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Running head : The Browning Phenomenon

THESIS
The Browning Phenomenon : Skin Bleaching
Among Young Adult Jamaicans
A Qualitative Study
Presented to the
PROGRAMME COMMITTEE
OF COLLEGE FOR LEADERSHIP AND THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT
AND
THE INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF THE CARIBBEAN
In partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the Degree of
MASTER OF SCIENCE
IN
COUNSELLING PSYCHOLOGY
By
Richard Henry
October 2015

Supervisor
Dr. Makesha Evans

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Acknowledgements
I sincerely want to thank the faculty at the International University of the
Caribbean for their tolerance and patience with me throughout this project.
Specifically to Dr. Makesha Evans and Dr Margarett Barnett whose belief in my
ability to complete this thesis I borrowed and now I am indebted. Thank you very
much.

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Table of Contents
Page
Abstract...5
Chapter
1

II

Introduction

Context of the problem

Problem Statement

12

Purpose of Study

13

Research Questions

13

Significance

14

Operational Definition

16

Overview and structure

17

Academic Themes

19

Social Cognitive Theory

19

Personal Relevance

20

Literature Review.23
The issue of Color and Race

23

Perceptions of Blackness

25

Skin tone, Race and Gender

26

Colorism

27

Resistance to Colorism

28

Colorism and the Workplace

28

Colorism in Jamaica

29

Skin Bleaching and Gender

31

Skin Bleaching from a Global Perspective

32

Skin Bleaching in Asia

32

Skin Bleaching in Africa

36

Skin Bleaching in Jamaica

38

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Skin Bleaching and Medically Issues

42

Chapter
III

Methodology .46
Research Design

46

Participants and Sampling

48

Data Collection Process

50

Matrix Mapping methods to research questions

53

Procedures

53

Validations

54

Ethical Considerations

55

Limitations & Delimitations

57

IV Findings and Discussion..60

Significant and Controversial Themes

60

Bleaching and Health Risks

63

Socio-cultural Themes

66

Skin Bleaching and Family Influence

73

Skin Bleaching and Culture

76

Bleaching and Perceptions in Jamaica

78

Skin Bleaching and Age

84

Skin Bleaching and Gender

86

Skin Bleaching and Life Perspectives

92

Conclusions, Implications and Recommendations ..97


Conclusions

97

Implications

101

Implications for Research

104

Recommendations

105

Concluding Statement

107

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References

108
Abstract

The issue of skin bleaching is a very controversial topic both worldwide and
locally here in Jamaica. This paper examines and discusses skin bleaching
throughout the continents of the world in general and Jamaica specifically. From
Asia to Africa the issue of skin lightening and the belief that lighter skin is better
can be found manifested in both people of dark and already lighter complexion.
The study focuses on young Jamaican males and females between the ages of 1824 of mainly a poor economic background. The non probability sampling
technique of snowballing was used to recruit seven males and seven females.
Through two focus groups the themes of socio-cultural, gender and age related
factors that influence skin bleaching among these young Jamaicans were studied
and assessed. Data was also acquired through semi structured interviews with
two practitioners in the field. The qualitative methodology of triangulation was
used to compare and contrast the data collected and the findings reported and
discussed.
Correlations between skin bleaching and family influence were identified as well
as the impact of social and cultural factors on the initiation and maintenance of
the behavior. The use of the terms skin bleaching and toning was found to be
used interchangeably as it is believed that the latter conveys a less harsh
perception of the activity. The need for the government to significantly increase

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education and awareness about the ills and consequences of skin bleaching was
made evident through this study. Most of all, from this qualitative analysis,
skin bleaching remains a controversial and contentious issue among Jamaicans.
The Browning Phenomenon : Skin Bleaching
Among Young Adult Jamaicans
A Qualitative Study
Chapter I
Introduction
Context of the Problem
From a global perspective skin bleaching is an activity that is engaged in by
various races and paradoxically for the same reason. This reason is couched in
the name of beauty and the need to feel and seem more attractive than ones
natural given skin tone. From South Asia to Europe, the United States, Africa and
the Caribbean acts of skin bleaching may be found at varying degrees.
As you may be aware skin lightening or bleaching agents are to be used
following prescriptive orders from a qualified physician. The condition of
hyperpigmentation is viewed as the leading cause for the use of these
depigmentation agents (James, 2006). However, some of these preparations
contain depigmenting agents that are hazardous in large doses. Some of these
agents work by wiping out melanin. Melanin in actuality gives the skin its
pigmentation as well as protects it from cancer causing ultraviolet rays beamed by
the sun. Some of the problems that may arise as a result of bleaching are severe
acne, thinning of the skin, certain types of cancer, kidney problems and Cushings

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syndrome, a symptom of which is a large lump of fat at the back of the


individuals neck.
Fuller (2006) in his article Glamour at a price in Asia highlighted the vast
amounts of skin lightening creams that are available in various supermarkets and
pharmacies as a testament to a thriving market that has grown exponentially over
the last decade. He points out that 4 out of 10 women in Malaysia, the
Philippines, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan are engaged in skin lightening
activity using various creams. It is believed here that the desire to have a white
complexion and the benefits that are derived as such are the main driving force
behind this behaviour. The desire for fair skin is dominant in South Asia and
thusly has been manipulated by manufacturers to their economic benefit (Shankar,
Giri & Palain 2006). In countries like the Philippines, a report in 2003 noted that
over 2 million skin whitening soaps were sold in a year. Within the Asia-Pacific
region the Philippines reported the highest usage of these products. The
Philippines with its rich history of Spanish American colonization is believed to
have deeply entrenched skin bleaching/lightening practices as a result of said
colonization. Media influences from nearby China, Japan, and South Korea have
also influenced these activities (Glenn,2009).
A very interesting phenomenon may be observed with regard to the influence
of culture on skin bleaching in various parts of the world. Within the Asian
culture the acquisition of a lighter complexion is most desirable. However,
contrast that notion with the desire of many Asian American individuals primarily
the American born generation and their desire to have a tanned skin tone

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influenced by the American society. It is believed that Asian Americans have a


higher class status than immigrant Asians irrespective of their skin colour. This
notion is attached to the idea that within the Asian community being American
automatically elevates your status. However, both the desire to be darker or
lighter may be connected to the same post-colonial processes and needs.
In other Asian countries such as India women with lighter coloured skin are
viewed as being more powerful socially, financially, religiously and of a greater
class status than women who are darker (Dasgupta, 2000).

Some of this is

evident in the many beauty contest held around the country where women endure
various skin lightening processes with the hope of winning as a result but some
end up with complicated medical issues.
Western influenced advertisements that are aired within Asia also come in for
some criticism as they present lighter skinned models representing what is
thought to be the epitome of beauty. An advertisement for a skin lightening
product by a western manufacturer read Get 99% lighter, better as one of the
examples of influencing beauty standards through cultural targeting. The
implication here is lighter skin equals a better you (Backman & Butler 2003).
Interestingly, over the past decade, the expansion and growth of the industry that
promotes skin lightening products comes immediately on the back if significant
economic reform that has given birth to an environment of greater free market
enterprise as well as a global capitalist environment (Parameswaran & Cardoza,
2009). This new paradigm shift in marketing of lifestyle changing products has
had a profound influence on the Indian society and specifically women. Again,

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advertisers play on the age old connection made by Indian culture of associating
lighter skin with higher class and status. Even among Arab women
advertisements have been associated with the use of skin lightening activities by
using light skinned women to demonstrate the perceived benefits of being closer
to white ( Hamed, Tayyem, Nimer & AlKhatib 2010), Again the benefits
demonstrated are akin to being more successful in life with regard to career and
intimate relationships.
Dr. Simeon Koroma chief government pathologist in Sierra Leone, reports that
West African medical professionals are worried about the increase in the
incidences of skin cancers among younger dark-skinned women who have a long
and extensive history of using skin bleaching agents and processes (Simms,
2003). He goes on to state that the driving force behind these skin bleaching
activities is the achievement of a fairer complexion and ultimately appear more
attractive to men.
In other African countries such as Ghana, despite governmental intervention
through a ban on skin bleaching agents, the act of skin lightening is on the rise
(Blay, 2007). Blay goes on to attribute the rise in this behavior to the belief that
darker skinned people are attempting to climb the social status ladder and acquire
upward mobility, a position believed to only be available to whites and persons of
light complexion but of African descent. Eurocentric beliefs about beauty and
social status have arrived in Ghana and are having deleterious effects both
physically and psychologically (Rogers, 2006). Note well, that though I have
highlighted Ghana, other African nations such as Nigeria and South Africa to

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name a few, also have worrisome problems with this issue. Of further
significance there is the belief that through deliberate advertising of products
primarily using whites to portray the ideal, on billboards and other mediums
throughout Africa, blacks have developed the belief of not being good enough and
as such go to extreme measures to attempt to match up to whites (De Souza,
2005).
Hall (2005) presents an interesting set of viewpoints with regard to the
trivialization of skin colour by western culture as it relates to the dark skinned
individual of African descent. Hall emphasizes the importance of skin colour in
the social and psychological make-up as well as experience of African peoples.
Of great concern is the Western indoctrination of African psychologists as he
believes that Western ideologies do not conceptualize the experience of dark
skinned Africans and thusly are ineffective and at times insensitive.
Blay (2009) asserts that skin bleaching and evidence of it may be tracked to
the Elizabethan era of powder and paint. She goes on to state that this practice
though global is more dominant among people of colour (Blay 2011). The
phenomenon of skin bleaching has affected African communities for a very long
time concretized Blay (2009).
The return of bleaching creams to the shelves of many stores in black
neighborhoods in the United States signifies the end of a time where blacks
asserted themselves and were proud of their culture during the civil rights era
(Henry 2004). Henry goes on the give the example of what he calls the radical
whitening of the features of black hair as well as the return of an era when the

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light skinned woman was the standard bearer of the beauty within black
community as all critical issues to be addressed.
Within the Caribbean context it is apparent that Jamaica is a front runner in
the use of these often times illegal products. Most Caribbean references to skin
bleaching highlight Jamaica and the intensity of use by a sub culture of the
population. Numerous articles portrayed in both the Jamaica Gleaner and Jamaica
Observer dating back from the mid-nineties can be found expressing the views of
local professionals or the ordinary citizen about the rise in skin bleaching activity.
As in most African countries where blacks are the majority, Jamaica enjoys an
over ninety percent population origin in Africa. Yet still there are many with the
view that lighter skinned individuals enjoy all the privileges of work, opportunity
and quality social life.
The act of bleaching ones skin may be traced back to early post emancipation
and even further back to the days of slavery (Buckridge 2004). According to
Buckridge (2004) skin bleaching in Jamaica is a political statement meant to
revolt against the established racial boundaries that are clearly delineated between
black and brown.

He also is able to identify the popular subculture of dancehall

that has to a great extent embraced skin bleaching as one of its rituals. Dancehall
originates from Jamaican reggae music and has a history of being the dominant
music form from the 1980s through to the 90s (Cooper, 2012). Cooper believes
that this genre of Jamaican music had its birth during the politically difficult time
in Jamaican history in the 1970s. But the dancehall has grown beyond just a
specific type of music with a deejay to be recognized as a space where life

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experiences in particular that of the inner-city communities can be reflected and


often times revered.

