223280 Domination of fair skin: Skin whitening, Indian women and public health

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Savita Malik, MPH, EdD (c) , Department of Health Education, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
Skin whitening creams do big business among women of Indian decent in India, the United States, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan and Malaysia and have serious mental, physical and emotional health implications for those who use these products. Whiteness theory and the color complex leading to studies of “colorism” provide a theoretical backdrop by which to understand some of the root causes of the desire for fair skin. The purpose of this study is three fold. First, the aim is to show the impact of whiteness on Indian women who use skin lightening techniques. Second, this study examines the negative impact of such techniques on both a mental and physical level from a public health framework. Finally, this study explores ways of mitigating the negative impact that advertising and the use of skin lightening techniques has on women. The methods used to conduct this study include a literature review, an examination of the historical context that idealizes a fair skin tone, an analysis of the impact of media and three key informant interviews with practitioners in various aspects of work with Indian women. Advertising, histories of racism and colonialism and gender subjugation play an intricate role in messaging the fair skin ideal to women in more than just the Indian subcontinent. The public health community has a responsibility to counter mainstream standards of beauty and to promote awareness and intervention for women that perpetuate these practices.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Diversity and culture
Other professions or practice related to public health

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe the public health implications of skin whitening on women of color. 2. Evaluate the historical context of skin whitening and the effects on women's health. 3. Analyze potential solutions to dealing with issues of colorism and the impacts on health.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a South Asian public health practitioner who has done research among communities of color and the specific impact of skin lightening.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.