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date: 21 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how racial and gender ideologies shape and are shaped by scientific understandings of beauty practices via a critical examination of the scholarly discourses on skin lightening. Based on qualitative content analysis of thirty domestic and international scholarly articles on skin lightening and whitening published between 2000 and 2017, the authors found that products in Europe and the United States marketed to white customers were likely to be framed as benign beauty products, with health risks attributed to imported products. In contrast, the use of similar products overseas, particularly in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, were depicted as higher risk and locally sourced. Further, by mapping certain skin-related pathologies onto distinct human bodies, these studies reinforce discredited biological understandings of race. Overall, scientific studies of skin whitening and lightening practices enforce the scientific validation of white/western beauty practices alongside the problematization of similar practices/products when used by non-white or non-western subjects. These studies often recognize the dominance of a white cultural ideal but, rather than tracing its structural and historical determinants, instead pathologize those who aspire to it, often neglecting the dynamics of global white supremacy, marketing, production, and distribution in the global beauty economy that fuel the desire and consumption for these products.

Keywords: intersectionality, bodies and embodiment, feminist science studies, colorism, skin-tone stratification, skin whitening, skin lightening

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