Dancehall fits into the context of this study as it has

demonstrated a love hate relationship with the idea of skin bleaching. Numerous
dancehall artistes have created songs promoting bleaching as well as the desire for
brown women and in contrast songs have now been originating about the
importance of black pride and denouncing the bleaching of your skin.
In terms of interventions and attempts to reduce the incidence and prevalence of
skin bleaching in Jamaica the government introduced a campaign themed Dont
Kill the Skin in 2007 ( Lewis 2007). The aim of that campaign was to clamp
down on the sale of illegal pharmaceuticals use for bleaching. Supply reduction
approaches however are not stand alone remedies for a problem of this
magnitude. A similar campaign is said to have been initiated in 1999.
Problem Statement
Jamaica is an island approximately of 2.7 million people and is the largest
island in the English speaking Caribbean. The most predominant race is of black
African descent which stands at 90.9% of the population; mixed race 7.3% , East
Indians 1.3% and other ethnic groups complete the total (Encyclopedia of nations
2010). It is believed that thousands of persons are using these skin lightening
concoctions without a prescription or medical supervision. These range from
those over the counter, illegally sold on the streets and homemade remedies. The
homemade remedy usually involves household bleach, toothpaste and curry
powder. The incidence of skin bleaching as a serious problem in Jamaica has
come to light as a result of the increased number patients attending the office of a

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dermatologist seeking assistance to correct self-inflicted skin bleaching problems.


Dermatologist Dr. Clive Anderson (Jamaica Gleaner, 1999) revealed then that 10
to 15% of patients come in for these skin bleaching problems. This particular
phenomenon is more evident in females than in males and usually within the age
range of 20 to 30 years old. Couple this with the increasing numbers observed
daily on the streets and one can readily understand the alarm of concern.
The activity of skin bleaching in Jamaica is also largely more evident among
individuals from the lower socioeconomic background which helps to validate
from an anecdotal perspective the belief that lighter skin will mean greater
opportunities and possibilities for mobility. Andrews (2002) through his
commentary informs us of an 18 year old female whose motivation to bleach her
skin is locked into the notion that a fairer complexion improves the possibilities of
being successful in her financial, social and romantic life. In an article by Rasbert
Turner ( Jamaica Gleaner, 2007) Dr. Neil Persadsingh informs us that while the
age group of 15-30 is most problematic there are now instances of skin bleaching
among even senior citizens and even more cause for concern. If the
aforementioned statement is true then the pervasiveness of the act of skin
bleaching could have dire consequence for the development of the Jamaican
society.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to provide a greater understanding of the context,
motivation, rationale and sociocultural themes and factors that influence the
practice of skin bleaching in Jamaica. This investigation should provide a rich

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interpretation and description of the cultural values intrinsic to the skin bleaching
lifestyle. Among other key explorative factors this study will seek to objectively
create an understanding of the relationship between skin bleaching and gender
issues as well as age related factors.

Research Questions:
1. What are the sociocultural factors that influence skin bleaching ?
2. What is the relationship between gender and skin bleaching ?
3. What is the relationship between age and skin bleaching ?

Significance
Studies on the psychological and sociological determinants of skin bleaching
worldwide are very limited. One critical purpose of this study is to yield more
meaningful data with regard to the issue of skin bleaching in Jamaica. To date
there have only been two recorded studies (Charles 2003) and (Robinson 2011)
related to skin bleaching in Jamaica and both were of a qualitative nature. The
study that I am proposing is also of a qualitative nature and will thusly create
another angle from which to view this very topical issue. The qualitative nature
of this investigation will engender and capture thoughts and feelings directly from
the participants and should bring us even closer to understanding their
perceptions. A few theories have been bandied around about this phenomenon,
however, these are mostly speculative, and I believe that the more research

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executed on the matter the greater the likelihood that we will finally arrive at
some meaningful understanding of this problem.
As the phenomenon of skin bleaching in Jamaica becomes more pervasive it
will be of critical importance that we develop a meaningful understanding of what
motivates this activity. Especially in the context of the significant and often
times irreparable damage that it causes as a result of using the products
unsupervised as well as without being prescribed. From a health perspective this
study is therefore very important as it encompasses feedback, dialogue and
recommendations from medical professionals in the field.

Similarly, most of the

information that we have on the phenomenon of skin bleaching originates from a


health perspective and thusly provides health related consequences of skin
bleaching. This study will enable us to generate psychological and social data
that tell the story of what motivates individuals to initiate this dangerous practice.
Interestingly, when one examines the skin bleaching articles in Jamaican
newspapers of the nineties and compare them with what is being articulated
presently, one can see that the intervention approach has been the same. In other
words, over the past decade we have not come any closer to a truly holistic
understanding of the mindset and belief system of skin bleachers and as such our
interventions are stagnant as well as hit or miss. An informed intervention
requires research hence the importance of adding this proposal to the already
limited number of studies done on this dangerous practice. Also of critical
importance is the data to be derived from the focus group methodology employed.
The other two studies on skin bleaching in Jamaica did not employ focus groups

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and given the propensity for these types of groups to be ultra-dynamic the data
retrieved should be rich and meaningful.
Finally by virtue the use of focus group methodology the participants had
an opportunity to share their beliefs and perceptions about skin bleaching, tone,
gender, age and other cultural issues and as a result benefit from the sharing of
others with similar experiences all in a managed environment.

Operational Definitions
Skin Bleaching or skin Lightening the cosmetic application of chemicals for
the purpose of changing the colour of ones skin from a darker complexion to one
that is lighter (Blay 2011).
Browning A local term used in Jamaica to denote persons who are not white
of a light or fair skin tone (Charles 2003)
Motivation a set of factors that drive a particular course of action (Oxford
Dictionary Online 2013).
Rationale a set of motives or reasonable foundation for an action or belief
(Oxford Dictionary Online 2013).
Culture an intricate set of values, norms, morals, arts, customs and
knowledge acquired by an individual as a result of being a member of a society
(Muller, 2005) .
Sociocultural relating to both social and cultural elements (Oxford
Dictionary Online 2013).

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Socioeconomic pertaining to or focused on the interface between social and


economic factors (Oxford Dictionary Online 2013).
Beauty - the sum of qualities within an individual or object that arouses a
sense of joy spiritually, physically or psychologically (Hamermesh, 2011)
Toning - Term used to describe skin lightening activities but less severe than
bleaching

Overview and structure of the paper


Chapter I delivers an introduction to the phenomenon of skin bleaching from
an international, regional and national perspective.

The chapter informs the

reader about the multiplicity of psychological, social and health related issues
realized as a result of skin bleaching as well as an outline of the research
questions, purpose of the study and most importantly the significance of the study.
Finally, the chapter concludes with a discussion of how the academic themes are
intertwined with the actual research as well as my position on the issue of skin
bleaching.

Chapter II focuses on a review of the literature on the subject,

methodological approach and themes.

The material reviewed for the most part

remained within the framework of 5-10 years old.

However because of the

nature of the topic being explored some material slightly beyond ten years was
incorporated as there is not a lot of data or research on skin bleaching from a
psychological and sociocultural perspective.

Also a few sources outside of the

preferred peer reviewed journals and academic texts were also incorporated
especially with regard to research in Jamaica specific to skin bleaching.

The

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material covered in the literature review spanned from Asia to Africa as well as
North America and on into the Caribbean and featured various types of literature
specific though to this study.
Chapter III features the methodology. Much of the validity or trustworthiness
of the study is dependent on this chapter and the execution of the principles
chosen. This chapter concretizes the research design and techniques chosen for
exploring the phenomenon.

The chapter cascades from participant selection and

sampling, to a description of the location where the focus groups and in depth
interviews takes place, to data collection procedures and ends with a discussion of
ethical considerations.
Chapter IV presents the collected data. The chapter clearly delineates how the
data was analyzed with a discussion of the triangulation technique that was
employed.
The main aim of Chapter IV is to explore the extent to which the research
questions have been answered by the data collected in the study; essentially a
discussion of the findings of the study. Within this chapter all the elements of the
study are systematically connected and assessed within the context of the research
questions.
Chapter V represents the conclusions drawn from the study and as such
highlights the significant meanings can be derived as well. The chapter discusses
any implications indicated from the results inclusive also of any recommendations
or suggestions about the way forward with regard to the issue of skin bleaching.
References and appendices follow the presentation of the chapters.

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Academic Themes
The aim of the study is to unearth the psychological and sociocultural factors
that influence skin bleaching among young Jamaicans. As a counselling
psychology major both psychological and sociocultural factors are consistent
features of theories explored and applied within my field of choice.
The issue of culture is also very prominent within the study and is a major
component within my major. As a rule of thumb therapists are consistently
reminded of the importance of being culturally sensitive in an effort to be able to
objectively provide meaning interventions for clients. The need for counselling
has become even more imminent as world cultures and societies become more
intricate and entangled (Mcleod, 2007). The effort within the context of this
study is to begin to understand the subculture within the culture.
Social Cognitive Theory
Albert Banduras social cognitive theory is also a very relevant theme to this
study as it postulates that an individuals belief about his ability to impact his
environment will ultimately determine his actions (Leonard, 2002). The theory
further postulates a triadic give and take relationship between actions, personal
elements and the environment (Sharma, 2005). An individuals behavior is not
only influenced by his environment in general but by his social environment
specifically (Robinson, 2010). Add to this the notion that n individuals cognition
and behavior has some social genesis (Bandura, 1986). Social role and status are
also key factors in influencing an individuals behavior (Bandura, 2004). The

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social cognitive theory is even more fundamental to this study given the focus
group methodology that is applied. The power of the group to influence an
individuals behavior was consistently observable as well as conformity and
nonconformity of members.
Personal Relevance
The issue of skin bleaching with regard to psychological and sociocultural
influences is deeply rooted in the perceptions of the individual both in self and the
society. The influence of culture is quite evident within the Jamaican society but
of equal significance is the influence also of various subcultures.

From

observation the majority of individuals that bleach their skin within the age range
examined in this study are from the lower socioeconomic strata of society or the
inner city for that matter. This notion dovetails well with the belief that
individuals engage in skin bleaching in an effort to be viewed more positively and
this in turn will provide more opportunities for advancement.
I have also heard the notion that skin bleaching is not about looking more
beautiful but is a fad, style or trend that allows an individual to be identified with
a particular group. Even more alarming is the idea that skin bleaching among
males especially young adult males in the inner-city is linked to criminality.
This is so because the act of skin bleaching significantly alters the physical
appearance of the individual and so if he committed a crime prior to bleaching the
police will have difficulty identifying him now given his new features.
When one thinks about the enormous risk that individuals are willing to take
in order to look brown or lighter for that matter one can only think that in the eyes

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of the skin bleacher bleaching offers hope for much better things to come.

It is

often reflective of who individuals would like to be physically than who they are
in reality.
The popularity of the act of skin bleaching is also fascinating given that
Jamaican culture has been made rich with such spiritual groups as the
Rastafarians.

Rastas as they are called in Jamaica by virtue of the principles that

they uphold are honoured by their blackness.

Their approach to life is from a

very naturalistic perspective and as they believe that nature through man is not to
be troubled or altered but allowed to run its course as this reveals the glory of
God. There are not very many countries throughout the world that have
originated their own spiritual group that espouses black consciousness. I am
therefore confounded by the popularity of this movement to appear less black
given the additional motivation through the teachings of Rastafarians that the
Jamaican society has had at its disposal.
Also of critical significance is the impact and influence of the media with
regard to beauty, race and colour in Jamaica. As mentioned earlier, the music
industry and in particular dancehall has over the years through various artiste
promoted the idea of brown skin women being more attractive than darker
skinned women. Numerous songs inclusive of Buju Bantons Love mi
Browning were embraced not only by the music industry but the Jamaican
society at large. Vybz Kartel is another very popular Dancehall act that has
personified the act of bleaching as not only do his lyrics frequently espouse the
act but he bleaches his skin as well. With songs such as Skin Pretty Like a

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Colouring Book and the recently release Mr Bleach Chin receiving regular
airplay the media through radio continues to provide positive reinforcement for
skin bleachers and influence for those thinking about the act.
The issue of skin bleaching is global but motivation to engage in the activity
appears to be complex and may vary from one country or culture to the next. It
appears however that those countries with a rich Eurocentric influence are the
front runners in this dangerous practice.

