Is White Skin Beautiful?

Posted on May 6, 2011


By Sahrash Azam.

Sometimes we are shown wrong images that create a wall between reality and lie. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are misguided or that somebody has put blinders on our eyes. “The Allegory of the Cave” Plato depicts this situation in terms of prisoners in a cave who can only see images on a wall, and concludes, “All in all, then, what people in this situation would take for truth would be nothing more than the shadows of the manufactured objects” (1). Similar to this scenario, people in South Asia are captivated in myths like “white skin is beautiful”. People spend thousands of dollars on skin whiting products to achieve the “unreachable” ideal and end up suffering from mental and physical illness.

So, where does this belief come from? Well, we can’t really tell from where exactly this originated but by looking back in history we can find a slight glimpse of the problem. In United States during the Colonial period of time and slavery, a person with white skin color was considered as “superior” and the person with dark skin color was not even considered a human. As result, in 1950 a shameful event took place, “Racial Segregation” where white and colored had separate facilities, such as housing, education, medical care, employment and transportation along racial lines. We see a similar trend when Great Britain conquered India. White color was associated with “being of a higher class, as opposed to those who had to work in the field”.

We may not now live in those times but they left dark marks on people’s minds, thinking that white skin is “beautiful”. In addition, media and ads portray beauty as “pale skin, blue eyes, straight hair, etc. For instance, in India creams like “Fair and Lovely” promise women to lighten their skin 3times than their actual color by showing the image of a young college graduate woman who wants to be a reporter on TV but she couldn’t get it due to her brown skin color. When she tries “Fair & Lovely” her skin becomes lighter and then finally she got the job. This ad sends a clear message to young women “white is beautiful and it will bring success in your life”. Such a harsh judgment leads young women to bleach their skin in early age so they can achieve the “ideal image” which will make them fit in society. They are shown wrong images and are living in a dark cave just like in “The Allegory of the Cave”. Plato described prisoners in a cave who can only see images on a wall, and concludes, “All in all, then, what people in this situation would take for truth would be nothing more than the shadows of the manufactured objects” (1). By watching these kinds of ads, these women start to believe that dark skin is a “curse” and will take them nowhere in life, so it’s better to use these products before it’s too late.

Women around the globe, especially in South Asia, spend most of their money on skin bleaching products.  According to Nielsen Company (a global information and media company) people who claim to use skin whitening products on daily or weekly basis (if money were no object) are as follows: 52 percent in Korea, followed by a third in Taiwan, 28 percent in the Philippines, 26 percent in China and 23 percent in Hong Kong. According to a 2006 edition of Harper’s Magazine, since 2002 more than one hundred and eighty skin whitening products have been introduced to the Asian and Pacific markets (“Events about Race”).  In addition, lightening products account for 40 percent of beauty products sold in India (Goon and Craven, 2003). These products are easy to access.  Creams run between 32 Rupees for the small tube and 70 Rupees for the large tube which equates to between $0.75 and $1.75. With such an affordable price women are using these products more frequently which leads them to some serious mental and physical issues.

Skins whitening cream products contain hazardous chemicals that can cause some serious medical issues. In the summer of 2010, I participated in a research program called “Harlem Children Society” which gives an opportunity to high school students to participate in research related to science technology and health. Shelly Zhou, my fellow participant, had researched the Skin Bleaching Practices Among US Patients with Dr. Mary Ann Mikhalf and Dr. Andrew Alexis in St Luke’s Hospital. She described a case where a 45 years old black woman had skin irritation, skin discoloring, and marks on her body. They ensured that she had no allergy. In family history nobody had this problem. Later on they found out she used dozens of skin bleaching products that contained chemicals such as Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a compound which can damage and mutate your DNA and has the ability to disrupt the proactive mechanism in the body which can lead to cancer. According to Zhou, it can cause Aplastic Anemia and Acute Myeloid Leukemia in the bone marrow. Still people will die for these products. (If you want you can watch her presentation at.

These products not just affect you physically, they also affect you psychologically. According to research (The Domination of Fair Skin: Skin Whitening, Indian Women and Public Health  which was conducted at San Francisco State University in 2007 ),it showed that young girls between 18 and 35 are targets of advertisement like “Fair & Lovely” and girls between the ages of 12 to 14 use fairness creams more frequently. In addition, Shailushi Baxi-Richie explains how the advertising of fairness creams has the potential to diminish self-esteem and is negative in the relentless pursuit of an ideal that is unreachable (19). I myself have experienced a sense of inferiority when I used to watch “Fair & Lovely” ads.  Even though I have white skin color I still wanted whiter skin color. I desperately wanted to use that cream. Now when I know the logic behind this “ideal beauty” I feel guilty.  Despite that, according to the documentary “Very Young Girls” created by GEMS organization (an organization which helps the young girls who became victims of child prostitution), the media and particularly advertisements had caused the victims low self-esteem and self-hatred. As a result most of them end up being in “sex exploits commercial” business.

So, what can we do?  First of all, we should ban skin whitening products which contain hydroquinone through the Food Drug Administration. In the United Kingdom, Japan as well as other countries in Asia, these products already have been banned. Advertisements like “Fair and Lovely” should also be banned by boycotting the skin whitening products. We can start a letter-writing campaign to the media to stop the advertisements. There should be more awareness about the consequences of using these products which I doubt a lot of women know. Media should make videos such as “Not Fair, Still Lovely” to make people love themselves as they are. In addition, parents can play a big role by keeping an eye on what their children are watching. We all can contribute to address this issue by just playing our role in society.

In conclusion “white skin is beautiful” is a mistaken belief. The people who become victim are misguided. Products like “Fair and Lovely” is racist itself by its brand name. These companies promise to lighten your skin, but don’t forget along with products you are buying skin diseases. So therefore, love the skin you are in. Outside beauty doesn’t matter, but what matters is your inner beauty, your heart and soul. So what if you don’t have light skin? There are so many advantages of dark skin, it prevents you from cancer and wrinkles.  And I believe dark skin is more attractive than light skin. No matter what race, religion and culture you belong to, love yourself and tell others to love themselves.

Works Cited

1. Events about Race. Harpers Magazine. 20 September 2006.  Web.  16 April 2011.

2. Harlem Children Society. Skin Bleaching Practices Among US Patients. N.p., 15 Aug. 2010. Web. 5 Apr. 2011.

3. Lumpur, Kuala. “A Bad Hair Day Is Out Of The Question When It Comes To Looking Good.” N.p., 26 Apr. 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.

4. Savita, Malik. “The Domination of Fair Skin.” PDF, 14 May 2007. Web. 6 May


5. Very Young Girls. Dir. David Schisgall, Nina Alvarez. Netflix – USA (Online and DVD), 4 July 2008 (USA). Film.