The journey of the lighter-skinned beauty campaign

Written by By Dell Leisure Editors

The beauty industry has invested much effort into marketing lightening products and becoming part of the broader beauty product market, but for some people who are naturally darker-skinned, this marketplace — that is, more readily represented in advertisements — can be “detrimental.”

Take Sara Reeves. Her own experience of marketing to white folks — in particular to a group of women at beauty pageants — and her decision to write a book about it left her in a different skin tone than she had become accustomed to.

Fringe benefits

A committed social justice activist, Reeves will be speaking at the One Young World summit, an annual gathering that brings global leaders together to address issues including human rights, war and peace, and climate change. She tells CNN’s Dan Simon that her experience at pageants led her to wonder: “What is it like for other dark-skinned people in beauty pageants that aren’t used to this type of attention?”

Lose the 3 D’s

The “exposure” afforded to users of certain skin-lightening creams and creams comes at a cost. Although the US Food and Drug Administration prohibits promotions of bleaching creams aimed at pregnant women, young children, and people with impaired skin health, minority women continue to consume these products.

Reeves explained, “I started noticing with my skin that I was just tanner than I was accustomed to. In my own way, it just felt like I was missing something. And I think it didn’t matter what type of media I consumed, whether it was magazines or Instagram or TV, or the Internet, it didn’t matter if I consumed it directly, or whether someone else was talking about it. The effect just seemed similar for me, and so I thought that might be something to look into.”

Reeves soon learned that she wasn’t alone, and that her lightening experience was a common one.

Limited options

The global beauty industry is investing in lightening products.

The story of white-skin bias has long been ingrained in the makeup and skincare industry. Skin-lightening products are a $9.6 billion industry, according to research conducted by the International Dermatology Association. Citing the “unpredictable” demands of beauty-product advertising, the ISBA puts out a yearly report that ranks the top brands and products in the skin-lightening category.

A 2017 study conducted by Cummings and her team, however, shows that lighter-skinned people remain at a disadvantage, with dark-skinned women representing 14% of the women they studied, compared to 25% of the men. “White people, because of skin type, are part of their whole image, and they are perceived as perfect, fair and blue-eyed,” she says.

Dark women are perceived as “worse-looking,” and therefore less desirable. Additionally, they have less representation in beauty-product advertisements, as Davies explains, “There’s no denying the attitudes and stereotypes that they think apply to them.”

After a period of research, Reeves co-founded the Not in My House Coalition, a nonprofit that campaigns to bring skin-lightening to “the table,” as she puts it.

Activism and education

“People with dark skin have to ask themselves — or others around them — how much are we willing to sacrifice to be in this beautiful equation that paints us all with the same brush?” Reeves asks.

She and her team speak with women who are “turning self-hatred and self-hate into empathy and understanding” by spreading the word about Not in My House. Through their work, they have also inspired a generation of activists to speak up on social issues.

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