DISGRASIAN OF THE WEAK! Vagina Whitening (That’s Right, You Heard Me)

By Guest Contributor Jen Wang, cross-posted from Disgrasian

One year I vacationed in Mexico and spent the entire time in the water, body surfing and boogie boarding. My skin got really dark, which I don’t care about one way or another, though I am afraid of sun damage and skin cancer, in that order. I made one mistake that trip though, and it wasn’t forgetting sunscreen (always, always remember sunscreen). My mistake was going to see my grandmother right after. The first thing she said, once she got over the shock, was “How did you get so dark?!” For the rest of the visit, she introduced me to her friends as “My Granddaughter-Who’s-Normally-Not-This-Dark.”

Light skin is still prized in Asia for a number of reasons that have to do with longstanding notions of race, class, and gender. Good thing then, that there’s a booming market for skin whitening creams, many of them manufactured by Western companies! And good thing the companies who make these creams also make commercials, because quite a few of them–beyond their creepy, disturbing premise–are kinda hilarious.

1. Skin Whitening For Young Girls

There’s this commercial for SkinWhite Teens, produced by Filipino company Splash Corporation, a skin whitening product designed specifically for young girls:

Even creepier was the viral video contest SkinWhite introduced as part of its ad campaign, which asked girls to hold a bottle of SkinWhite Teens like a mic while singing “Brand New Me.” The winner was promised a spot on a TV show. Here’s a sample audition video:

MESSAGE: The song states it all too clearly–white is “right.”

2. Skin Whitening For (Almost) Curing Gayness

This commercial was also targeted to the Philippines, but the product’s made by Pond’s.

MESSAGE: White skin is so powerful it can even make The Gay straight.

3. Skin Whitening For All The Single Ladies

The next commercial is also from Pond’s and part of an ad campaign that sells skin whitening through a soap opera-like series of spots where Girl-Gets-Boy only after she “lightens up”:

4. Skin Whitening For Men

Men, as it turns out, are not exempt from the pressure of skin whitening. The Indian-owned Emami Group, which makes a product called “Fair and Handsome,” claims it’s manufacturing the only skin whitening cream for men:

A fair complexion has always been associated with success and popularity. Men and women alike desire fairness, it is believed to be the key to a successful life. Well for women the market is loaded with fairness cream but for men there has not been a single fairness creams [sic].

Fair and Handsome’s commercial below features Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. Who knew you could light a match off of dark skin? Seems kinda handy, if you ask me:

MESSAGE: How can we get men to develop the same skin whitening-neuroses as women? We have products to sell.

5. Skin Whitening For Your Vagina

And last, but not least, there’s skin whitening for your lady bits!

MESSAGE: A dark-skinned vagina leads to a joyless, sexless existence.

Stay tuned for a dick whitening cream! I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

[HuffPo: How White My Valley: India's Skin-Whitening Obsession Reaches the Final Frontier]

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  • AASocialWorker

    From a Western perspective, this seems like blind obedience, but it is not at all.  Most non-Western cultures perceive respect differently, and it is important to note that generally, they do view the Western value of “standing up” as lacking in self-control, disregard for the community, and downright rude. However, you are right in saying that there is a respectful way of checking your elders, but you have do it in a culturally competent way.  I have had SAME EXACT situation happen to me with my grandmother (Filipino, btw), but yes, for the most part I let it slide because I knew that going into a long discourse about post-colonial views on race/ethnicity/gender would go nowhere, and that culturally-speaking, it was/is more important to have that discourse on a larger scale (I mean really, I knew there was no changing my grandma’s 89 year old views at that point).

    Saying that  the author didn’t do enough to mitigate racial tension in her own family by stating that, “Wang didn’t do enough to education her own family member” screams of blaming the victim (and all POCs, for that matter) to me.  A) Maybe she did and B)  Even if she didn’t, she wrote a great post about it, and really, the focus should not be on why POCs fall into this trap but rather what can we do in the system (media, specifically) to change these attitudes.  The author can talk to her grandmother all she wants about how her comments have affected her, but the popular opinion won’t change without large systemic change.

  • v.dot

    Always saddened when a star I like from an Asian country does one of these ads. It’s a messed up business.

