The Soapbox: The Real Problem With Skin Lightening Cosmetics
Whitenicious, a cosmetics line created by California-based, Nigerian-Cameroonian pop star Dencia touts its ability to help customers even out their skin and get rid of discoloration. The product is essentially a skin bleaching cream in a golden jar, sold for $150 a pop– well, at least that is what anyone would gather from Dencia’s “transformation” as seen on the advertisement, from a mocha beauty, to a caramel, Beyonce look-alike, to a washed-out corpse.
So why is this never explicitly stated? More importantly, why is the purpose of Whitenicious — to make a dark skinned person have lighter skin — intentionally concealed? The advertising campaign for Dencia’s product leads consumers to believe that the function of her “cosmetic” is to “nourish your skin and lighten dark knuckles, knees and elbows.”
If this cream is meant for your knees, how did it get all over Dencia’s face, arms, legs and torso? Did she trip and fall into a giant vat of Whitenicious while at the factory– not once or twice,but so many times that she somehow managed to visit every single shade on the skin color spectrum? Or maybe every last one of the containers was defective and when she tried to squeeze out a dab for her elbow, the cream squirted out all over her face. Of course, then she would have had no choice but to apply it all over her body again, at least 200 times.
There is a big discrepancy between the advertised purpose and the practical use of Whitenicious, let’s be real here. The purpose of Dencia’s cream, as is the purpose of most skin bleaching creams, is to lighten skin on the entire body. The unstated purpose is to transform a colored woman into a white woman– as exemplified by Dencia herself– to become Whitenicious (some combination of white and delicious I presume?).
So, why conceal the product’s purpose? If the underlying belief is that colored women are more beautiful with light skin, why not just come out and say it?
The beauty industry shies away from plainly stating their dislike of dark skin because they do not want to be held accountable for or implicated in the continued devaluation of people of color. Imagine a world where an advertisement blatantly stated: Got Dark Skin? We Could Get Rid Of That Flaw,” or “Black and Ugly? With Whitenicious You Can Become Flawlessly White.” The world would be outraged. There would be bold headlines screaming “Racism!” accompanied by protests and product boycotts.
But instead, skin bleaching advertising gimmicks try to delude us into thinking that there is no longer a colored problem, only a “discolored problem.” Really, we are a society disconnected from our colored history –a history that reveals skin bleaching creams to be a “beauty” by-product of all of the ugliness of slavery, white supremacy and colonialism. A reinforcement of the idea that “whiteness” dominates over “blackness.” A stake driven into an already split “colored” identity between “lighter” and “darker,” field or house slave.
The unwillingness of the beauty industry to be direct only further serves to disconnect us from our current reality. We have yet to escape our past. We have not outgrown our shortsightedness. Our society still embraces a standard of beauty that prizes “lightness” and “whiteness.” We are more blinded by color than we are color blind. The proof lies in the sad fact that Whitenicious sold out its first day on the market.
The time has come for the truth to stop being concealed by discussions of “beauty” or “cosmetic” products. My wish for the beauty industry is that they simply say what they mean: That black is not beautiful. State the belief that promotes the appearance of lightened black faces on magazine covers and the absence of dark skin as a symbol of beauty. State the belief that society subliminally endorses so that we can be appalled enough to respond.