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Chapter II
Literature Review
The purpose of the study was to unearth the motivational factors of skin
bleaching among Jamaican young adults.

The issue of motivation was explored

along the following themes, socio-cultural, gender and age.

The review is

arranged to explore literature that highlights the issue of colour and race from a
global perspective, the medical effects of skin bleaching and skin bleaching as a
worldwide phenomenon. The review will also pursue literature that demonstrates
the impact of the methodology of triangulation.
The issue of Colour and Race
From a historical viewpoint, significantly there is no evidence of the idea of
a Caucasian race between the years 1000 1684 (Baum 2006). . Baum goes on
to establish that it was not until the initiation of the Atlantic slave trade and the
enslavement of black Africans that the idea of race was introduced by European
aristocracy at around the end of the stated time period and into the seventeenth
century.

The birth of racial thinking from an established perspective was

engendered in the latter part of the seventeenth century as according to Baum the
English who had settled in colonial America had the need to explain and defend
the continual enslavement of black Africans and began to see themselves and
other Europeans as white. Add to this the notion that was attached to the
blackwhite dualism was that of black being attached to paganism and evil as
white was associated with purity and goodness (Ratcliffe, 2004) and the

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complexity of the problem of skin bleaching from the perspective of white being
perceived as superior and black inferior appears deeply rooted.
This is particularly interesting given that it is the desire to look more
Caucasian and less black that has galvanized the desire for skin bleaching.

We

must also understand the context within which this statement is made as appearing
less dark does not necessarily mean that skin bleachers are from the black race
only. There is also the notion that individuals who are not categorized as being
black such as Asians and Indians also demonstrate a desire to have fairer
complexions.
The literature on skin colour and race issues range from slavery to civil
rights and provide a rich analysis of the impact of slavery and Eurocentric
perceptions of beauty, wealth and superiority. The value of slaves was based
entirely on physical attributes and not anything to do with personality traits of
intellect. Brown & Webb (2007) highlight this in their writings on how male
slaves where valued on their athletic prowess and likewise females for their
beauty which was grounded in their having lighter complexions. They also go on
to note that the ability to bear children was also of equal importance. This
provides evidence for the possible indoctrination of black African slaves into the
ideology that beauty is a purely physical characteristic. Of even greater
significance is the reality that whether one is dark of light is really not within your
control, skin bleaching may falsely represent the antidote to rescuing back control
over ones skin colour.

The overarching issue of skin color was also evident

within the war between the Indians and the Americans.

The Indians found in

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California were deemed to be darker in complexion than those found in the plains
and as such were perceived differently and treated more aggressively than other
Indians found in other regions with lighter complexions.

This it is believed

aligned them closer to blacks and as such were perceived and treated differently
(Monroy, 2005).
Perceptions of blackness
The review of the literature on this topic unearthed studies about the
perception and influence of skin color and in particular dark skinned people in
advertising. In her quantitative study Skin tone as a Signifier of Race : The
effect of consumer ethnic identity on targeted marketing Meyers (2011)
presented data that suggested that black study participants with strong ethnic
identities will tend to identify with models that are darker skinned than other
black study participants who have weaker ethnic identities.
Meyers goes on to discover that blacks with weaker ethnic identities tended
to identify with the lighter skinned model.

Both Hypotheses 1 and 2 in this

study were confirmed and implications for advertising to African Americans


identified.

The possibility exist that with this information advertisers can use the

issues of skin color and ethnic identity in persuading consumers to not only
purchase particular products but establish standards about what is beautiful and
desired and what isnt.

Meyer promulgates that discrimination through skin

colour helps to drive the skin bleaching industry through laser treatments,
chemical peels, bleaching and skin creams all of which despite being extremely
dangerous to ones health are still methods being employed worldwide by persons

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seeking a lighter complexion.

Perceptions across Africa and Latin America

associate lighter skin with desired social status.

Similarly in South East Asia

lighter skin tone is associated with greater economic status.


The media has an obligation to promote beauty in a multifaceted manner and
not be insular and regulate it to skin colour, size or any other attribute that limits a
particular population or race.
Skin Tone, Race and Gender
In this section I will set about demonstrating evidence through other
academic writing about the significance of skin colour on the women which
relates to my investigation on the impact of skin bleaching with regard to gender.
The standard of beauty is generally measured against women. The motivation to
bleach ones skin is therefore greater for women as not only are they attempting to
attain wealth and social status but to be acknowledged as beautiful may well
assist with gaining the aforementioned statuses.
OGrady (2005) speaks extensively on the impact of discrimination on black
women with the resulting feelings of self hatred through internalization. With the
standard of beauty primarily being Eurocentric many black women are left to seek
remedies for this ill feeling none of which they have caused.
The literature also points to the differences between black and white in the
development of the cultural notions of beauty. The economic and cultural
dominance of the west has however ensured the Eurocentric proposed definition
of beauty (white) has negatively impacted black women, particularly within the
diaspora (Shaw, 2005). From her essay Shaw goes on to promote the notion that

The Browning Phenomenon

western cultural beliefs about what should represent and be accepted as beauty
has over time devalued race and gender of minority populations.

Take for

example the tension that is created in countries where there are races of black,
white and persons in-between when there is a beauty pageant.

Often times the

racial agenda of that nations economic and social leadership is exhibited with the
winner most times being of a fairer complexion.

Here it may be assumed that

many women of dark complexion may not or be reluctant to enter given the
perceived attribute of fair complexion required to be successful.

Shaw (2005)

again reminds us that throughout the 1960s black females were not allowed to
enter the Miss America pageant.

It was not until 1970 that this marginalized

group was allowed to participate with the first black winner being crowned in
1984.
In summary the literature reveals that the issues of skin tone and race apply
an additional burden to women of colour when the attribute of beauty is
incorporated. Mehta (2004) and Laurier (2005) represent two other pieces of
literature that demonstrate the harmful impact of attaching negative perceptions to
women who possess a dark skin tone and how the internalizing this negativity
may lead to poor gender identity development.
Colorism
Colorism within the context of this study refers to an act of discrimination
through which light skinned individuals are treated more favourably than darker
skinned individuals.

The literature on colorism collectively spends much time

trying to establish this precept as distinct from racism. Hernndez-Truyol &

The Browning Phenomenon

Powell (2009) as well as Glenn (2009) are two such pieces of work that seek to
make that distinction.

What is clear from the literature is that the issue of

colorism is global and expands beyond the boundaries of purely black vs white
into the realm of shades of variation among Asian, Indians, Latinos and other
populations.

Within the American society shifting colour lines as a result of

interracial relationships that often produce children have forced the discussion of
colourism to become more prominent within this decade (Burton, Bonilla-Silva,
Ray, Buckelew, & Freeman, 2010).

These children are usually lighter in

complexion than the darker skinned parent and as such would be a candidate for
the experience of colourism as well as possible agitation from dark skinned
individuals with low ethnic identity.
Colorism and the workplace
The literature on colorism revealed a focus on the effects of colorism on job
applications and subsequent employment (Samuels 2008, Banerji, 2006 & Price,
2007). The idea that there is a nexus between both skin colour and being hired is
especially relevant to this study given that the aim of skin bleaching is to acquire
a lighter skin tone in an effort to climb the social and financial ladders of success.
Resistance to Colorism
Some of the literature examined demonstrated not only the divide that
colorism had established in places like the United States but also attempts to resist
the attempts of colorism at displacing the black African American.

Lake (2003)

informs us of an era where mulattoes formed their own church in places like
Atlanta in an attempt to get away from the dark skinned African American as well

The Browning Phenomenon

as in other places of worship the congregation was separated and organized by


color.

He goes on to establish that the dark skinned African American looked

down on the mulattoes as being physically and morally unsound and substandard.
Many African Americans believed that the mulattoes were children of low class
white men in union with black woman who had no sense of ethnic identity. It was
believed that the driving force behind this sort of resistance was the concern that
the mulattoes posed a hazard or danger to race unity.
Black Skin Remover, Dr. Read's Magic Face Bleach, Imperial Whitener,
Mme. Turner's Mystic Face Bleach, Dr. Fred Palmer's Skin Whitener, and Shure
White were some of the skin bleaching products to hit the market for the African
American at the turn of the century shares Lake (2003). The relevance of this
piece of literature and others similar to it is that it establishes the notion that for
many individuals the perception of blackness and colorism has not changed as
well as the remedies being prescribed for the discrimination and possible sense of
inferiority perceived by the dark skinned African American. We may extrapolate
that the very same motivation for skin bleaching during the era of the 1960s on
the United States have remained constant and that the development of a solid
sense of self on the part of some dark skinned individuals has not progressed.
Colorism in Jamaica
Let us first re-establish that Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean with a
population of approximately 2.7 million people. It is believed that persons of
black African descent account for up to ninety percent (90%) of this population.

The Browning Phenomenon

From the literature the issue of colorism is experienced or at least perceived to be


experienced by darker skinned individuals.
Ulysse (2004) a Haitian student in Jamaica charged with the task of unmasking
the meaning of color among Jamaican natives reported that the issue of class was
of primary importance to upper and middle class interviewees while lower class
interviewees were mostly concerned with skin color as the significant attribute to
the Jamaican identity. She further stated that one of her interviewees shared with
her that his family is promoting the idea that he lift up the pigmentation of his
children by marrying a light skinned woman. This is all with the expectation that
the improved pigmentation will allow for greater economic and social
advancement. Of note is the fact that at the point of sharing that piece within her
article the author establishes that her sample is far from representative but
instructive nonetheless.
Jamaica has a rigid class, race, color structure the desired category of being
brown or light skinned is significant ( Hope, 2011), Within the Jamaican society
Hope identifies an amalgamation of skin color with power; she establishes that the
social and cultural heritage of Jamaica was bestowed upon us through our history
of slavery and colonization. It is therefore fair to say that the issue of colorism in
Jamaica is firmly entrenched given the far reaching experience of our forefathers
and their white owners, who sought to conquer through dividing and labeling
black Africans brought to here. However, this piece if literature unearths some
controversy by espousing the concept that ones acquisition of a brown
complexion must be from a natural orientation in order to be afforded the societal

The Browning Phenomenon

benefits that are perceived to be bestowed upon such persons. In other words
there is a level of authenticity that has to be validated for the facets of colorism to
be attached to ones experience.
The issue of colorism as we have established through the literature reviewed
has deep historical roots that have permeated various cultures and subcultures
worldwide. Though not specific to gender the literature has revealed that women
in particular experience the ill effects of colorism especially with regard to how
they look and beauty. There are clear linkages between the existence and practice
of colorism and the motivation to bleach ones skin as this study has explored.
Skin Bleaching and Gender
In general the literature on skin bleaching demonstrates that women are more
predisposed and involved with the activity than are men (Blay & Charles, 2011).
This may be attributed to the aesthetic nature of the phenomenon and the
decreased desire for men to align themselves with being beautiful. The opposite
is true for women as most skin bleaching products are marketed from the
standpoint of its ability to enable women to meet the perceived universal standard
of beauty (Lindsey, 2011).

Of note however is the fact that in Jamaica the

popular newspaper cartoons make fleeting connections of homosexuality among


men who bleach their skin (Helber, 2012). This review was not able to unearth
any study of males who are involved in skin bleaching and their sexual
orientation, as such no empirical confirmation can be made.