    Another thing that annoyed me when I lived briefly in South Korea was paranoia by foreigners (most of them white) about these products. I was told not to buy any facial creams from the country because “they’re all skin-lightening products”, which is just ..no. A lot of those products are pricier than your average cosmetic cream because the skin-lightening is a special selling point, much like anti-aging creams (similarly I wonder if any of them genuinely work, or whether they’re just blatantly exploiting cultural desire for fairer skin – though I guess that’s pretty irrelevant when it comes down to it). You usually don’t end up buying a special “lightening” cream by accident. At least in Korea, the products mentioned their special properties both in Korean and in English, so there was no way to miss that this was a special cream. 

    • http://blog.themerchgirl.net Creatrix Tiara

      My Norwegian friend came to Malaysia to visit us one time and couldn’t buy ANY makeup there – they were ALL “skin-whitening”. She’s pale enough already!

    • Jen

      I lived in Indonesia my experience was similar, although skin-whitening products tended to be available at all price points (in fact, i think the government put out a warning about the really cheap ones containing chemicals they had banned). Anyway, you did quickly learn to look for the word “putih” on products. I learnt this the hard way: Didn’t look closely at the bottle when buying some body wash, didn’t realise until I was in the shower, figured ‘what the hell, it won’t hurt me’, and started to lather up. I was wearing a pair of purple exfolliating gloves that I had had for a while, so I can only assume it was whatever was in the body wash that made the dye in them run all over the place. It was pretty horrifying to imagine what washing yourself with that stuff every day would do.

      And the ads! That cute guy in the street won’t like you, but he will like your pale friend! (inevitably played by a Dutch-Indonesian girl). 

      • v.dot

        I stand corrected. I was completely under the impression that this stuff was fairly specialised. The whitening/lightening creams always had their own product group in Korea.

      • v.dot

        I stand corrected. I was completely under the impression that this stuff was fairly specialised. The whitening/lightening creams always had their own product group in Korea.

  • k.eli

    The products sold OTC in the US usually have very low concentrations of hydroquinone (I think around 2%) and are considered relatively safe so you shouldn’t have any issues. The health risks usually come about from products with much higher concentrations that are either banned in the US (and many other countries) or available only by prescription. 

  • http://twitter.com/Sayantani16 Sayantani DasGupta

    Fantastic (and awful!) round up of whitening ads! Thanks for this! The Philippines talent show/teen whitening ad contest was particularly depressing! I didn’t know about these products in other Asian countries but am very aware of how popular “Fair and Lovely” is in South Asia (I think it’s the #1 import from India to Bangladesh!) I actually think “Fair and Handsome” is a spin off of the more popular “Fair and Lovely.” SRK ridicules the notion that a man can use a woman’s lightening product in that ad, and him lighting the match off the guy’s face is probably a play on the expression “burnt face” which is meant to describe both 1) faces “burnt”/darkened by the sun (or just by nature) 2) being ashamed/bringing shame… Fascinating but not surprising juxtaposition of the two ideas. 

  • Anonymous

    This makes me so sad and mad. It’s a cultural problem compounded by the capitalist notion that there’s a product for every “need.” And, why not invent some needs if there are no legitimate ones? To market this crap to children adds another layer of wrong. The cosmetics industry has known for ages that self-hatred sells product, so let’s make women realize how imperfect they are and they’ll spend gobs of money on pretty packaging and empty promises. This is the same, only worse. That the marketing is targeting men too is just a sign of the times. Equal opportunity self-hatred–>consumer spending, ad infinitum.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks!  There are dozens of whitening creams for men for sale in China.  I use moisturizer on my face, and have to look carefully to make sure I don’t get one by accident.    But not everyone buys into the nonsense, still it is a common societal value here, just like in America.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks!  There are dozens of whitening creams for men for sale in China.  I use moisturizer on my face, and have to look carefully to make sure I don’t get one by accident.    But not everyone buys into the nonsense, still it is a common societal value here, just like in America.

  • China

    Wow.  Those ads are very interesting.  Here in the US the ads I see in magazines are about making skin tone more “even.”  They don’t actually *say* that they are to make the skin whiter.  I always seeing ads in magazines about facial creams to even my skin color.   They show a speckled egg and a regular egg and say that the cream will get rid of the speckled color of the skin.  I wanted to get the cream but then when I read it I saw that it would just bleach my face.  Then I was angry because that is like they lied about what it does.  And then I was also angry because I had felt that speckled skin is less beautiful.  All of the pictures in magazines show women’s faces without any dark spots but in reality only very light skinned people have skin like that.  Most people’s faces have dark spots all over.  Honestly, the ad for the intimate wash was funny.  I mean, very sad but also kind of funny.  What will her husband think when they go to bed and she has the privates of another woman? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/ayana.arnold Ayana Arnold

    Two words:Sammy Sosa.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FIN6IQP2R5QWALHVUDALMTLXAM MST2010

    The ingredient in many of these skin creams is hydroquinine, which is banned in the U.K.because of concerns about its long-term effects on the skin.  It is legal here, however.

