'Proud a mi bleaching' - 'Skin- bleachers' defend their action despite health and cultural warnings ...
Published: Sunday | November 15, 2009
These are some of the skin-lightening products bought in downtown Kingston, without legally required prescriptions, as many women strive to become 'brownings'. - Photo by Fabian Ledgister
You see them everywhere - uptown, downtown and even in the small rural communities of Jamaica - clutching their umbrellas and sporting socks, stockings, scarves, 'hoodies', long-sleeved shirts and long pants in the blazing sun.
They have seemingly created their own tribe, identifiable by the pale, pink and sometimes orange undertones of their complexion, contrasted against the ebony tones of their lips, knuckles, ears and neck.
Skin-bleaching - certainly not a new phenomenon to Jamaica - has continued to attract scores of young men and women throughout the island.
Despite impassioned warnings by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and various doctors regarding the serious health risks, including skin cancer, the practice has grown from a once-taboo fad into a full-blown way of life for many Jamaicans.
In 2007, the MOH launched a major anti-skin-bleaching campaign to discourage the practice, as well as placed a ban on the sale of skin-bleaching creams. However, the campaign seemed futile, as any visitor to downtown Kingston will find a large quantity of the products being sold in the open - chemicals, all promising to 'make you whiter than snow'.
Karlene Gaylea 40-year-old vendor who The Sunday Gleaner met in Spanish Town, St Catherine, confessed that she has been bleaching for years - longer than she can actually remember.
The evidence is there all over her face, arms and legs. Gayle, though, is one of the less-sophisticated bleachers as the colour of her lips, elbows and knees are a dead giveaway to her true complexion.
She also admitted that she buys bleaching cream for her 15-year-old son who attends high school. "Him did likkle bit too dark. A now him cute, and the likkle schoolgirl them nuh stop rush him now that him a browning," she says, flashing a smile. "Mi nuh see nutten wrong with it. Mi haffi tek care a mi pickney."
Apart from the traditional skin lightening creams, which include Movate, Lemon Gel, Fair and White and the most popular Neoprosone, some Jamaicans use toothpaste, curry powder, milk powder, household bleach, aloe vera and cornmeal as part of their skin-lightening routine.
Twenty-five-year-old Keisha Tulloch, who says she has been bleaching since she was 18, explains that her skin-lightening routine involves applying Neo-prosone gel and Dermo-Gel three times a day.
"Mi put it on day and night and 'batten' down - put on mi socks, mi pants and stockings, cause it come more faster when you cloak up yourself," she says. Tulloch also says she applies the creams to her face while her skin is wet as her pores are open and will more readily absorb the chemical.
Although she says she doesn't use curry powder, Tulloch explains that many people mix it with the cream to give them a "more natural complexion".
"The curry mek yuh look more natural, like a real pretty browning," she says.
She admits that since she has started bleaching, she gets more attention from the opposite sex. "It mek yuh look nicer cause most man go after browning. You get rich man when yuh bleach, cause dem see money print pon yuh."
When asked if she wasn't concerned about the medical effects of skin-bleaching, Tulloch was quick to point out that she didn't bleach continuously.
"Me nuh normally do it straight," she says. "Mi do it only like when mi a go a one big dance and mi know seh mi have three weeks fi bleach and then from the dance cut, mi just stop bleach."
Tulloch says she is not embarrassed or ashamed of the fact that she uses skin lighteners. "Mi nuh feel nuh way cause di in-thing and everybody a bleach," she declares.
From the reaction of Gayle and Tulloch and many others, it appears that gone are the days when using skin lighteners was something to hide or to be embarrassed about.
badge of honour
It has almost become a badge of honour in many communities across Jamaica, with both men and women admitting to feeling better about themselves since they started bleaching.
Those sentiments are echoed in the lyrics of the recently released song, Proud A Mi Bleaching, by Lisa Hype, a member of the controversial Portmore Empire or Gaza clan. The group is led by well-known DJ Vybez Kartel.
In the song, Lisa Hype glorifies the practice of skin-bleaching, declaring, "mi proud a mi bleaching, cause mi cream it dare."
She continues: "Mi nah hide and rub on my Maxi Clear. Look how mi face it pretty and a bare man a stare."
Throughout the song, the DJ advises women on what to use and how to use it to get the desired "whiteness."