However the

perceptions of the popular culture still remain important and interesting.

One

study conducted by Gwaravanda (2011) attempts to understand the impact of

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culture on 97 Shona women who bleach their skin in Masvingo City, Zimbabwe.
This study like many others observed engage participants that are women. The
study was of a qualitative nature and sought to gather information about skin
bleaching from the women and then use Shona proverbs to analyze and identify
meanings.. The author acknowledges that skin bleaching is not only specific to
women as men do participate in the activity but in Zimbabwe as in most other
countries it is a predominantly female activity. This data I believe increases the
significance of this study which incorporates males and their motivation for
bleaching their skin.
Skin Bleaching from a Global Perspective
Comparatively there are very few studies on skin bleaching worldwide.
There are even fewer studies on the rationale and motivations of individuals who
engage or have engaged in this activity in the past. A vast majority of the studies
found focused on the purely medical aspect of skin bleaching through its
associated physical complications (Parlak, Aydogan and Kavak, 2004; Pitche,
Kambate & Walla, 2005; del Giudice &Yves 2002; Faye, Keita, Diake, Konare &
Ndiaye 2005). The fact is that skin bleaching has medical, surgical, psychological,
economic, cultural and social implications for any society (Ajose, 2005).
Skin Bleaching in Asia
Before we delve into a discussion about the literature on skin bleaching in
Asia I must point out that the words skin bleaching and skin lightening turn up
different types of data depending on the search engine that is used. There appears
to be some inconsistency with the definitions and feelings that both terms evoke.

The Browning Phenomenon

The continent of Asia consists of 51 countries and over 4 billion people all
with unique and diverse cultures.

As established previously the act of skin

bleaching is not limited to very dark persons in particular those of African descent
but also to those of fair complexion that desire to be fairer. Most of the literature
found on skin bleaching in Asia is focused on the medical issues that complicate
the skin bleaching issue.

However literature was found those speaks to the

psychological and cultural ideologies that impact and influence the lightening
activity.
Within Asian cultures feminine beauty is associated with the degree of
whiteness of her skin tone (Li, Min,Belk,Kimura & Bahl 2008).

This piece of

literature reports that both Asian culture and beliefs as well as western ideologies
have merged to influence the activity of skin bleaching.

The piece is fairly

comprehensive and informative as it also expands into the impact of mass media
and advertising on Asian women and skin lightening.

The writers also cover

four specific Asian societies namely Japan, Hong Kong, India and Korea this
allows for a greater degree of generalization and application with the notions
found.

Even in an Asian country such as China where the skin colour of the

population is far fairer from that say of people in India skin lightening activities
are rampant. Barry Peterson (CBS Sunday Morning 2012)

in his expose on skin

bleaching in China interviewed Yang Mingxuan, nicknamed Aki a woman in the


beauty industry and involved with skin lightening about her routine and beliefs.
She revealed astonishingly that there is great merit to an old chinese saying that
fairness covers one thousand faults. She goes on to share that her skin lightening

The Browning Phenomenon

routine not only involves the application of creams but what she eats as well as
she explained that eating anything dark will lead to the darkening of ones skin, for
example soy sauce.

The skin lightening industry in China is estimated at 2

billion dollars.
An actual quantitative study of the prevalence and level of awareness about
the use and misuse of skin bleaching products was conducted in Jordan and was
recorded as the very first study of this nature (Hamed, Tayyem, Nimer &
AlKhatib 2010).

The study entailed approaching customers at pharmacies

located in seven different areas and seeking their permission to fill out a well
structured questionnaire. Significantly of the 318 participants 60.7 % used skin
lightening products.

The study concurred with other studies in Africa and

throughout the rest of the world that skin bleaching is associated with the
perceptions of increased opportunity, beauty, likelihood of marriage etc.

The

authors acknowledge the importance of the study in developing interventions for


the women of Jordan a notion that I believe that further underpins the importance
of this study in Jamaica given the dearth of research on the matter and increase in
skin bleaching activity on the island.
Milano(2005) in his article in the Florida Times Union posed a question for the
public to answer alluding to the fact that South Asia is poor but not only that most
South Asians are as dark and Africans; yet still when outside of Asia they tend to
look down at blacks. Why is that so ?

Though not a controlled, organized and

structured study the responses were interesting. Inferences were made about
south Asian men preferring light skinned women as well as the present

The Browning Phenomenon

discrimination that takes place in South Asia with regard to skin colour.

Some

responders attributed this notion to the caste system which they felt was one of the
greatest tools of discrimination in India.

The skin lightening industry in south

Asia is estimated at 13 billion USD ("Dr. Vicki Belo Featured," 2013). Dr Belo is
acknowledged as the most knowledgeable person in the Philippine beauty
industry.

The interview was requested and conducted by the BBC and sought

answers around skin lightening and the Asian ideal of beauty.

Dr Belos

authority on the matter is further concretized by the fact that she is the head of the
Belo Medical group which brought skin lightening techniques to the Philippines
due to overwhelming demand some six years ago.
Cultural, anthropological and sociological factors all play a part in skin lightening
behavior (Verma 2010).

The author in this piece of literature speaks about skin

bleaching as she views it in India, she goes on to demonstrate through pictures


young women riding two wheelers covered in garments from head to toe in an
effort to avoid tanning.

Most significantly I identify and concur with this piece

of literature with regard to the factors aforementioned as this qualitative study will
make the connection between skin bleaching and sociocultural factors.
In an effort to further highlight the issue of skin bleaching in Asia Blay (2013)
reports that according to a 2003 report, 38% of women in Hong Kong, Korea,
Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines use whitening products, and 43% of the
women surveyed believed a fair complexion would make them more attractive to
men.

The Browning Phenomenon

Skin Bleaching in Africa


The purchasing of racial capital through the application of skin lightening
products has steadily increased throughout Africa (Hunter, 2011). Through her
article Hunter attempts to analyze the issues through the examination of skin
bleaching from the beauty, public health and cosmetic surgery discourses. Hunter
primarily pursues advertising and public health issues surrounding skin bleaching
including a search of the internet with regard to skin bleaching products which
reveals hundreds of skin bleaching websites offering the best advice on products
and strategies to appear lighter.

The paper highlighted that in Africa and

throughout the African Diaspora both men and women are engaged in skin
bleaching practices but that women were far more involved with the activity and
often times used the bleaching applications on their children.
In his article Ajose (2005) gives data from a survey conducted with patients,
men and women over 16 years who attended a skin clinic in Lasuth, Lagos,
Nigeria between February and August 2004. The study explored reasons for the
practice of skin bleaching as related by the group as well as their knowledge on
the side effects and consequences of skin bleaching. The direct methodology was
not explained as well as the sample size which leaves one to question validity and
reliability.
With respect to studies on skin bleaching that seek to extrapolate other
environmental and ideological factors a report on a survey of 600 market women,
entitled skin bleaching in Accra Ghana. Of significance a study conducted also in
Accra Ghana between 2003-2004 shockingly revealed that 26.6% of the

The Browning Phenomenon

population bleached their skin ; a growing epidemic was presented (Accra Daily,
2004). The survey involving the 600 market women which was conducted in
2003-2004 as well also involved interviews with government officials and
medical experts in Africa and examined the prevalence of skin bleaching as well
as the socioeconomic factors that underpin this behaviour. From this study the
researcher, Ms. Kathleen Robinson, made recommendations to Ghanaian officials
about importation policies and educating the masses.
Blay (2005) executed a qualitative study on skin bleaching in Ghana which
focused on discovering the reasons and motivation for skin bleaching among
Ghanaians. The study is focused on extracting the perspectives of individuals
from all walks of life in that as well country. Blay uses what is termed as Africancentered/African feminist phenomenological ethnography.
Dr. Blay who is currently an assistant teaching professor in African Studies at
Drexel University, has produced extensive literature through studies and articles
on skin bleaching in Africa.

Her website yabablay.com is dedicated to

commentary generally on skin bleaching worldwide and Africa in specific. One


of the salient features of the site is the ability for readers globally to share their
comments and insights which allow for important discourse and ultimately
research in particular countries and on critical themes. A clear example of this
mechanism is the sharing by a reader of the alarming level of skin bleaching in
Gambia. This was an area that Dr Blay admittedly had no research or data for
and as such a call made to explore this region.

The Browning Phenomenon

In her post Get Light or Die Trying ( Blay 2013) she reveals some significant
skin bleaching statistics for many countries in the region. She stated

Seventy five percent of traders in Lagos, Nigeria (2002)

52% of the population in Dakar, Senegal, 35% in Pretoria, South Africa


(2004)

50% of the female population in Bamako, Mali (2000)

8 out of 10 seemingly light-skinned women in Cote dIvoire (1998)

60% of Zambian women ages 30 39 (2005)

50 -60% of adult Ghanaian women

The data above represent persons who still currently or have one time or another
actively used skin bleaching agents.

The deleterious situation in Africa is further

cemented the labeling of Nigeria as the number one country for skin bleaching
products by the World Health Organization.
Skin Bleaching in Jamaica
There are only a few studies found with direct connections and
implications for Jamaica done by Charles (2003) in collaboration with the
University of the West Indies and Robinson (2011) her Dissertation at the Texas
A&M University. Charles used a quantitative design to examine the correlation
between skin bleaching and self-esteem while Robinson applied a qualitative
approach to understanding skin bleaching in Jamaica from a colonial perspective.
Within his methodology Charles uses a control group of non bleachers and
measures the self esteem of both sets. The results of which leads him to the
conclusion that self-esteem is not lower in skin bleachers as both scored equally

The Browning Phenomenon

as well on the measure of self-esteem. One weakness of this study is the limited
sample size which takes away from its ability to generalize as well as demonstrate
reliability.

Robinson applied a naturalistic approach using a questionnaire to

extract information about skin bleaching practices from participants.

She also

acquired expert knowledge by interviewing a well known dermatologist.

The

study established that skin bleaching in Jamaica has extensive financial, social,
health, emotional and cultural implications.

In examining Robinsons work in

comparison to studies done worldwide one common thread is the agreement of


most that the impact of colonization and Eurocentric ideology on the distortion of
the ideal of beauty for blacks is evident.
Literature was also found that espouses the notion that in Jamaica a
framework of pathology is always used create an understanding of skin bleaching
(Brown-Glaude 2007).

In her essay she examined local discussion through

newspaper articles on skin bleaching and arrives at the belief that the
pathologizing of skin bleachers allows us to label the act as being abnormal and
sick in some sense. Noted psychiatrist Wendel Abel adds to the pathology of skin
bleaching by stating that skin bleaching is a manifestation of a psychological
disposition acquired by some Jamaicans as a result of slavery and
colonization(Able, 2005).
The director of the Bureau of Womens Affairs in Jamaica, Glenda Simms,
adds to the richness of the literature found as she initiates a perspective that
denounces gender inequality with regard to skin colour (Simms 2003).

Simms

states that women who bleach do so as a result of racial and gender inequality that

The Browning Phenomenon

she experiences daily through this notion of black girls are not beautiful that
Simms believes exist in Jamaica some of these women practice what she coins a
form of self mutilation which is skin bleaching.

Again here the issue of skin

bleaching and gender appears to be one that needs further researching; a concept
that this study will explore from a qualitative perspective.
While there is a paucity of actual research in Jamaica on the issue of skin
bleaching other types of literature and commentary may be found in journals and
local newspapers. Ironically much of the commentary found in local newspapers
are either by university scholars or are pieces where scholars are interviewed.
Professor Carolyn Cooper University of the West Indies lecturer in the
department of literary and cultural studies in her commentary in the gleaner
newspaper challenges the rival newspaper the Jamaica Observer on the issue of
their infamous Page 2 which she feels tends to highlight high light skinned or high
coloured socialites as they are called in Jamaica (Cooper 2012).

