Skin bleaching common cultural practice in Jamaica

Most people are not entirely happy with their appearance, but this was just one of the many possible reasons Dr. Winnifred Brown-Glaude, professor of African-American Studies, gave for the “phenomenon” of skin bleaching.

The act of artificially lightening the skin through the use of certain chemical products was the topic of the politics forum titled “Bleached Bodies” last Thursday, which primarily focused on the amount of skin bleachers in Jamaica.

“I do not condone practices of skin bleaching because of the medical dangers. However, I find it very interesting,” Brown-Glaude said. She said skin bleaching is known to carry a cancer risk and other medical problems.

Brown-Glaude said she found it intriguing as to why exactly people bleach their skin, and what this means for the racial boundaries that are presumed to be impermeable. She asked if a person changes his skin color, does this mean he is changing his race?

Brown-Glaude screened a short video titled “Family of Bleachers,” which featured a Jamaican family that is no stranger to the skin-bleaching practice. Every member of the family bleaches and, as one family member said, in Jamaica, “even food doesn’t sell as much as bleaching.”

In the video, which can be found on YouTube, the family describes the process, which essentially involves burning off the top layer of skin, and insists that they do it for various reasons, one of which is “because it’s just the style.”

Brown-Glaude, however, said skin bleachers are often criticized for bleaching their skin because they supposedly dislike their race.

During the forum, she quoted people who had written articles on bleaching, one of which who said, “Bleaching not only poses a health risk, it is also indicative of people peeling away their heritage.”

Brown-Glaude also said there may not be one definite reason for bleaching one’s skin, but it is interesting to speculate. Some, she said, view skin bleachers as having some sort of psychological problem or being “mentally enslaved” to the belief that the lighter the skin, the better.

The forum ended with an open discussion with the attendees. One of the main topics discussed was skin tanning and how it compares to skin bleaching. While tanning is notoriously harmful to skin, it is not illegal in any country, although a recently proposed law could make tanning illegal for U.S. teens.

When asked if she thought it would ever be made illegal, Brown-Glaude said she did not think this would happen any time soon, as closing tanning beds and salons would most likely be detrimental to today’s already fragile economy.