Internalized colonization, beauty and Sudan.

As a South Asian child of immigrants, the issue of skin color was a BIG deal in my family. Not only did my mom get extra attention because she is light skinned, but I was constantly yelled at for being in the sun (not good advice for a street hustlin tom boy). It was not until I was older and read a thing or two about colonization, especially mental and cultural, that I began to realize perhaps the idea so prevalent in 3rd world cultures that lighter skin is more beautiful, is maybe not so healthy. In the South Asian community I have been exposed to, fair skin was looked upon highly. Seems that Sudanese women hold similar beliefs, only to be perpetuated by the unstable situation in the country (you know genocide and war).

In many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia lighter-colored skin is considered prettier and paler women are believed to be wealthier, more educated and more desirable.
This attitude has led to a boom in the use of skin-lightening products in Sudan, a vast country torn by war where skin color also has political connotations.

The worst part is a lot of these products have long term health consequences involved with them.
Obviously, skin color is intensely political. It is unfortunate that the immediate effect on the psychology of people of color tends to be the belief that lighter skin is somehow better (I mean I guess the clear domination/colonization of the world by people that are light-skinned may quite possibly perpetuate this belief). But I also think it is more complicated then that.
In rebellion, I remember I would (and still do) tan as much as possible, just to piss mommy off. But what is the real issue? Is this internalized colonization?
via Reuters.

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14 Comments

  1. noname
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    At least in Asia, the origens of this belief that light skin is more beautiful has nothing to do with colonization. It is about class (working outside leads to darker skin).

  2. noname
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    This is more applicable to China, Japan, and Southeast Asia than the areas you have addressed, of course.

  3. nmshuffle
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I understand what you are saying, but how do we deal with the fact that most white people who are light skined spend an awful lot of time and money getting tanned? My husband (who’s black) and I (who am white) joke about this all the time — he was/is always chided for getting to dark by being in the sun while I was/am always teased for “needing to get some sun.”
    Maybe this is just a western thing though and doesn’t apply to this situation. Just a thought.

  4. L-boog
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    The connection between skin color and class was true for whites as well – darker skin meant working in the fields, so pale skin was valued. Since the industrial revolution, however, tans are more prized among whites because it shows that you have the leisure time to be in the sun (vs. working indoors all day).
    As for blacks, though, I completely believe that our skin color issues are internal colonization, where people were subjugated by creating internal divisions. Skin color is just the most noticable characteristic, but my family has made comments about having Euro-centric features in general – straight hair, pointy nose, etc. My mom told me the kids at her school used to sing: “if you’re light, you’re alright; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re black, get back.” Craziness.

  5. Andrea
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Class is usually measured in the visible indications of how hard an individual works. In most cultures, ours included (though this was a century ago), light skin is valued because it indicates that the individual is wealthy enough to spend her time indoors out of the sun. I think it also hints at “civilization” — think of Caroline Bingle in Pride and Prejudice saying that Elizabeth’s tanned skin makes her look “brown”, “coarse”, and most offendingly, “wild”. This is a western example, but I think women in the east are subject to the same standards; if a woman can help it, she’s not to go running about outside like some sort of wild (free?) being. She should be properly indoors engaged in some sort of family-supporting enterprise.
    As to whether or not the inundation of other cultures with American culture has helped to perpetuate a cycle that has already existed, I don’t know. I would say that is HAS to have had some effect. On the other hand, I have a hard time believing that the Sudanese elite would be specifically trying to mimic Americans simply because we appear “powerful” (and pigheaded, arrogant, and violent).

  6. Alyssa/Entropy
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    In Japan, at least, the yearning for light skin is not a result of colonization; Japan was isolated for centuries, and, still, this ideal persisted. It was a sign of status to have pale skin; it meant you did not have to work outside.

    However, I think the current trend in Asia for “Westernized” features (round eyes, prominent noses, long legs, big breasts, etc.) via plastic surgery IS a direct result of colonization (or, at least, contact with the West).

  7. Alyssa/Entropy
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    In Japan, at least, the yearning for light skin is not a result of colonization; Japan was isolated for centuries, and, still, this ideal persisted. It was a sign of status to have pale skin; it meant you did not have to work outside.

    However, I think the current trend in Asia for “Westernized” features (round eyes, prominent noses, long legs, big breasts, etc.) via plastic surgery IS a direct result of colonization (or, at least, contact with the West).

  8. Durga_is_my_homey
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The comment about womne in Asia doing their best to avoid tanned skin is true.
    In Cambodia, for example, there are even songs about keeping the daughters out of the sun so her skin stays lighter. As a side-note, it seems historically the Khmers have been looked down and and have had a sense of shame due to their dark skin compared to that of the Vietnamese, Thai, and Lao. Be the dark skin from Indian and Negroid descent or because Khmers are primarily agricultural workers or both, it is unknown. But anyway, yeah, it is an issue over there.
    As it is in places like Thailand to get cosmetic surgery for a more pointed nose, etc.

  9. urthlvr
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Same goes for India and Bangladesh. Doing research on Bangladesh I stumbled upon a “matchmaker” web site. Two things the women almost always commented on was that they were light skinned and educated. I asked the two people I knew from the region (one from Bangladesh (f), the other from Bengal (m))they said it applied more to women than men, but that it did have some affect on a men.
    Some this may go back to Indian history and the dark skinned Dravidians as opposed to the lighter skinned Aryans. IIRC, this also played into caste positions.

  10. micheyd
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with what everyone said about the origin of this light-skin desire, and how it can only rarely be linked to actual colonization issues. I spent time teaching in Thailand, and my students’ compliments – “wow, you have such beautiful light skin!” – completely floored me. And here I was spending my days lying on the beach to change it!
    I took this as a feminist lession about beauty ideals; societies seem to perversely value what the vast majority (especially of women) can’t attain.
    Oh, and I’ve given up on tanning.

  11. EG
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    I suspect the current emphasis on tanning for white people is directly related to those class issues. Nowadays, a far greater proportion of the population labors indoors, so getting a tan signifies that you have the time to devote to lying in the sun tanning it up, instead of sitting inside working on an assembly line, or typing at a computer, or packing groceries.

  12. Not true
    Posted August 11, 2006 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Skin cancer issues aside, mind you, you still have ozone … we don’t.
    No need to “piss” your Mommy off, just google eg melanin vitamin D deficiency … especially true during the northern winter if pregnant. Rickets is tragedy.

  13. Pat Blue
    Posted August 11, 2006 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Well, I guess we all just need to refuse to buy into this baggage. Incidentally the most beautiful woman I ever met had skin the color of black satin and she was highly educated too!

  14. Posted February 17, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    safe tanning

    Thanks for the post, very good thoughts and ideas. Will check back.

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  1. [...] (including actresses and models!) will never actually be beautiful, but must continually strive for it. One that causes real harm. One that is used to police women who presume to attain any power or [...]

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