This is the executive summary of the British Academy-funded survey on Skin Lightening in England, 2015-16 - carried out by Somia R Bibi and Steve Garner - for the Open University. It identifies patterns of consumption and sourcing among 114 women in England, and contains a brief overview of skin lightening as a global industry.
Although altering the tone of the skin using a variety of agents (i.e. skin lightening) is a centuries-old practice, the twenty-first century versions take place in a particular context: the boom in Asian economies and the uneven development of others; the power of marketing to take advantage of new technology. Ideas of lighter skin being more beautiful than darker skin have been deeply entrenched in the various colonial systems of domination for centuries, and those ideas have long outlasted the original social hierarchies in which they emerged. What this project has begin to do is understand skin lightening as a social practice rather than as a vast set of individual ones. In other words, to look at the patterns in how skin lightening products are thought about; consumed; used; marketed and regulated. One finding from our initial survey is that many women deliberately use foundation that is shades lighter than their skin tone. While this would not normally be considered as a form of skin lightening, we think it should be. The initial project was funded through the British Academy Small Grants scheme while the Principal Investigator (Professor Steve Garner) was at the Open University, and carried out in 2014-15. Somia R Bibi (PhD student, Warwick University) was the Research Assistant.
As various pieces of academic work are written and published, we will link them to this site.