So one of the things that occurred during the mission trip in Jamaica is we have a banquet and dance at the end of the week to promote positive interactions between the opposite sexes. Every year there are issues that come up on both sides that we address in the gender specific sessions. This year I taught the male sessions. During one of the sessions, I asked the gentlemen how was it going getting a date for the dance. Boy did the hands go up! The first question I got was “Why do the girls not want to talk to bleachers?” Now the previous day some of the counselors had approached me and informed me that there were several males who were bleaching their skin. They discussed how they believe that the youth were trying to be like the Jamaican music artist Vybz Kartel who openly has admitted that he has bleached his skin. So I knew what they were talking about, but I was thrown off by the boys direct questioning. The young man went on to say that it is like the girls think they are going to turn into an alien or something. I explained that anytime you are doing something that is outside of what is considered normal in society, you have to be ready to explain and defend your decision. I explained that they have to be comfortable in their decision and feel comfortable talking about it. I was hoping that they would talk about their choice, but no such luck.
Later that day, I went and talked to the girls to get their view on the issue. The response that I got from the girls was “why would we talk to someone with low self-esteem? If you are not comfortable with who you are and you are bleaching your skin, then you have low self-esteem. I don’t want to talk to them.” Bravo to the young ladies for having standards that they are not willing to compromise on. So, I go back to the boys and deliver the girls’ response and they are adamant that they do not have low self-esteem and they do not bleach their skin because of Vybz Kartel. And again they do not give their reasons leaving me to wonder.
This interaction got me to thinking about the deep rooted issues of skin color and how growing up we were taught that light-skin is better. I even asked the boys I work with in group if that was something happening mainstream here in America and they looked at me like I was crazy. Today, I caught up on shows on my DVR and finally watched “Light Girls” that debuted on the OWN Network in January. It was a follow up to the “Dark Girls” documentary that aired in 2011. Both of these documentaries do a good job of discussing growing up dark skinned versus light skinned in America. In was shocked that the “Light Girls” documentary included as a segment on skin bleaching. They discussed how this is a phenomenon that is bigger in other countries, but did not interview any celebrities that have admitted to bleaching their skin to get their view. I Googled skin bleaching and I was surprised by the products that popped up. There were also articles on the issue and even discussed celebrities that have admitted to or are being accused of skin bleaching. This is another layer of body image issues that our youth face today.
While skin bleaching is not mainstream in America, it is still an issue that needs to be discussed and added to the list of body image issues. We have to continue to have conversations not just about the beauty of body shapes, but also the hidden messages about skin color. I hope that this is not something that will become mainstream in America.