Defined as a legacy of slavery – one that emerged through generations of stereotypes and preferences based on the shade of skin, the phenomenon is arguably one that hasn’t particularly lessened over the years. But does the media help perpetuate these beliefs? Or is it doing anything to change the stereotype that so often results in people taking extreme methods, such as skin bleaching?
Mainstream media tends to lean towards a very Europeanised form of beauty, one that favours lighter skin shades, and European looking black people of colour.
This is evident in terms of the prominence of lighter shades in films, television shows, music videos, magazines and advertisements. That’s not to say that there are no dark skinned celebrities, Gabrielle Union, Kelly Rowland and supermodel Alek Wek prove that being dark skinned does not prevent you from being a household name. However, it can be said that darker skinned individuals are often portrayed as more tough, clever and often excessively confident, rather than good looking.
This lack of representation is made all the more so by the suggestion that celebrities the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Vybz Kartel (who has since actually admitted his transgressions) have either lightened their skin since appearing in the media, or have had it lightened for them by photoshop. Whether or not this is actually the case, the impression it gives is arguably that for dark skinned people to appear in the media, they need to be made more mainstream friendly.
Image aside, music lyrics also arguably perpetuate this belief, with lighter skinned girls often portrayed as more attractive, while dark skinned girls appear to be attached to stereotypes that suggest they are more difficult to handle, and harder to get into bed.
This stretches from mainstream UK to US music, with Kanye West rapping, “but when you get on he leave your ass for a white girl,” in ‘Gold Digger,’ and Vybz Kartel – one of the biggest advocates of skin bleaching boasting about how all the girls love him because he washes his face with cake soap. Most recently, female rapper Azealia Banks on her song ‘L8R’ claims it’s a “light skin world.”
These instances of shadeism are by no means limited to the black community, but rather rears its head in a number of different cultures, including Asians and Arabs, where many associate being fair skinned with wealth and beauty, and darker skin tones with the exact opposite.
That said –with our generation six times more likely to be mixed race than our parents, it appears we may all be trying to meet in the middle, with the advent of fake tan and tanorexia massively increasing in recent years, suggesting many are trying to reach that “commercial” Kim Kardashian look.
This is perpetuated by the fact that often very pale individuals also receive abuse on the basis of their skin colour, with Girls Aloud member Nicola Roberts recently commenting that she has received an abundance of abuse due to her fair complexion.
As author Marita Golden wrote in her book ‘Don’t Play In The Sun,’ “I am a black girl in a culture that convinces even the white girls I once fantasized about being that they are never quite enough. White, yes, but never ever thin or pretty enough.” And, arguably, this is the whole crux of the problem.
What do you guys think? Is the media perpetuating an issue that has been affecting people of all skin tones for generations? And what, if anything, can we do to change this?
Words by Alya Mooro
Edited by Natalia