Cooper is not

the only person to express outrage about the discrimination expressed through the
Observers page 2 as many others have shared the belief that it exemplifies the
ideal that beauty is fair or light skinned as well as success and social status.

The

question is therefore left to be asked about the influence of page 2 on dark


skinned persons to bleach.
Skin bleaching has ben practiced in Jamaica for decades according to Health
officials.

From a Caribbean perspective since the days of slavery individuals

with lighter skin have always been associated with high social status (Campbell
Chambers 2012).

Within the Caribbean there are damaging phrases such as

The Browning Phenomenon

Nutten black nuh good and black and worthless like him pupa as compared to
the positive words that are used to accentuate the wonder of light skin such as
nice browning and high colour etc.

In her piece Campbell-Chambers does

well to also demonstrate that skin bleaching has been causing deaths from as far
back as 1950 with Chinese women swallowing ground pearls which they believed
would make them whiter a very important fact to consider. It demonstrates that
the desire to have a fairer complexion transcends cultures and races with no limits
regardless of the known level of danger.

One of the aims of her article was to

clearly spell out the dangers of skin bleaching in an effort I believe to change the
skin bleachers perception of the activity as well as reduce incidence rates.
There are may other articles in Jamaican newspapers that attempt to also
educate individuals about the ill or consequences of skin bleaching ( McDaniel
2009, Jones 2011, Williams 2012). Williamss piece focused on males for whom
there is very little data with regard to skin bleaching. He interviewed two school
boys both 18 years old who shared insights into what motivates them to bleach
their skin. Though not a scientific the discussion presents some valuable insights.
Both boys report that they are from the inner city which represents a low socioeconomic group and find that since bleaching they have found more acceptance
from their peers within the community and so feel happier about life.
Significantly Williams reports that one of the boys has severely damaged skin as a
result of having stopped skin bleaching because he could no longer afford to
purchase the product required.
Skin Bleaching creams are not sufficiently regulated in Jamaica (Werner 2011)

The Browning Phenomenon

This is a very dangerous situation as skin lightening products are being sold and
prescribed by persons in the street that have no background in pharmacology or a
related field.

This creates enormous room for its use, abuse and misuse.

The

Ministry of Health has in the past made attempts to address the skin bleaching
issue through a campaign entitled Dont Kill the Skin launched in 2007 ( Lewis
2007).

The success of the campaign was never measured but judging from the

continued increase in skin bleaching one could assume that it wasnt very
effective.

One criticism is that the programme sought to use scare tactics rather

than truly understand the psychological and cultural factors that motivate this
behavior.
Skin Bleaching and Medically related issues
The literature reveals that much of the data on medical issues related to skin
bleaching or lightening originates in Africa (Olumide et al 2008, Ly et al 2007,
Pitch, Kombat & Tchangai-Walla, 2005).

According to Olumide et al (2008)

the active chemicals in skin bleaching products are hydroquinone, mercury and
corticosteroids. Because these products are used over a long period of time and
on a broad area of the body and factor in as well very humid conditions
individuals are prone to develop complications. These complications range from
fish odor syndrome to difficulty with wound healing to steroid addiction
syndrome to nephropathy to being predisposed to developing infections.

Some

of the complications associated with skin bleaching may be fatal.


Hydroquinone has been recently banned as a cosmetic substance in Europe
(Mah, Ly, & Perret, 2005). This occurred as a result of it consisting of benzene

The Browning Phenomenon

derivate which is well known for having cancer causing properties as


demonstrated in experiments conducted on rats.

The authors go on to establish

that renal problems resulting from the use of mercury compounds which can be
found in skin lightening soaps is also well documented.

Significantly the

literature was able to establish that as far as topical corticosteroids are concerned
cutaneous complications occur at an alarming rate. This often leads to individuals
being admitted to hospital in Dakar with a fatality rate of two of the sixty cases
reported to date.
As stated initially much of the literature about the medical complications of
skin bleaching originates in Africa one explanation for this is the high numbers of
skin bleachers that exist in Sub-Saharan Africa. Factor in as well that very dark
skinned persons who are attempting to acquire a fairer complexion may have a
tendency to intensify the bleaching process in an effort to get the desired result.
This intensification leads subsequently to medical complications. Further to this
often times various different concoctions are applied with no medical supervision.
In another study done in Africa examining the cases of two female skin bleachers
aged 45 and 35 respectively confirms the dangers of skin bleaching without the
requisite supervision and information.

The 45 year old woman in response to a

lack of positive change in her skin colour intensified her application of the cream
and as a result developed exogenous ochronosis which is the most commonly
reported condition by blacks in Africa resulting from skin bleaching (Bongiorno
& Aric, 2005). This is demonstrated by hyperpigmented gray and blue patches
in the affected areas. The literature also confirms the danger of using a mixture

The Browning Phenomenon

of skin bleaching products as it has been now established that the actions of
hydroquinone are magnified by the application of topical steroids which and be
found in various other skin lightening agents.

The 35 year old woman in the

study developed what is called triae atrophicae this is a weakening of the elastic
tissue which produces pink or purple scar like legions which are often unsightly.
This often takes place on the buttocks, abdomen, breasts or thighs.
Of significant interest is this piece of literature which seeks to present skin
bleaching as a mental disorder. Azibo (2011) describes skin bleaching and skin
lightening behavior, coined (SBSLB) as being demonstrative of a psychological
misorientation mental disorder. According to Azibo SBSLB has been subsumed
into the African centred culture specific Azibo Nosology of mental disorders
established in 1989.

Azibo goes on to determine that treatment of those

individuals afflicted with SBSLB must be of an African centred nature.

The

article cautions readers to understand that the Azibo Nosology is specific to


persons of African descent also identified as ADPs. The literature does well to
establish the theory of misorientation and culture specific psychopathologies
without which there would be no basis or validity for the subsuming skin
bleaching into this disorder. The theory posited by Azibo remains entrenched in
the notion that both the European and Asian influences are the cornerstone of the
erosion of the African identity and the main cause of the problem. The
identification of what is called pathological motivation for skin bleaching is a
concept that I believe will be evident in my study.

The Browning Phenomenon

Summary
In summary the data and literature has further concretized the belief that there
are severe medical complications from skin bleaching practices.

Significantly,

the literature also produces some evidence of psychopathology in relation to skin


bleaching participants.

This is crucial as it offers some hope of treatment with

regard to undoing the motivation to use these dangerous applications. By virtue


of establishing a maladaptive syndrome related to skin bleaching we may be able
to create and implement standardized treatment regimes which will offer
consistency to medical and psychiatric practice.

It offers hope of diagnosis,

etiology and prognosis all important stages in the treatment of diseases. Finally,
the literature has led us realize that much of the information about the medical
consequences of skin bleaching originates from Africa presently.

We are sure

that there are medical implications of skin bleaching worldwide and it is


important for us to have data and literature form all the regions. This further
validates the importance of this study for Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

The Browning Phenomenon

Chapter III
Methodology
Research Design
The participants in the study came out of the population of Jamaicans and
specifically represented young individuals between the ages of 18-24 who bleach
their skin. The study was of a qualitative nature. The aim of qualitative research is
to deliver a full-bodied, all-encompassing account of events (Welford, Murphy &
Casey 2012). It is very important for the methods within qualitative research to
be uncomplicated so as to allow for the subject to be studied to have the feature
role throughout the process (Chenail 2011). The methods used were focus groups
and one on one unstructured in depth interviews.

There were two focus groups

executed each with 8 persons for a total of 16 individuals. Focus groups provide
social interplay that mimics real life discourse between the participants, thus
allowing for a powerful blending of thoughts, feelings and experiences as the final
product (Smit & Cilliers, 2006).
For the face to face unstructured in-depth interviews a total of 2 were
conducted.

The one on one interviews reflect the discourse between the

researcher and the participant on the subject to be studied (Demarrais, 2004).


The medical professional and cultural expert chosen for the interviews were
selected from the Kingston and St Andrew area with ease of access and expertise
being the main factors. The 14 subjects for the focus group were organized by
gender. This was done to ensure that gender related inhibitions did not confound
the project. Therefore the groups were organized into females 18-24, as well as

The Browning Phenomenon

one group of males 18- 24. The reasoning behind selecting one group of males is
that subjective knowledge reveals that skin bleaching occurs more within the
identified age range and seldom outside.
The focus groups again, were homogenous for gender and while there were
general themes being explored there was also a topic guide that piloted the
interaction and conversations so that they were able to flow meaningfully and
naturally. The non-probability sampling technique of snowballing was used to
select group members. The decision to use focus groups in this study was very
deliberate. Focus groups it is believed enhance face validity are low cost and
allow for the capturing of real life data in a social environment (Babbie, 2004).
This methodology generally allows for unique group dynamics which generally
stimulates richer responses and interactions. The varying backgrounds of the
participants as well as the commonality of skin bleaching yielded interesting data.
Triangulation was the method used to analyze the data. Specifically,
analysis of data sourced from specific persons as opposed to data sourced at a
specific time and place was initiated. The data acquired was from a primary
source. Primary data sources are for example, interview and observation
approaches. The data from the focus groups as well as the unstructured face to
face interviews from the medical experts formed the basis of the data driven
triangulation analysis.

Triangulation represents a method of analysis that

involves processing data from various viewpoints and positions which are then
expanded, highlighted and corroborated to gain a greater understanding of a
particular phenomenon (Phillimore & Goodson 2004).

Data triangulation

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involves engaging with data over a period of time from various people and
settings (Dyson & Brown, 2006). The application and robust examination of
multiple data sources it is believed strengthens the validity of the triangulation
methodology (Green & South, 2006).

This was a very important notion in

determining the data analysis modality as qualitative research has always had the
challenge of proving trustworthiness.
Measured Demographics - Participants responded to items about
sociocultural, gender and age related factors that influence skin bleaching among
young adult Jamaicans.

Participants and Sampling


The non-probability sampling technique of snowballing was deemed best
suited for this aspect of the process which is recruitment of the participants. The
nonprobability sampling technique of snowballing was used given the sensitive
nature of the issue as well as given the unique nature of this practice it was
deemed highly likely that skin bleachers were well known to each other. One
disadvantage of this technique is that it does not allow for random selection and as
such may create samples that are biased and do not adequately represent the
general population (Thomas 2004). However we are able to overcome this given
the nature of the research initiated as well as aims undertaken.

The research is

specific to skin bleachers within a particular age range and the aim is to
understand the perceptions and motivation within particular themes. In an effort

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to avoid any other confounds with this particular sampling technique the
following guideline was applied.
Focus Group Participants
1. Participants were recruited to represent homogenous groups for gender as
well as age group.
2. Not more than two members of the group knew each other
3. No group member had participated in a group discussion within 6 months
prior to the session and on a topic similar to the theme being that was
proposed.

Professionals for In-depth Interviews


The Doctors was selected for their expertise in the area and as such one is a
medical doctor who specializes in Dermatology working in Jamaica and
specifically Kingston and St Andrew and the other a Doctor of Cultural Studies
however with regard to gender they were even split with 1 males and 1 female so
as to provide a balance perspective on some of the issues highlighted in the
questionnaire.
1. Participants represented professionals in the field confirmed by their
certification through the relevant authorities in Jamaica.
2. None of the participants engaged in any such interview on a topic or theme
similar to the one presented within the past 6 months

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Location
The two focus groups took place at RISE Life Management Services, located
downtown Kingston, Jamaica.

Permission was granted by RISE Life

Management Services to both conduct the focus groups and reveal their name
during the write up.

