A light skin Arab pointed to this television commercial and the increasing use of skin lighten creams that exemplify the same color issues that are widespread among so many of his people who have come to embrace a Caucasian standard of beauty. He explains in more detail below the issue of color among many Arabs.
by Aisha Gawad
It is a strange thing to be a naturally light-skinned Arab. People praise you for your paleness as if you’ve done something wonderful just by being born with it. When I spent a summer in Egypt visiting my family, my older aunties badgered me about how much time I spent in the sun. They were worried that I wouldn’t maintain my white skin, as if the browner I got, the less attractive I got. But to me, this is a disturbing phenomenon - why is it that brown people are so obsessed with whiteness?
A recent Bikya Masr article on the use of skin whitening creams in Arab countries (the creams are unfortunately popular amongst naturally dark-skinned communities all over the world) chalks it up to the “American-Arab relationship.” As the writer says, “On the one hand we, as Arabs see America as shallow and tyrannical, but despite ourselves, we want to spin into their gravitational range. Somehow we are, for the most part, oblivious to the fact that Americans with white skin aspire to have Arab-looking skin.”
While it is true that white-skinned Westerners, particularly in America, often strive for tan (but not too tan) skin, I don’t quite agree with the analysis that trying to emulate “the other” is so reciprocal. In America, having tan skin is merely a choice of vanity - something that suggests some level of exoticism and of sexiness, but this doesn’t mean that a woman with tan skin is any likelier to be more successful or happy than a woman with paler skin.
But in places like Egypt and India, having white skin means more than just fitting idealized standards of beauty; it means that a woman is of a higher class, is more likely to be treated with respect, and according to a ”Fair & Lovely” skin-whitening cream advertisement, is more likely to achieve her dreams, have a successful career and attract a handsome man. (Seriously, watch this ad, it is ridiculous.)
Why is it that women-of-color across the world are trying so hard to erase their God-given skin color? It’s true that ideal standards of beauty change over time, but I do not think we can chalk this phenomenon entirely up to what is desirable at this particular moment in time, as if it has no ties to history, or social and political contexts. I see the desire for whiteness as a signal of the inferiority complex that has long been plaguing communities-of-color after centuries of white domination and degradation.
In his autobiography, Malcolm X describes the great and often painful lengths he went to in order to “conk” or straighten his hair, as was the style in his youth. The man allowed lye to be poured onto his naturally kinky hair and basically burn it straight. As Malcolm put it, “This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are ‘inferior’ - and white people ‘superior’ - that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look ‘pretty’ by white standards.”
It is for this reason that I almost resent it when people (usually other Arab women) praise my looks. Many of the times, my “attractiveness” to them is merely my light skin. I would rather be praised for my Semitic nose or my rather wild black hair. It makes me sad for my people, and for all brown-skinned communities, that we will stoop so low to erase what makes us different , and in my view, what makes us beautiful.
The Evolution Of Skin Color