I'm Not Going to Lighten My Skin to Feel Beautiful and I'm Going to Need Businesses to Stop Telling Us To
Written by Felicia Gopi
Sunday May 7, 2023
Colourism is hardly a new concept that people of colour have had to face from those within and outside of our communities. Aside from the social implications that come from ignorant remarks and the inherent ways in which folks with darker skin tones are discriminated against in their daily lives, there also exists a system of capitalism that profits off of our man-made insecurities with regards to the colour of our skin.
Skincare products boast a number of different benefits that can help us improve our confidence and make us feel more beautiful and comfortable in our own skin. Among those “benefits”, there still exists a number of products from a host of suppliers, ranging from independent brands all the way up to luxury beauty houses that we’re all quite familiar with, that offer to whiten the colour of our skin.
It may come as a shock to some, but a quick Google search reveals that major retailers and distributors are still manufacturing, supplying and marketing whitening and brightening products. Brightening products have sort of taken the reins from their older whitening counterparts as the new and improved 2.0 way to push these products to the masses.
I’ve often been asked where we draw the line between brightening and true skin whitening products. The answer, to me, has always been that it lies within the intent. To brighten one's skin involves removing dull or dead skin cells offering a more radiant look, while whitening is pretty clear cut, it involves lightening the pigment of someone's overall skin area. Nowadays brands tend to stick to the term brightening but to really understand what you’re buying, you’d have to research your products and understand what the effects on your skin will be.
Make no mistake, some brands are evolving their marketing terminology (which is half the issue) and the rest? They seem pretty confident in packaging their products with the term white or using other bold euphemisms.
I mentioned that marketing is half the issue. This is important because while of course, many companies have acknowledged the physical harm whitening serums, creams etc. can have on folks, it is also important to note that telling people to lighten or whiten their skin can be extremely harmful to their mental psyche. It is the exact reason why the trend is so rampant all over the world in various ethnic communities. Over time, past and present generations have been conditioned to idealise eurocentric beauty standards while simultaneously internalising our own self-loathing. Sure, people deserve a level of agency to present themselves in a way that makes them feel their most beautiful, but that’s not where the problem lies, that is merely a symptom of the greater disease that is colourism.
To fix the issue you have to address the root, and the root of the issue is colonialism. It seems pretty daunting when I put it that way, I know. It’s easier to digest when you consider that these issues are able to circulate around us because of the very systems that keep them in place. To tackle this we need to tackle those very systems.
It starts with removing harmful chemicals and products alike from shelves and e-commerce shops. That means putting pressure on the brands and retailers we frequent to stop selling skin whitening products to us and in turn, to stop telling us we need them to be beautiful - because we don’t.
Of course, every industry can sustain better practices around inclusion by becoming more diverse. Representation at various levels of an organisation is key to having these challenging conversations and helps reduce the burden on the folks that bring these topics to the table.
The beauty industry is of particular importance because it has a direct impact on how people view themselves and how they shape their self-esteem. I’m hopeful for the future of beauty, if brands continue to commit to learning, diversifying their workforces (at all levels) and embrace the change that comes with dismantling previous systems that perpetuate harmful messaging we will continue to see a more inclusive and kinder beauty industry, and that’s one that I would very proud to be a part of.
About the Author
Felicia is the editor in chief of Story, a newsletter by the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association. She also works in digital marketing with a background in beauty and fashion. She began volunteering with the Indo-Caribbean Association to contribute directly to her community and to learn from other like-minded individuals.
For more information visit feliciagopi.ca