin irritation which paradoxically will darken the skin. Alongside the health implications, the concept of ‘skin-lightening’ reinforces a negative perception of dark skin tones, it illustrates sameness, not difference. Lifestyle choices become instilled with racial meaning. 

Fortunately, as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have seen a ‘shift in mindset’ from the likes of Johnson & Johnson and Unilever with product lines being dropped and realigned propositions. However, it’s worth questioning if this is enough. By renaming products doesn’t that mean racist ideologies still exist? Are we still encouraging women to redefine their outlook on beauty? Aren’t we encouraging women and men to compete with one another in a battle of complexions and colour hierarchy? Are we teaching our future generations that you’ll never be good enough in your natural skin? 

All this and more has made it crucial to make a difference and educate others on colourism. Before we delve into what we do and how we do it, here’s some info on us. 

My name is Monica (@monica_myjamjar) and I consider myself a change champion/ activist. I work on projects which focus on tackling harmful cultural practices such as FGM, Honour Based Abuse and stigmas around Body Image. However, my main area of interest and focus for the past seven years has been understanding and researching the complexities of colourism and its associated ‘taboo’ factor. I’m currently pursuing a PhD on the topic of colonialism, marketing and colourism. Here is a snippet of my research findings:

THE TWISTED FAIRYTALE: How light skinned girls are ‘trending’: Perceptions of skin lightening products among British Bangladeshi women

As a British Bangladeshi, I became aware of the common use of skin-lightening products by women in this community, when I was about 14. Skin colour was explained to me through the story of the ‘Three Gingerbread Women’. The first gingerbread woman was too pale because the baker had taken her out of the oven early and the other was left in the oven for too long which meant she was too dark. Third time around, the gingerbread woman was perfect, light brown colour and everyone that came to the bakery had a desire for this piece. At the time this story had little importance, however, as I grew older I realised much like the gingerbread women, family and friends were given labels. I would hear disparaging remarks about my aunt’s complexion and the pressures for her to look ‘whiter’ and use skin lightening products. I began to wonder how skin lightening represented ‘positivity, happiness and acceptance’, yet encouraged a loss of ethnic identity. I could talk about this topic for days but I promised to keep it short and simple. Now, that’s enough about me, over to you Rahela (@therahela)

“Don’t wear black hijab, wear something more colourful” 

“Contour will only make your face look darker” 

“Isn’t that lipstick shade too dark for you?”

I have been encouraged to wear colours that make me look lighter. Even to this day, I hesitate to wear black hijabs and dark brown lipsticks around those family members. These comments were referred to in a joking manner, excused by others because it came from the elders and ‘they didn’t know better’. The topic of colourism resonates with my thoughts, emotions and what I believe is a progressive mindset. As a woman, I want to empower other women and understand there isn’t a quick fix to dealing with colourism. By working on @Raang.uk, I have been able to open up the dialogue on the issues of colourism within our communities, even in my own household.  

United and together we are on a mission to tackle racism and colourism in our society. We want to open up the dialogue of colourism. Together, we need to eliminate the ‘taboo’ factor by speaking up about the problems of colourism. Colourism creates a space whereby privileges and superiority are given to those with lighter skin tone and taking away basic HUMAN rights from those with dark skin tone. Skin based prejudice was and still is a hushed subject, but it is our responsibility to address this problem publicly and make it mainstream. It is easy to position colourism as part of history. Except it is not! It exists now! It is still so vividly clear and deeply rooted in our society. There is no pass for anybody on casual racism or colourism related comments. Educate yourself and educate them. 

We at @raang.uk, through our community page, are committed to:

1. Visuals and motivational quotes: To support those struggling with colourism. We want to empower you and hope you can embrace your inner and outer beauty.

2. Provide educational resources: We will share insights and recommend books so you can educate and reflect on colourism.

3. Provide a virtual safe open space: We are here to help and advise. If you need someone to talk to, we are here. We have studied, researched and have lived experience on colourism.

We know to bring about a change requires time, commitment and dedication. Let us tell you we embody all those principles. We ask that you support us; following our page increases our presence, sharing our petition raises awareness, sharing our content can help motivate others and reach those that need a safe haven- you can be the voice to the unheard. 

Here’s our petition:

https://www.change.org/p/trading-services-uk-stop-the-sales-of-skin-lightening-whitening-products-within-the-uk-market

We are all different and that’s beautiful ❤️

Guest blog from @Raang.uk , which was created to motivate and empower people to embrace their inner and outer beauty. To provide educational resources on the matter of colourism within our society. And to provide a virtual safe open space, for those struggling with colourism.

britishbindi

An Award-Nominated blog which discusses what it's like to be a contemporary British Asian Woman.

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