April 25, 2020
The purpose of current study is to examine the way women of colour perceive their selves on the basis of skin tone and the influence racialisation has on their perception. Women of colour tend to face stereotypes due to their skin tone, which is another major challenge. The social construction of race gives superiority and privilege to whiteness over blackness, which negatively impacts individuals’ perception of skin complexion. Blackness has always been measured in contrast to whiteness, which is linked to purity, beauty and wealth. The problem is that skin bleaching is not only the question of beauty, but the social norms and standard that identity the frames and perceptions of people from the privileged society regarding the current outlooks on physical appearance. Therefore, it is highly essential to pay attention to the skin bleaching as an attempt of Hispanic and African American women to be accepted and recognized in a dominating white community, in which lighter skin colour is a model of beauty. Further, the historic and social backgrounds should be reconsidered to understand how it has affected the current trends in consuming skin bleaching products. The problem of skin lightening should also be associated with the phenomenon of cultural assimilation, which is the consequence of African American’s perception of the dominant cultures, which gives an opportunity to enter a greater market of possibilities in terms of status, income and marriage.
Such perceptions lead to several methods of beauty regimes, which include skin bleaching/lightening that have become a global phenomenon for women of colour driven by colourism. In particular, Hunter (2007, p.237) defines colourism as “the process of discrimination that privileges light skin people of colour over their dark skin counterparts. Colourism is concerned with actual skin tone, as opposed to racial and ethnic identity.” In general, ??olourism should be associated with racism, as well as with discrimination against women based on skin colour. Charles (2003) explains that in post-colonial countries, such as Jamaica, having a light complexion or originating from mixed-race family was a normal phenomenon due to the associations made with whiteness that symbolized wealth and beauty. To prove the idea, Hunter (2002) has also introduced examples when Hispanic and African American women strived to bleach their skin due to the existence of stereotypes and biases regarding skin colours and the corresponding social associations.
Such skin colour hierarchy among women of colour was inherited from colonialism and slavery, and is internalised by women of colour till today. During slavery, enslaved people were ranked for work duties on the basis of skin colour. In such way, slave owners aimed at creating distrust and animosity between the slaves in order to prevent revolt (Hunter 2011). Research shows that such skin colour hierarchy still exist in black communities. Recent studies of African American community regarding current issue show that coloured people with lighter complexion are more privileged in terms of social status (educational attainment, income, residential segregation and spousal status).
To understand the sociological and political perspective of the phenomenon of skin bleaching among African American and Mexican American women, the attention should be paid to the social theories that provide a rationale for the issue. Specifically, Butler (1988) deliberates on the concepts defining gender identity. Specifically, the author assumes, “if gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief” (Butler 1988, p. 520). At this point, the theory also pays attention to physiology and the questions of sex and sexuality. Phenomenological frameworks of human embodiment have been connected with the differences between biological and physiological consequences that shape bodily existence, as well as the meanings that embrace the reflections on the physiological dimension. Although the theory fails to directly explain why black women were willing to lighten their skin, the framework stills explains how stereotypes influence the development of social norms and perceptions. In response to such perceptions, skin bleaching and lightening is a logical phenomenon.
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The theory of gender identity should also be congruent with the theory of blackness perception, particularly the black identity and recognition. At this point, Fanon (2008) has presented the research study that explains that the concept of blackness could be identified with the concept of whiteness, brining more ambiguity in certain concepts. According the researcher, “the white family is the agent of a certain system. The society is indeed the sum of all the families in it. The family is an institution or the national group” (Fanon 2008, p. 159). Such fact, however, is generally accepted and recognized by both white and black people. As a result, black people are often made inferior due to their historical past and due to the existing stereotypes. Specifically, Fanon (2008, p. 149) also asserts, “The Negro recognizes the unreality of many of the beliefs that he has adopted with reference to the subjective attitude of the white man”. The feeling of inferiority becomes the main reason why most Hispanic and African American women are striving to bleach their skin. Since the historical times of slavery, they have always been associated with slaves and the act of bleaching is a sort of changing the identity and trying to become at one level with white people.
While deliberating on the underpinnings and nature of the women’s desire to bleach their skin, the attention should be paid to the different outlooks on the concept of beauty. As a result, Coleman and Figueroa (2010) focus on the pragmatic reasons of perceiving beauty as a social or even political phenomenon. The discussion is placed in the context of feminist theory, according to which “beauty is equated with a sense of perfection; beauty is an inclination toward a temporal state” (Coleman and Figueroa 2010, p. 358). Therefore, the concept of beauty is also associated with normalcy and the standard which is accepted by the majority. Since African Americana and Hispanic women are often regarded as minority groups in Europe and the United States, their desire to lighten the skin is well-justified. The aspiration to beauty also derives from the girls and women’s constant dissatisfaction with their physical appearance, leading to depression and stress. The psychological imbalance is also the cause of social norms and clichés accepted in society. However, they are the major reasons causing development of new ideals and stereotypes about beauty.
In regard to the above-presented prejudices about the major constituents of the beauty paradigm, it is purposeful to consider the beliefs and perceptions recognized in the studies by Lobodziec (2001). In particular, the author has been deliberating on the contemporary beliefs of black middle-class performance and ideology. The black culture, therefore, is closely intertwined with the gender and race-based conflicts. In response to such confrontations, Lobodziec (2011, p. 525) assumes that “the transformation of social relations becomes a matter…of transforming hegemonic social conditions rather than the individual acts that are spawned by those conditions”. Therefore, the social environment and human acts identify the attitude to culturally predetermined phenomena. In addition to such perceptions, Lobodziec (2011) also introduces the creative work of Toni Morrison whose stories and novels express commitment to the black community. In particular, the writer deliberates on African American culture, being the main source of inspiration. The writer also accepts the position of the increased role of social and political conflicts as the reason for social and spiritual transformation of the black community. In this respect, the discrete race is a sort of adaptation to the political environment of the period, as well as an attempt of black people to enter a better life, which was previously a privilege of white people. The historical and social dimensions explain why many black women with discrete identity are ashamed of revealing their cultural and national affiliation.
