Examining the Taboo Subject of Skin Bleaching

Products for skin lightening at a beauty supply store in the city. (Photo by Christina Berthaud via Feet in 2 Worlds)

Products for skin lightening at a beauty supply store in the city. (Photo by Christina Berthaud via Feet in 2 Worlds)

In a podcast for Feet in 2 Worlds, executive producer John Rudolph speaks with Haitian-American Christina Berthaud, who examines the taboo yet not uncommon practice of skin bleaching among Haitians and other Caribbeans, both in their respective countries and in the U.S. She looks into how and why people do it.

In an article accompanying the podcast, Berthaud writes:

In some Caribbean immigrant communities, particularly among Haitians, lighter-skinned people are often referred to as “stush” or “uptown,” and are believed to be wealthier and more successful because of the shade of their skin.

For example, those with political power in the Caribbean often have lighter skin. In the U.S., meanwhile, the media perpetuates the notion that white skin is the favored complexion. Such environments contribute to the act of skin lightening, which happens not just among people from the Caribbean but also African-Americans.

This practice of using whitening products or household items to lighten the skin is prevalent across the world among people with darker skin tones, Berthaud found to her surprise. Among the Caribbean community in New York, however, she had difficulty finding people who admitted to bleaching their skin. But she could still tell if someone did:

In many cases the lightening is uneven—some just lighten their faces, some the whole body, but certain creases like those around the knuckles and the ears remain darker. Some of the people I met told horror stories about bleaching. People who can’t afford the creams, gels, or other products made for this purpose use household item such as Clorox bleach.

Listen to the podcast at Feet in 2 Worlds.

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