RISE Life Management Services is a Non-Government

Organization that provides meaningful interventions for at risk individuals in


Jamaica. RISE primarily focuses on youth oriented programmes and is a wellestablished NGO with over twenty two years of service to inner city communities.
RISE has a conference room located at the back end of their car park. The room
is about 20 feet by 20 feet and is equipped with white board and air conditioning.
The four one on one interviews with medical professionals in the field took
place at the offices of those individuals.

The offices were standard doctors

offices clean nicely painted and decorated.


Data Collection Process
Data was collected using as stated above focus group methodology applying
3 themes supported by a 13 questions aimed at extracting as much information as
possible. Given that the focus group process was required to be in depth and
unlock rich material the questions presented served to ignite deep expressions
from the participants and as such other leading questions were asked as themes
and patterns developed. The focus group was conducted by the researcher assisted
by a scribe. Data was also collected as previously stated using unstructured indepth interviews with two participants identified as professionals in the field from
both a medical and cultural.

The use of both forms of data collection

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metholdology, that of focus groups and in-depth interviews, was relevant given
that the aim of the study was to unearth the rationale and motivation of the
participants in relation to their practice of skin bleaching and the varying
influences.

These unstructured in depth interviews were conducted by the

researcher and allowed the researcher to have a general guideline but no specific
agenda, it allowed for greater flexibility and exploration of themes, especially
those of an unexpected nature. In an effort to ensure accurate analysis, sessions
were tape-recorded and these were used in tandem with notes on both verbal and
non-verbal communication.
Valuable research requires questions that are both answerable and worthwhile
answering (Rugg & Petre, 2007). Therefore if the aforementioned is true then the
research questions forged throughout the process are invaluable to the journey
aimed at understanding particular phenomena.
Research Questions:
4. What are the sociocultural factors that influence skin bleaching ?
5. What is the relationship between gender and skin bleaching ?
6. What is the relationship between age and skin bleaching ?
Focus Group Themes and Questions
The three general themes are Sociocultural, Age and Gender related issues
that impact skin bleaching among young adults. It is expected that from these
leading questions and given the focus group format that other pertinent and
interesting information will be revealed and discussed.

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1. How is skin bleaching viewed in your family ?


2. How is skin bleaching viewed in your community ?
3. How is skin bleaching viewed in Jamaica ?
4. How did you get started bleaching your skin ?
5. Why do you bleach your skin ?
6. What are the perceived benefits ?
7. Are there any perceived negatives ?
8. Are there varying degrees of skin bleaching within your community ?
9. At what age did you start bleaching your skin ?
10. Why did you start at that age ?
11. Do more young persons bleach as opposed to older persons ?
12. Who bleaches more males or females ?
13. Why do males/females bleach more ?
14. Are the benefits the same for both groups ?
Interview Questions
For Professionals and Experts in the field
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.

What is Skin Bleaching ?


Is the practice dangerous ?
If so what are the dangers ?
Why do you think young adults Bleach their Skin ?
What are the social implications of Skin Bleaching ?
What are the perceived benefits ?
Any percentages for the prevalence of skin bleaching among young

adults ?
8. In your opinion who bleaches more males or females
9. What are the implications of skin bleaching among young adults for
the Jamaican society ?
10. What age range do you think is most involved with skin bleaching ?
Matrix Mapping methods to research questions
Research Questions

Questionnaire items for focus


groups

Interview Items

1.

Sociocultural

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8

1,2,3,4,5,6,9

2.

Gender

12,13,14

7,8

3.

Age

9,10,11

10

Procedures

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The researcher collected all the data from both methods in Jamaica.
Participants for the focus group were recruited through the non-probability
sampling procedure of snowballing. Females were asked to refer other females
within the 18-24 age range to the researcher and males likewise. Age was
confirmed by an acceptable form of identification. Each person was only allowed
to refer one other so as to ensure that no more than two persons knew each other.
Therefore individuals were recruited from no less than four different
communities. The informed consent document was explained, understood and
accepted by all participants. Two focus groups were held and again groups were
homogenous for gender. The focus group themes and questionnaires were
administered. The researcher conducted debriefing sessions for the participants
after each focus group activity. Each of the focus groups lasted for an hour and a
half. Permission was also granted for the session to be audio taped
All two participants in the one on one interviews were presented with the
informed consent document and signed off on it. The one on one interviews with
professionals in the field of medicine and cultural studies were then conducted
using the questionnaire developed. Permission was also granted for the interview
to be audio taped.
Validations
Trustworthiness in qualitative studies is thought to be equal to the measure of
validity in quantitative studies. Trustworthiness within the framework of a
qualitative study may be identified through credibility, transferability,
dependability and confirmability (Shento 2004). The credibility of this study is

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akin to measuring its internal validity is established through the matching of the
research questions with the questionnaires developed for the methods applied.
All the questions for the interviews as well as the theme guide for the focus
groups have been fit into the matrix provided demonstrating meaningful
connections between themes investigated and questions posed to participants.
Add to this the advantage of using the focus group method where other related
issues may be investigated as individuals share and open up within the session
possibly unlocking crucial information. With regard to the honesty of information
received from participants the study ensured that persons participated upon their
own free will as well as knew that they could dismiss themselves from the process
without having to justify this with the investigator. The researcher also reduced
inhibitions to participate in the focus group sessions by establishing rapport and
the tenet that there are no wrong or right answers during the session. Frequent
communication between the researcher and his supervisor also enabled the
process to be objective as the supervisor was able to often times bring a refreshing
perspective to the investigation. This helped to reduce any biases being brought
to the process by the researcher. Member checks about information shared as well
as emerging theories were also included as a part of this study.
With regard to dependability this researcher is confident that the research
design and procedures presented earlier in this chapter are as such that the study
could be replicated and the results similar. Transferability issues are addressed
through the detailed description about the phenomena of skin bleaching in various
contexts and environments. Expansive details of the procedures, location,

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participants and data analysis are also aimed at allowing the reader to understand
and identify with the research and make similar comparisons that fit into his or
her context.
In an effort to achieve a fair level of confirmability or objectivity the
shortcomings of the study are discussed. The size of the population for example
was small and would have provided a greater reflection of the general population
had it been larger. The study however improves its confirmability through the
methodological approach and description presented. Investigator bias is also
lessened through supervision from a qualified individual, transparency in the
transcripts derived from the focus groups as well as responses from the
questionnaires completed by the professionals in the field of dermatology.

Ethical Considerations
The risk and benefits of any study must be weighed; especially the risks to the
participants as well as whether the benefits of the research outweigh the risks
identified (Wester, 2011).

Every effort was made to ensure the safety and

anonymity of all participants as only one senior manager from whom permission
had to be sought was informed of the sessions to be held at the venue. Another
ethical issue that had to be addressed is that of confidentiality and anonymity
among focus group members. This issue represents one of the most significant
concerns of focus group activity given the involvement of a many of individuals
(Hansen, 2006). It was of great importance that individuals be discouraged from

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talking about other peoples experiences outside of the setting especially matters
of a sensitive nature. As the researcher I am well aware of the highly sensitive
nature of my project as well as the capacity for studies to embarrass, impose on
and create anxiety for participants. All participants received a letter seeking
informed consent in which their rights and the rights of others was be protected.
The contents of the letter were clearly discussed and any questions posed
answered. All participants were provided with the opportunity for debriefing after
group interviews. The data collected was kept in the researchers possession and
locked away securely in a filing cabinet that only the researcher had the key for.

Other rights to be addressed are :


1. The right to privacy
2. The right to confidentiality
3. The right to remain anonymity
4. The right to expect experimenter responsibility

Ethical dilemmas present themselves in all research environments ( Duncan,


Drew, Hodgson & Sawyer 2009). The issue of ethics within qualitative research
has become of paramount importance when it involves human beings as this
methodology presents peculiar obstacles to be overcome (Eide & Kahn 2008).
This is so becaus inherent within the process of qualitative research is the
development often times of a relationship between the researcher and the
participants.

The nature of this relationship is as such that evokes a fair amount

The Browning Phenomenon

of emotion within both parties but even more so with the participant. If the aim
of qualitative research is to acquire data about perceptions thoughts and feelings
then a cathartic reaction may be expected more often than not.

The

abovementioned notion will no doubt create some amount of vulnerability on the


part of the participant.

Ethical principles must therefore guide and protect

participants.
Limitations & Delimitations
Integrity within the research process requires that all limitations of the project
be clearly delineated for the reader (Mauch & Park, 2003). The limitations of the
study are :
1. The focus group aspect of the study only involved individuals who bleach
their skin.

The aim of the study is to unearth information about the

practice of skin bleaching and as such only persons who are involved
would be able to relate their experiences
2. The focus group aspect of the study only involved individuals with the age
range of 18 and 24 years old.
3. The individual interview aspect of the study involved medical
practitioners who specialize in dermatology.

Dermatologists are medical

practitioners who are best able because of their training to provide insight
and relate experiences of persons who bleach their skin.
4.

The study focused on the sociocultural, age, and gender related factors
that influence skin bleaching.

It is believed that the abovementioned

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factors yielded data revealing the motivation and perceptions of


individuals engaged in this practice.
5. The study processed the views and opinions of 4 dermatologists whose
experiences may vary from that of the many others in Jamaica.
The delimitations of the study are :
1. The focus group aspect of the study did not involve anyone who does not
bleach their skin
2. The focus group aspect of the study did not involve anyone below the age
of 18 years old and above the age of 24 years old.
3. The individual interview aspect of the study did not involve medical
doctors who are outside the realm of dermatology. Medical practitioners
outside of the realm of dermatology do not have sufficient experience with
skin bleaching patients as dermatologists would.
4. The parameters of the study did not go outside of the examining
sociocultural, age and gender related factors of skin bleaching among
young adult Jamaicans.

It was believed that these factors would

sufficiently provide data to reflect the objectives set and any additional
factors would begin to take us outside the realm of the intended study.

The Browning Phenomenon

Chapter IV
Findings and Discussion
The following section encompasses and presents the meanings, themes
and divergent views of the participants in this study.

The section will also

present an analysis and discussion of the contribution of the participants but in


thematic subsections.
Significant and Controversial Themes
The first and possibly one of the most significant and controversial themes to
be explored here is that of bleaching versus toning.

As demonstrated in sections

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of the literature review both words are used worldwide with varying meanings.
Primarily many use the term toning to demonstrate a less intense skin lightening
activity and as such take away from the deep negative aspersions attached to the
bleaching activity.

All participants in this study concurred that there is a

difference between bleaching and toning as well as they were able to clearly
differentiate between the products that provide toning as opposed to the ones that
provide the bleaching effect. Again here it is interesting to note that what obtains
internationally with regard to the variances between bleaching and toning can also
be found both regionally and locally. Almost mimicking what can be established
as a shared bleaching code of conduct.

On the theme of bleaching vs toning

some males in the group shared :


Not definitely trying to white out your face but trying to keep a cool complexion
and keeping your complexion light
Toning does not make you white
It gives you a cool complexion, a fair complexion
Yes, they would notice a difference but it is different from bleaching
..Just like how I can look at him and see that he is bleaching because I have the
facts in front of me
Yes a different chemical
It could be the same strong chemical but you dont go as intense
Some female participants shared :
No bleaching is when you white out, but tone up is when you have a ashy
colour
When you are cool, you not too white
You are on a good flavour
When they say youre bleaching is pretty; you are cool like the light colour
chocolate. When they say you are bleaching you are white
Like vanilla
Like she

The Browning Phenomenon

Sushi, she has a nutmeg look


Yeah
You have different colour
You have yellow, red
Some people bleach and them get pink
Participants and in particular the females were able to clearly differentiate
between the chemicals for toning and the ones for bleaching.

