28 February 2009

Marketing Hot Desirability: What Pristine Sunshine Will Reveal

Marketing Hot Desirability: What Pristine Sunlight Will Reveal

A cool day. I was walking around town, confirming some of the last details for an event that would take place in a few weeks. It was near noon, the sun shone bright, and as I began to walk home, I saw two other volunteers standing near a street vendor. I waved at them from a distance, and they quickly waved back, smiling and talking to me in English while trying to hand their money over to the woman meticulously frying food in her enormous tukunya at the busy street corner. As I approached, a large group of veiled girls with cinnamon colored dresses joined, pooling their money to purchase some lunch before returning back to their afternoon classes. As I continued to chat with my friends, I noticed that one of the girls was looking at me. She was a pretty girl, perhaps 18 or 19 years old, tall, with soft eyes. Her face and eyes were bright, and I realized that as I subtly looked back at her, she continued to stare at my arms and my hands. I thought nothing of it at first, but as the other volunteers and I waited patiently for the food, I realized after several minutes that she was still staring at me. I looked back at her and briefly greeted her in hausa and she responded, moving her right hands from her waist to adjust her headscarf. As she did this, I realized that there were burns, skin discoloration, and scars all over her hands, most prominently around her knuckles and wrists. This discoloration and burning was almost identical on her left hands, as was the discoloration on her neck and chin. After a few minutes, I realized that this young girl, like many of her friends standing around the street vendor, was bleaching her skin. I couldn’t believe how many scars were on this girl’s hands, and how her knuckles and wrists seemed to be almost irreparably discolored and scarred.
Later on that day, I talked to some of my neighbors about what I saw. They were not at all surprised. The men that I sit with explained to me that skin bleaching is really popular among young girls, and he said that it was the fault of men that women continue to apply skin bleach. He said that women will apply the crèmes to certain parts of their bodies, but sometime if they’re exposed to too much sun, or use the products incorrectly, the skin will burn, and become even darker than it was before. I found this to be a really interesting opinion and I asked him to elaborate. He went on to explain that many men only prefer women with lighter skin complexions, and women feel pressured to begin applying skin bleach when they feel undesirable. So I asked my neighbor, “Why would you expect women to have light colored skin, when we are living in the Sahel of Western Africa, and when there was little to no racial mixing during French colonization?” Some of the men begin to explain that there some lighter skinned women in Niger, but most of them came either from Touareg or Fulani groups. He explained that many men only want to date and/or marry women with lighter skin, but they do not want their girlfriends or their wives to use the skin bleach because of its rancid smell. So, this seems like a tough dilemma. Men want their wives with dark complexions to have light skin, but they do not want them to use skin bleach, which is the only method that people here obtain lighter skin complexions. Curious. I explained to my friends about the racial and color caste systems that used to exist in places like Mexico and former French colonies were racial mixing was more prevalent. In a place where there was little racial mixing like Niger, it is interesting that many still arrive at the same ideas about skin color and self-worth. In a separate conversation, a friend of mine, who is exactly my same age, told me that he hopes one day to have children with lighter skin. He said that would be the greatest gift that he could ever give them, because he believed that it would advance them in society. I shook my head when he said this to me, explaining to him that an education was the greatest gift he could leave them. We have had this conversation several times, but he still doesn’t agree with me. We agree to disagree. When I hear others speaking of a post-racial world, I wonder if they are having the same experiences and conversations with people in this country that I am.

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