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Professor talks about beauty, globalization

Keelin McGee | Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Globalization influences beauty consciousness throughout the world, Sonalini Sapra, assistant professor of political science and women’s studies at Saint Mary’s College, said.

Sapra conducted an educational workshop titled “Globalization and Beauty: Prevalence of Whiteness Creams and Cosmetic Surgery” as part of Love Your Body Week on Wednesday.

She said she became interested in the globalization of beauty after returning home to her native country, India, and seeing the frequent use of beauty products — particularly whiteness creams.

“After traveling back to India on my summer and winter breaks, I started noticing the daily media bombardment of whiteness creams,” Sapra said. “In India, fairness or whiteness equates with beauty and everything good in society.”

The obsession with lightening skin tone has been prevalent in India for a long time, Sapra said, but has blown up in recent years.

Many women and some men use these whiteness creams to appear a few shades lighter in the advertised four to six weeks.

She said the advertising is now infiltrating new mediums.

“Vaseline, which created a men’s whiteness cream, recently produced a Facebook app, where people could upload their picture and see what they looked like a few shades lighter,” she said. “Although the app was removed because people called it ‘blatantly racist,’ the app generated almost 80,000 likes, which goes to show that it was popular.”

Advertisements are persuasive in generating the use of these whiteness creams, Sapra said. She said these advertisements send a message to their audience that lighter skin leads to social and economic mobility.

“In ads for women, they target modern, upwardly mobile women with themes that lighter skin will help them not only transform their complexion, but also their personality, marital prospects, jobs prospects, social status and earning potential,” she said. “Men with light skin are also portrayed as those that get the girl, have hero status, get jobs and go to all the parties.”

One thing that is not included in these advertisements, however, is the level of toxicity found in whiteness creams, Sapra warned. She said beauty comes at a cost when using these creams.

“Mercury, hydroquinone and corticosteroids are typical substances in these creams,” she said. “A Harvard researcher found mercury poisoning in groups of women and their children in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Tanzania and directly attributed the poisoning to skin bleaching creams.”

Efforts to transform the color of skin are not the only methods used around the world to achieve “beauty,” Sapra said. She said people are known to undergo cosmetic surgery in order to attain more of a “Western” face.

“There are surgeries happening around the world where women are trying to achieve the ‘ideal female face,'” she said. “Women want the small, narrow and sharp-pointed nose that is a dominant trait among Western women.”

Sapra concluded that the legacy of colonialism is one of the main contributors to this globalization of beauty.

“Certainly these surgeries and creams are complicated issues, but they seem to go back to colonial times in Africa and Asia,” she said. “Colonials would say that white people are smarter, more beautiful and more capable of governing, and I believe these ideas are still permeating in postcolonial areas.