The act of skin-bleaching has always been controversial. Perceived as an act of self-hatred, people that engage in bleaching are often shunned for attempting to be something they're not. While the practice of bleaching can be found throughout the world, the practice has been picking up steam in Jamaica as of late.
Bleaching one's skin is seen as a way to attract a mate, secure a better job or a higher social status. People undergo cosmetic surgery to change their breast size, to look younger and to get a better body all in an effort to feel better about themselves. Is skin-bleaching any different and is it worth the risk?
Earlier this year, dancehall artist Vybz Kartel unveiled his new bleached look. The once brown-skinned artist took to the airwaves to defend his new look and to promote his own brand of cake soap which he said he used to bleach his skin.
“This is my new image,” Kartel said in the interview. “You can expect the unexpected. I feel comfortable with black people lightening their skin. They want a different look. It’s tantamount to white people getting a sun tan.”
Is it now? Everyone can agree that both practices can cause damage to the skin. Tanning can cause wrinkles, leathery skin or skin cancer. The active ingredient in the most prevalent skin bleaching agents, hydroquinone, can cause a disfiguring skin condition called ochronosis that causes dark skin blotches as well as stretch marks. The biggest difference between tanning and bleaching is that one doesn't carry centuries of slavery-induced self-hatred. (And we won’t even go into the whole issue of the paper bag test from the bad old days.)
It's true that people do undergo many kinds of rituals and procedures for the sake of beauty and acceptance. The difference between a breast augmentation and bleaching one's skin is the cultural implications that go with the procedure. Changing one's appearance to look less like your own race and more like some else's reeks of self-hatred. Just like Pecola from “The Bluest Eye,” changing your racial characteristics real or imagined doesn't make the world love you any more.
Kartel and many young people in Jamaica liken bleaching to fashion. Fashion goes out of style, your skin tone does not.
What are your thoughts on skin-bleaching? Would you or have you bleached? Why? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
(Photos, from left: Scott Gries/Getty Images, Cipha/Rosenberg/K.Foxx)