One has to

conclude that this is very dangerous given the fact that they have absolutely no
medical background and arrive at these conclusions through hearsay and
experimentation. The medical implications of these unsubstantiated conclusions
on the part of the participants will be discussed in a subsequent section. One
group of females noted :
Some persons use Idole
Some persons use Nadinola to tone up
Some use Maxi Light
Ultra
Symba
Metasol
Topiclear
IKB, African formula
Come Fast
To bleach they use Tamarind, Bioderma, Omic, Bio Claire, Neoprosone, Milk
Protein, Glow white, Fair and White, Dr. Clear, Michael Jackson, Diva, Vybes
kartel Soap and cream and Annie and cake soap
The volume 40 is good

From one of the quotes given, ironically, by a male within the group, while
bleaching vs toning may find its differential within the various products used
there is also value in the actions of the skin bleacher meaning one can use an
intense product but sparingly and with caution to achieve a lesser effect.

The Browning Phenomenon

Highlighted throughout this section is the notion that the aim isnt to get white but
a moderate brown color.
Dr Donna Hope, one of our professionals lending her expertise through
participation in the study , is a senior lecturer/director at the Institute of Caribbean
Studies and Reggae Studies Unit at The University of the West Indies. Dr Hope
adds richly to the discourse on bleaching versus toning through here labeling of
both terms as being loaded and socially impactful. Dr Hope in her interview
established a difference or perceived difference between bleaching as the use of
harmful substances to ones skin usually by someone from the lower
socioeconomic level and toning as the more socially correct term for people using
skin lightening agents that have been approved by dermatologist. These
individuals are usually from a higher socioeconomic background. Dr Hope
stated:
The terms bleaching or skin bleaching from my work is a loaded term. The term
generally means it is lightening of the skin, lightening the skin colour, making
yourself lighter. Toning we are told is also a similar practice however the terms
are loaded. And in Jamaica it has social meanings. So skin bleaching suggests the
application of harmful substances to your skin usually from individuals from the
lower socio-economic level. Bleacher is also a type of person, male and female
from the lower socio economic level who apply harmful chemicals to their skin
Toning would be the more socially appropriate term and that also includes an
identity, people who lighten their skin using dermatological approved substances
like RetinA, in its approved prescribed portions by your dermatologist over time
along with the required things...they are not accused of bleaching, they are either
taking care of blemishes or toning. They used approved dermatological
substances. These persons are usually from the higher socio-economic level in
Jamaica.

The Browning Phenomenon

From this data one can come to a reasonable conclusion that the difference
here between bleaching and toning is primarily socioeconomic and ones ability to
afford attendance at a dermatological clinic. Interestingly, the difference between
the participants who bleach and Dr Hopes definition has some cultural origins.
At the lower socio economic level where our group participants have originated
the focus is on the intensity of the skin lightening activity as shared in their
quotes. This socioeconomic group does not identify or give any great credence to
ones ability to visit a dermatologist and receive approved pharmaceuticals but
thrives on the ability to achieve the desired effect through street or black market
approved chemical agents. Here we have two groups engaged in the same activity
for the same goal but socioeconomically at different levels and as such the
labeling is somewhat different.
Bleaching and Health Risks
With the aim of this study to provide valuable and meaningful information on
skin bleaching in Jamaica from both a psychological and sociocultural perspective
it is very important to also share the views of all the participants with regard to the
health effects of bleaching and the varying misconceptions. Reiman (2004)
postulates that the darker the skin the more likely that it will become irritated
during the bleaching experience.
The unregulated trading of skin bleaching agent among non medically trained
individuals is extremely dangerous and must be arrested (Dadzie,2009). We have
already established through the sharing of our group and professional participants
that some of what our group of skin bleachers hold as fact about which chemicals

The Browning Phenomenon

to use and in what quantity is frighteningly erroneous. Of even greater concern is


information shared by the bleachers, both male and female, which demonstrates
continued use despite the awareness of adverse consequences. The group of
females all agreed that despite receiving stretch marks or what they called burst,
which they believe incidentally happens if the cream is too strong. Of note one
cannot determine if the cream is too strong until one uses it. The female group
shared :
Sometimes you get skin fungus, spots and bumps
That is when you dont wash you bleaching clothes regular, you have to wash
your bleaching clothes regular...
Bleaching is something that you cannot take on straight because when your
body cannot take it anymore it resist it, some persons dont bleach and stop they
bleach straight
Some people bleach until they are ugly
That is because browning is not for them
You can get black marks
Their face is brown but they have black marks around it like dots
Sometimes it makes your face stiff you cant smile or laugh too hard
The group of males on this issue shared :
.Heart failure
Skin Cancer
Stretch Marks
Can burst your skin
Dr Richard Desnoes, a Jamaican, is one of the leading Dermatologist in the
Caribbean and shared in-depth his views on the activity both from a medical and
psycho-social perspective. He was however very clear and passionate about the
health difficulties he has witnessed first hand with regard to skin bleaching. Dr
Desnoes established that while skin bleaching activities are not immediately life

The Browning Phenomenon

threatening they do often times cause medical complications. He went on to


share:
Definitely, there are lots of people who actually practice and get pretty good
results without any of the complications
A notion that most skin bleachers would find great solace in as it would lessen the
noise from some of their detractors. Despite the idea that lots of people use
bleaching agents on their skin with good effect and no complications the
dermatologist of 12 years was still very clear to highlight that acne, atrophy,
Ochronosis, Hyper pigmentation, skin malignances and thinning of the skin were
some of the most significant side effects. This concurs with some of the issues
also reported by the two groups of bleachers used in this study. Given all this
information from a medical perspective in subsequent subsections of this chapter
we will try to understand how the sociocultural benefits of skin bleaching override
the possible harm.
Dr Desnoes believes that perception of what is beautiful is definitely at hand
here as he has treated persons with skin so thin that you can see through to the
veins and these persons are happy as they believe that they have achieved the
desired results. In furtherance of the concretization of the dangerous medical
issues that may arise from skin bleaching Dr Desnoes provided information that
concurs with evidence shared by one female group member that if her skin burst it
couldnt be stitched but would need to have a band aid placed over it as the skin
would have lost its collagen and elasticity. And this damage can be permanent.
Dr Denoes stated :

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That is because of the fact that she lost collagen and elasticityit becomes tissue
thin. You have epidermal atrophy and dermal atrophy
The collagen doesnt come back; it will not re-form because it is all broken up
In summary the possible serious medical conditions that come as a byproduct
of skin bleaching has not proven as an effective deterrent to people engaged in the
activity. Much like smoking and other drug use the motivation lies in the value
of the high that is experienced despite all the social, psychological, physical and
occupational negatives. The heightened perception of self and value experienced
by skin bleachers may be the shining light that continues to drive this behavior.
Sociocultural Themes
The benefit of having a lighter skin tone is negotiated by educational level,
social class and ability (Charles 2011).

So why do persons bleach their skin ?

This question is the most posed at any discussion relative to the issue of skin
bleaching. The answer to which cannot be posited in any one school of thought
but appears to be multifactorial and as such all areas must be explored. As seen
through the literature reviewed skin bleaching is a worldwide phenomenon that
takes place with different races at varying levels. One would presume that a
person of light complexion would not have any reason to bleach their skin but our
reading tells us that in some cultures where the overwhelming population is fair
skinned there is a presumed or actual benefit to being even fairer skinned. From
countries in Africa where the people are predominantly dark skinned to places in
Asia where the people are light skinned we have discovered significant literature

The Browning Phenomenon

that demonstrates the desire to have light or lighter complexions through the use
of skin bleaching agents.
Overwhelmingly, from our male and female groups the notion that brown
persons get more attention was pervasive. The females reported more attention
from men who they consider to be prominent men in the society who can offer
them financial assistance. One female reported that she almost caused a man to
have an accident as he was staring with her whole driving and not looking at the
road.

When asked why she thought that the man was staring she believed that it

was because she was brown and pretty. At least two of the females participating
in the focus group are already of light complexion and shared that being even
more brown would bring even more attention for them.
We probed more into this notion of being black and not receiving attention or
if taken a little further not being sought after by the type of mate that they believe
will provide stability and security for them. One female compared he blackness
to her sisters and reported that when she sweats she looks greasy as opposed to
her sisters blackness that is cool. She stated :
There are some persons that are just ugly and when you are brown you look
pretty
Sometimes I feel like I would lick down my sister because if I am standing
and talking to someone and she comes along the person would say I like your
sister's face, it is just cool and nice. What do they leave me to do? Bleach. That is
her hype, persons are saying that I am of a lighter complexion than her but to me
they are lying. So I have to do little rubbings to see if I can draw some attention to
myself
This is one of the reasons she has decided to bleach. Careful analysis of this
statement reveals a dislike for self and more of an appreciation of others and their

The Browning Phenomenon

attributes on the part of this participant. Here the precepts of psychological


factors that drive this type of behavior are being underscored. The idea of skin
bleaching as a coping mechanism to address ones sense of self is not farfetched
given the data. Further exploration on the theme of why persons bleach their skin
continues to reveal the notion that brown is better and the more brown the better.
One male stated :
When I was black , girls never make an advance to me, and since I started to
bleach a girl came over to me and say that she likes my face and give me her
number
A female stated :
I just like it
I just like it because I was born brown
When you are brown you get more attention
This confirms and connects our local data with what obtains both regionally
and internationally. It would then appear that despite cultural, racial, language
and geographical differences the activity and experience of skin bleaching creates
some perceived benefits that are universal in nature. One salient characteristic
among the participants is the sense that they are inferior and oppressed.
Evidenced by the remark of one female as she stated :
It seem as if Jamaica people gone back to racism
From an analytic standpoint this I believe is a very powerful statement to make
regardless of being true of untrue as perception is everything. The fact that this is
the perceived notion will motivate and drive an individuals behavior to find a

The Browning Phenomenon

way to operate in this perceived oppressive space. Here is another example


shared by another female participant :
Yes because my good friend is naturally brown, and when we go on the road it
just browning browning. You know that they are not talking to you so you hold
your head straight
Sometimes you are bleaching and you stop bleach.... So it just give you the
...to continue to bleach
The abovementioned experience reinforces two concepts. Firstly, that for this
participant her everyday life experiences or perceptions of them concretizes her
belief that brown is better. Secondly, while we are primarily responsible for our
sense of self our environment does play a role in our development and as such the
motivation to bleach may not just be internally driven but have external influences
as well.
Another reason for bleaching shared by the groups was that of the need for a
little color. With the idea here being that black is a dull color and of little value
demonstrating and reinforcing the point that I postulated earlier of the lack of
appreciation and acceptance of self. Again here sociocultural factors that often
times are as a result of Jamaicas rich social history have an impact here. As
cited in the literature review many countries the world over have had their
existence birth out of colonial struggles and the ideology of white being better
than black.
Conversely, the group in particular the females established the idea that not all
men however like women who bleach their skin as exemplified by a participant.
This is not to say that they dont like brown skinned women but tend to go for

The Browning Phenomenon

what is called a natural browning rather than an artificial one.

