Kim Kardashian is no stranger to controversy, nor is she a stranger to being accused of blackface, or cultural appropriation. Back in 2017, Kardashian was accused of wearing blackface by consumers and social media users, who claimed her skin was made darker for the photo released to celebrate the launch of her company, KKW Beauty. Her skin looked darker in the pictures, so it’s natural that many accused her of darkening it on purpose. The practice of blackface is racist and it appropriates black culture by using it for profit and entertainment. At the end of 2019, she was accused of wearing blackface again, as her skin was considerably darker on a magazine cover. Could it be that Kardashian is simply appropriating black female culture to garner attention? This is an issue that Kardashian gains attention for repeatedly for these sorts of issues, and at the end of the day, outrage sells. And then there is her cultural appropriation for her shape-wear, where she changed Kimono to Skims. But, Kardashian’s faults are not the point here, the point is why we cannot embrace our natural skin colour?
It’s quite the predicament. When you observe western cultures, there is the obsession to become more tanned, pale is pathetic on this side of the world. When you observe eastern cultures, there is the obsession to become more white, dark is disgraceful. Why is it that neither of the communities can embrace their natural skin colour? There is a worldwide obsession with changing skin colour and this has create a global, multibillion-dollar industry, that revolves around cosmetic creams, scrubs and more invasive procedures. I’ve personally never had a desire to be darker or lighter than what my skin colour is, to me, I’m just a pale brown and that’s a non-issue. However, when I go out with some friends, I am criticised for not wanting to hide from the sun because I will become dark. By extension, when I hang out with a different group of friends, I will be shunned for not plastering on foundation and highlighter to look darker, as if I had been in the sun for hours. It seems me slapping on some SPF, taking the standard precautions and going about my day, is odd.
Why is there such a drive to darken our skin in western society? An Industrial Revolution occurred and people were more likely to be employed. There was less outdoor labour and more indoor labour. It was out with the pale and in with the tan. Tanning gained popularity as it illustrated how people had enough leisure time to bronze their skin and have the funds to travel places to get a tan. A large number of sun-care products launched in the UK are usually self-tanners and millions are spent on it every year. As long as the western hemisphere associates tanned skin with wealth and expensive holidays, people will continue to change the colour of their skin because it is a way of fitting in.
Why is there such a drive to lighten our skin in eastern society? This fair skin bias is not only perpetuated in India, but it is also prevalent in other countries ruled by European empires. There is an internalised phenomenon, whereby whiter skin has become associated with power and darker skin has become associated with powerlessness. In a nutshell, pale skin indicated high status in the past, as a tan signified that you were a manual labourer who worked outdoors. With pale skin you could afford to steer clear of the sun. And while this changed in the western hemisphere, this has continued to be a beauty standard for the eastern hemisphere, and that is why my pale form of brown is not considered pale enough. The darker you look, the lower your place in the social hierarchy, more specifically in the caste system. It even effects who you are able to marry in some families, some grooms or brides must declare their skin colour, which will contribute to whether the match is deemed worthy. It is not only the cosmetics industry that encourages people to lighten their skin. There are tales of how women can ‘improve’ the complexion of the foetus by eating oranges, drinking saffron-laced milk and consuming fennel seeds, with the promised result leading to tall and fair children. Then there are the treatments that target the skin’s ability to produce melanin.
Can we embrace our natural skin colour? Well, yes, we can. Attitudes are beginning to change, especially among young women, who are gaining the confidence to embrace their natural skin. Although, not everyone can magically grow this confidence in their skin, especially when there is a society that encourages you to darken or lighten your skin. The market for skin-darkening and skin-lightening treatment will endure as long as these products are available. In turn, the desire to change your skin colour, will probably always remain, too. I guess it’s true when they say the grass is always greener on the other side.