    This shite would be funny if it weren’t so damn depressing.  I remember I was in a fabric store once and this Asian woman and her daughter were looking at fabric.  They were both light brown-skinned.  The little girl kept on holding fabric up to her face and saying, “look, this will make me look lighter.”  She did it about three or four times, and Mom just nodded.  She was a very pretty little girl and it made me sad that she had brought into that white-is-right propaganda.

    Its not just Asians, either.  It’s not uncommon to go into a store owned by Africans or West Indians and see several brands of skin whiteners, some of which contain ingredients that are very harmful.

    I can’t stand that actress Catherine Zeta Jones because she was the spokesperson for Elizabeth Arden’s brand of skin lighteners (many big companies market skin bleaching products in Asia, including Estee Lauder).  This be-atch is white, dark-skinned Indian women will NEVER look like her, and why should they want to?  Did she really need the money that badly?

  • Anonymous

    Okay this is picky , but isn’t it really vulva whitening cream , I mean you don’t actually put it inside your chocha do you ? I am kind of tired of the entirety of my genitalia being referred to as the  vagina ( ie the place where sex happens – I want to say something more graphic but I am a first time poster. ) Other than that I am super duper fantastically proud of my brown vulva , and this article is a bit depressing.

  • http://twitter.com/callmepartario Osama Larara

    Outside of the obvious emotional pollution that is a by-product of these kind of items and adverts — does anyone know what  the active ingredient(s) are in them?  Are any of these products sold in the U.S.?  If not, why not?  I recall several stories from over the years about skin lightening and skin bleaching horror stories, and I’m wondering how similar, if at all, these items are.

    the human body is wonderful, but delicate.  it’s easy to forget that your skin is an organ, just like your heart, stomach or liver.  you’ve got to be a little bit careful about the environment it’s put in and what substances come into contact ith it for good health.  “here, rub this chemical on your skin” sure seems like either an invitation for a product to be either:

    a) biologically safe, but non-effective placebo with a side of self-hatred

    or b) a class-action suit that will never happen waiting to happen… especially that crotch cream.

    Be nice to your parts, everyone.

    • k.eli

      Many skin lightening products contain a chemical known as hydroquinone that acts as the bleaching agent. Studies done on rats have shown that hydroquinone may be carcinogenic especially in large doses. As a result, many of the bleaches/cremes sold in Africa, Asia, etc. (especially those with high hydroquinone concentrations) are banned in the US due to the potential health risk. Nevertheless, you are spot-on with your assertion that your skin is an organ – in fact, it’s the largest organ of your body. Bleaching your skin – i.e. trying to change it’s DNA-coded nature – is a high price to pay for self-hatred. Side effects can range anywhere from unwanted discoloration on the skin to kidney failure and cancer. Quite honestly, I wish I could give every person that uses these products for the sake of being “beautiful” a copy of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye; there are far too many Pecolas in this world.  

  • STAYLOR in AUSTIN

    Yet another example that many POC’s  buy into the global societies hatred of all things “dark skinned”. What I found as disturbing as the videos was the author’s interaction with her grandmother. We don’t know what Wang said if anything to  disuade her grandmother from making comments about her “darkness”, but her grandmother  kept making the comments to people which means Wang didn’t do enough to education her own family member.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s her grandmother, mother or crazy uncle, if you can’t start the difficult conversation about biogry and hate based on skin  color with your own family, it rings very hollow when you but it out there in the ether of the internet.

    Respect breeds and demands respect, regardless of who it is or how old they are

    Just because a relative or friend says stupid and ignorant nonsense, we shouldn’t give them a pass

    Perhaps if people took a stand and corrected the ignorance and hatred  of others (especially from family members), we wouldn’t have a lot of the crazy things going on now

    • Anonymous

       My family members were my first experience with hate speech. They used to call me a little wetback . ugh.

    • Anonymous

       In a number of families you do not talk to elders in certain ways. Her grandmother’s tone may have been irritating, but it would be a major scandal for her to snap at granny.

  • http://www.blasianbytch.com BlasianBytch

    ugh, my view of 
    Shahrukh Khan is forever tarnished. 

    • Mickey

      And what’s sad is that the guy in the commercial was very attractive with his original color.