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In the studies by Lindsey (2011), the attention has also been paid to the analysis of the historical background that started the process of skin bleaching among African American women. Specifically, the author asserts that skin bleaching is an attempt to escape from the enslavement stereotype because black skin is associated with slaves and inferior classes, which are suppressed by the white. However, the development of new identity distorts the desire of many black communities to retain their culture and authenticity. Lindsey (2011) discloses the new identity, the New Negro movement that recreate the self by skin bleaching. Specifically, the author explains, “African Americans engaged in new practices and aesthetic discourses with an unprecedented sense of possibility for self-determination and autonomy” (Lindsey 2011, p. 98). However, by altering the physical appearance, black people could only reconstruct the models and standards of beauty, which also serve as an attempt to create new black aesthetic identity. Such practices were important for African Americans in blurring the traces of enslavement and reaffirming their place in the modern community. The concept of New Negro Movement is also discussed in correlation with the New Negro Womanhood, where black women experienced the prevailing influence of the cultural hegemony of white class, which further affected the perceptions of African American beauty culture, as well as colour and class politics in relation to the black community. Additionally, the author focuses on the new beauty paradigms that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Specifically, the author focuses on the images that showed “before” and “after” effect of bleaching. Such “positive” effect was the most popular advertising of the time. It was also a good opportunity for achieving whiteness. The advertising products were popular among the African American women who wanted to bleach their face, as well as enter the new cultural era. The advertisements, however, meant more than changing the paradigms of beauty; they served as the path to an upper social layer, which makes it possible to create respectable social relationships and be recognized among the modern society. At the same time, the desire to lighten the skin was also a sort of escape from the historical past.
Similar to Lindsey (2011) who talks about the New Negro Movement at the beginning of the past century, Glenn (2008) is also concerned with the consumerism trends in buying skin-lightening products, which testifies to the growing significance of the concept of colourism. Specifically, the researcher asserts that light skin is presented as symbolic capital that is essential for women due to the evident connection between skin colour and physical attractiveness. The use of skin lighteners is increasingly popular among young women residing in urban areas, and the phenomenon is spread at a global level. Despite its large-scale nature, the skin-bleaching market is segmented in terms of race, class, nation and culture. At this point, Glenn (2008) explores skin-bleaching practices in different communities to define the role of cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies in triggering the desire for making the skin lighter. Apparently, such tendencies have also been connected with the advertising trends and the trends accepted in society. Nonetheless, women’s desire to become ‘ideal’ in the society should not be underestimated either.
The attention to skin bleaching is essential while dealing with the frustration and distortion of genuine African culture, which should not be connected to the history of slavery in the United States. By assigning such historical moment to the African culture, the African Americans were discouraged to sustain their identity and recognize their genuine affiliation due to the lack of privileges they could enjoy in American society. The bleaching syndrome is also recognized as an attempt of African Americans to assimilate among the prevailing culture. It is also a sort of the cultural diversity and a new identity which was created as a result of the cultural assimilation. At this point, Hall (1995, p. 172) assumes that skin bleaching is “…a response by African Americans in their attempts to assimilate into a society characterized by cultural domination in spite of the psychic conflict has caused”. Additionally, the given theoretical assumption provides a ground for exploring the influence of assimilation on psychological perception of minority groups, as well as cultural pressure of dominating groups. The theory of psychological pressure of assimilation can also explain the outcomes of the bleaching syndrome for the black community members who internalise white skin and other criteria of dominating group, being the ideal point to refer to the full assimilation in American community. The assimilation concept could also be congruent with the feminist theories dictated by Butler (1998), who is more concerned with gender assimilation. Nonetheless, African American women experience a ‘positive’ effect of bleaching due to the possibility of becoming the member of the mainstream society, as well as establishing the dominating positions in society due to the skin colour.
The concept of skin colour and colourism is identified both with the problem of reaching an ‘ideal’ of beauty paradigms, as well as the attempt to overcome inequality. Consequently, Hunter (2007) deliberates on the problem of status and inequality in relation to skin tone. Specifically, the scholar explains the concept of colourism as the major problem for people of colour residing in the United States. Colourism is defined as a process that makes white people prevailed over those with darker skin colour in such fields as education, income, employment, marriage and housing. The experiences of Hispanic and African American communities are described in the context of their desire to bleach their skin, which is the path for women to the better future. What is more challenging is that the concept of colourism is associated with racism in the USA and all over the world. The colour problem spreads around the world and is predetermined by the power of media, which encourages the development of multibillion campaigns for skin bleaching products.
In conclusion, it should be stressed that skin lightening is still popular among women of colour due to many reasons. One of them is the desire to fit in the current standards of beauty. At the same time, it is also a sort of subconscious attempt to escape from the historical past, in which African Americans experience pressure on the part of the dominating white community. More important, currently skin-bleaching has become a consumerism trend, which is utilized by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies. Nevertheless, it creates false prejudice and stereotypes about beauty. Consequently, such tendency leads to further assimilation of cultures, as well as to the negative influence on African American heritage.
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