Mikeisha Simpson covers her body in greasy white cream and bundles up in a track suit to avoid the fierce sun of her native Jamaica, but she’s not worried about skin cancer.
The 23-year-old resident of a Kingston ghetto hopes to transform her dark complexion to a cafe-au-lait-color common among Jamaica’s elite and favored by many men in her neighborhood. She believes a fairer skin could be her ticket to a better life. So she spends her meager savings on cheap black-market concoctions that promise to lighten her pigment.
Simpson and her friends ultimately shrug off public health campaigns and reggae hits blasting the reckless practice.
“I hear the people that say bleaching is bad, but I’ll still do it. I won’t stop ‘cause I like it and I know how to do it safe,” said Simpson, her young daughter bouncing on her hip.
I have some mixed feelings about this. My overall thought is that, like hair relaxing, I wish people wouldn’t do it because it just plays into the idea that white traits like lighter skin and straight hair are inherently more beautiful than our own natural colors and textures.
On the other hand, my skin is the color this woman is trying to get to.
… Yeah, this is complicated.
The bleaching trend is sparking a growing public debate. Even dancehall reggae hits celebrate the practice, or condemn it.
The most public proponent of bleaching is singing star Vybz Kartel, whose own complexion has dramatically lightened in recent years. His ‘Look Pon Me’ contains the lines: “Di girl dem love off mi brown cute face, di girl dem love off mi bleach-out face.”
Kartel, whose real name is Adijah Palmer, insists that skin bleaching is simply a personal choice like tattooing.
Christopher A.D. Charles, an assistant professor at Monroe College in New York City who has studied the psychology of bleaching, said many young Jamaicans perceive it “as a modern thing, like Botox, to fashion their own body in a unique way.”
Others, however, say it raises awkward questions about identity and race.
No shit. It doesn’t at all surprise me that people continue to use these products even knowing about the health hazards since that’s common here, too. The mention of botox was not lost on me. People — usually women, but also men — are willing to do a lot of terrible, unhealthy things to themselves in the name of beauty. Often because of unrealistic standards embraced by media and perpetrated by society and culture.
However, I have less of a problem with a person making the choice to botox than a person making the choice to bleach. Perhaps because I really, really want people to love their skin color, and it hurts me that this isn’t always possible.
I want people to stop caring about their wrinkles, too, but that’s far less upsetting.