The Reality of Skin Bleaching and the History Behind It

Photo: Stocksy

Skin bleaching—aka the act of using substances, mixtures, or treatments to physically lighten one's skin tone—has been around for a long time, and it's developed into a billion-dollar international industry. However, the way the Western media has reported on this topic feels problematic: We often hear of skin bleaching happening in Ghana and the Caribbean, yet it's widely practiced everywhere, including in the United States, Southeast Asia, and India.

The act of lightening one's skin goes beyond the physical effect—it can also be incredibly detrimental to one's self-confidence and mental health. Just ask Senegalese supermodel Khoudia Diop, who shared with Byrdie that for years she hated her skin color because she was "so dark." Fortunately, she turned her biggest insecurity into her gift. "I look up to my mother because she's the only person in my family who did not bleach her skin," she says. "Skin-bleaching products are popular in my country because the notion is that lighter skin is beautiful. My mom is a woman who respects and loves herself and did not surrender to any beauty standards."

Yaba Blay, PhD, a professor, producer, and researcher, is one of the world's leading voices on colorism. Through her powerful work, she aims to disrupt the narrative and spread social consciousness. "Whether from the perspectives of black folks or from those of whites, our communal voyeurism into skin bleaching tends to focus almost solely on the individuals who bleach their skin, and not the global institutions that make skin bleaching a viable option. And it's a problem," Blay wrote in a piece for Ebony, and this statement still holds true.

In regard to its deeply rooted history, the way it's misreported in the media, and the way we talk about it, Blay shares an outlook on skin bleaching that everyone needs to hear. Keep reading to hear what she has to say.