Further along this

continuum one of the techniques used to evoke perceptions of beauty and


bleaching form the participants was to as them to create in their own mind a
beautiful or pretty girl. The description given was straight nose, long cream hair
that isnt false and of course brown. The above given description concurs
emphatically with the European or Eurocentric view of beauty from a feminine
perspective bestowed to us as revealed time and time again through the literature
review. Here is the description given by the group of a girl in their community :
I have a friend by the name of Shanna. She was born brown but she bleaches
her skin. She is not working neither is she going to school. She is 23 years old.
For fun she likes to dress up, go to party and do her nails. She goes to the party to
dance and she gets a lot of attention from both males and females, because she has
her shape
She is attracted to them also because she was born brown, but she is not
satisfied with herself. She bleaches because she has a yellowish kind of brown
and she does not like that look
You get more money from all kinds of men
You get more attention from the men
Men look at you and they like your complexion and they buy the cream to
bleach
Yes
I maybe attracted to a man that maybe able to help me out in life
I dont bleach to attract men; I do it to please myself because I can attract men
the same way
The make up shows more when you bleach; you look like a Barbie doll
She feels cool. Has no problem
She would not have a problem until she meets someone that does not like
bleaching or she goes to look a job and they said that they dont allow bleaching
in their business.
....each time her skin just burst and she put on a tattoo, because it stops a lot of
things for you
She feels hot

The Browning Phenomenon

Sometimes they put on some face so that when the camera is going around
they have to be in front of it
The dainty ones behave nice, hot and she walks sexy
She feels proud when she looks in her glass and sees how she looks
If we analyze in detail all the perceptions conveyed here we will realize that
nested in this shared reflection is the groups perception of life, safety, beauty,
self, society, community and financial well being. One can only extrapolate the
importance of bleaching to this group of young ladies given the various areas of
life that it is deemed to impact. Whether we believe that they are misguided the
fact still remains that many of the things that they hold dear to them are
intertwined with this activity of being brown or lighter skinned. This story
created by the female participants reveals a myriad of factors that affect of
influence their reality. Examine the notion of being brown offering more access
to upward mobility but as the story depicts it is still not the right brown as
artificial brownings not allowed to work in some establishments. Wrong or right
this group will continue to perceive themselves as oppressed and on the outside
looking in. The story may also demonstrate varying levels of acceptance because
while she is accepted in her community for what she is outside the boundaries of
the community and within the wider society she is not viewed the same way.
Our group of males participating in the study reported their perception of why
people bleach their skin as :
Attraction-popularity
Is anyone popular in Jamaica?
Everywhere people popular even in the school
It is a form of influence just like how a lot of young persons just get up and
start to smoke. They see their father or friend smoking and they get influence

The Browning Phenomenon

That is the same way with the cream. We are friends you see me getting more
girls because I am bleaching so you figure that you need to rub too
It is a case of trend setting; they are working with the crowd
That is a bad form of trend setting
The data shared by the males with regard to why individuals bleach shares
some similarities to the female group but there are some departures.

Several of

our male participants got into a heated discussion around the issue of self esteem
and bleaching as there was a division in the group as to whether of not low self
esteem drives persons to bleach.

Some of the group members agreed that low

self esteem was a factor while the rest did not agree with the notion.

The

disagreement with the notion stemmed from the idea that one cannot be black and
be popular or in their vernacular get the hype.
When asked why they bleached these were the responses :
Yes
It is low self esteem
Because I like it
I bleach because I like it too
No, that is low self esteem
I am doing it for the fun
One young man was very expressive in his sharing and identified himself as being
strange and paradoxical. He went on to share how senseless bleaching was
despite his participation. He stated :
Bleaching is a thing that have started even before I was born in 1992 because I
hear songs about bleaching so it is not something that just come to the world.
What I understand is that white people because they dont like black people they
make the cream so that we would follow their culture
That is just a national thing; we are the idiots
If you should check the ratio most white people want to get dark

The Browning Phenomenon

That is what I am saying; we are the fools


He further included in his analysis the belief that white person who he thinks
makes the creams get tanned to get to his complexion but yet he is fighting to get
to their complexion. Is it because of the way things are perceived by him as all
the benefits go to persons who are brown why he continues to bleach despite
being imbued with portent information and reasoning. It may be concluded that
his perceived reality as well as social milieu may at this time have more influence
over him than what is rational.
Skin Bleaching and Family Influence
Of significance most of these young men came into bleaching activities in
similar ways. So even though some may or may not like it their journey into this
activity is as such that they can identify with each other. Unfortunately for a few
of them family influence via watching grandmother, mother, aunt, sister apply
creams or lotion was haw they were introduced. Here are examples of what
obtains in one participants household and how that influenced him to use the
chemicals. The participants stated :

I had a cream in my house and I started to use it as my body lotion and it


started to work on my body. It is a toner I see it in my household it never runs out
and I use it
It did not have any attraction of any girl or anything it was just in my
household and I ended up starting to work with the product and my sister and my
mom said yes the product is working continue and from then I started
bleaching
Others stated that :
Same thing
Some persons like it and some persons dislike it

The Browning Phenomenon

Some persons are adjusting to it and some persons are having problems with
it
Some say that we are following Vybz Kartel
Some person feel like the bleaching thing is a new thing that is coming out
These statements help to contribute to the answering of the question of the
impact of sociocultural factors such as family on bleaching. If we understand the
impact of family as an agent of socialization we will further understand how
bleaching as a family activity in some cases can influence youth. Further to that
the principle of young persons having role models and family members who act
as such will further strengthen the idea of family as and influence and
reinforcement for bleaching among some youth. Most of the group members
highlighted here report being harassed by family members about bleaching
activity. This demonstrates a critical feature in accepting and fostering a
particular behavior that of no negative consequences from the family. This
activity may be further cemented as being good by associating with peers that are
also like minded and influenced as well as living in an environment that condones
bleaching and accepts it as one of the norms of the subculture and as such creates
a space for it. Of importance one male participant reported that he gets away with
bleaching because his father who is a Rastafarian does not live with him but when
ever he sees him on the street he chastises him about the color of his face. This is
an important point as all the participants in this group live in a household headed
by mother or grandmother as father is absent. Again here the idea is that these
households maternally controlled tend to be more tolerant of this type of activity
as opposed to paternally led families. I want to clearly establish here that this

The Browning Phenomenon

does not mean that all the female led households condoned bleaching by our
participants but that the penalties were less severe. Families that are headed by
both male and females tend to demonstrate stronger leadership qualities and
influence of their children.
Triangulation of the findings on family influence on skin bleaching yields
similarities and agreement with the notion that those family members who are
already involved in this activity and are generally located in the same household
as other potential but non bleachers do increase the likelihood that others will
initiate the process.

Dr Donna Hope confirms what our focus group participants

shared :
Yes so you have the sibling interaction or the generation interaction. As you were
saying they will tell you that opportunity exposure, children who are raised in
families where somebody smokes, they will probably smoke. It doesnt always
work out but there is a high
Yes, the correlation is there and so this has become a part of the activity. And
because so much of that, bleaching, resides in the lower socio-economic levels
you are going to find more of it coming out in those levels because it is tied to so
many other things, status, rewards, opportunities that people will follow in that
gender interaction, man and woman relationship. People believe it has value and it
is passed down to them or handed to them by people with whom they have close
contact
There was not much literature to be found on skin bleaching and family
influence at an international, regional and local level. This is both a positive and
negative for our the findings on this topic area as while we have nothing sufficient
to truly cross reference the data with we must recognize that we are breaking new
ground and hopefully creating a benchmark in this area. But as with any
burgeoning area of research we can use other areas of work that have some

The Browning Phenomenon

similarity as with Dr Hopes analogy of smoking in the household and its


researched and documented correlation with influencing other family members.
Other fields such as gambling and drug use have also yielded similar data on
family influence.

Skin Bleaching and Culture


Within the Caribbean culture there is still the belief that black is evil and many
still pray to a white God and a black devil (Theodore,2013).

Many academics

view the skin bleaching group as part of the subculture of Jamaica. This notion
was solidified by Dr Hope when she stated :
I dont know if you can say danger to culture because skin bleaching is a part of
our culture. It has become more so especially with the different expos and
research. So skin bleachers are a part of our culture and I would say it is a sub
culture formation that is a part of the broader culture. I think when you refer to
danger to culture you are talking about us being black and afro-centric. I think
some of that discussion has to clash and collide with some of the things that are
considered appropriate by different people now. Skin bleachers consider it
appropriate for them to bleach within this culture; it is a part of their way of life.
So I am not sure of it being dangerous in that sense because it is a part of the
culture.
The determination of skin bleachers to do what they think is beneficial to them
I believe has given birth to this subculture. With all the resistance shown from
various levels of the society inclusive of campaigns to reduce incidence and
prevalence rates among skin bleachers as highlighted in the literature review the
phenomenon remains obvious to us in everyday life. The reference of danger to
our culture refers to the fact that Jamaica as stated in the literature review is a
predominantly black and afro-centric society. The concept of brown being better

The Browning Phenomenon

has the capacity to challenge our appreciation of our blackness and the promotion
of our African heritage. Dr Hope invites into the conversation the culture of
dancehall which has been a voice for both protagonist and antagonist of the skin
bleaching phenomenon. As she reflected the dancehall space is a very
controversial space and this is so because of the freedom that is allowed to voice
opinions and views on various social issues. The controversial concept of skin
bleaching has also been expressed as such.

Some dancehall artistes glorify the

activity while others have created disparaging names and remarks about those
who engage in the behavior. So as a subculture itself the skin bleaching
community has been able to attract the attention of other subcultures mainly
through its highly controversial and contentious nature. Many Jamaican
socialites do wish that the skin bleaching subculture would remain exactly where
it is and not venture too far into the other traditional cultures and subcultures that
exist in our society.
Other cultures too have facilitated the growth of the skin bleaching
community a prime example is the business or wholesales in Jamaica. Not only
are wholesales now located island wide but they now carry the resources needed
by skin bleachers in the precise quantities that they want.

Increased and ease of

availability has the end result of greater experimentation and maintenance of


practice. This is evidenced by Dr Hope when she stated :
Over the last 10 years or more we have had a significant explosion of wholesale
in Jamaica, it use to only be in Kingston. I use to live in Linstead and had to come
to townIn Linstead now you have different wholesales owned by Asians. Asians
from different Asian countries have come to Jamaica. In the wholesale you can

The Browning Phenomenon

buy the Omni gel and all of the things and they have a lot of that in Asia, we are
now able to buy and get them here. It is all over the place. And every rural town is
now jam-packed with wholesale and they sell everything not just food. You can
get anything you want in wholesale even clothes. They can put them in smaller
portionsif you cant buy the whole jar one time and that is added to the
toothpaste and curry. We move up now from homemade concoctions to the ones
that are coming in tubes and jars from abroad.

These findings also demonstrate how sophisticated the delivery of these


chemicals have gotten as well as improvement in the skin bleaching agents
moving from homemade cocktails to products obtained in Asia given the
information presented above. So from this we can deduce that some of the
limitations that would have deterred many from bleaching their skin or even made
it impractical have been lifted by business proprietors some of whom bring in
products that have been banned in Jamaica such as hydroquinone. Dr Desnoes
confirms :
As a result of this Hydroquinone is actually banned in many countries but there
is a thriving black market for Hydroquinone sales in countries where you have
people with pigmented skin.
This wholesale market of pharmaceutical products is vastly under regulated in
Jamaica and as such the black market culture thrives. This is further evidence of
yet again another culture that is heavily influenced by the skin bleaching culture
as a result of the demand and supply chain. The literature review shows similar
black market activities for skin bleaching resources in countries where the
population has pigmented skin including Asia.
Bleaching and Perceptions in Jamaica

The Browning Phenomenon

The issue of skin bleaching in Jamaica has gained considerable traction among
relevant groups. The findings on perception of Jamaicans and skin bleaching by
our focus group participants and professionals in the field will now be presented
and discussed. Dr Donna Hope presents skin bleaching as an activity that takes
place mainly within the lower socioeconomic group although she acknowledges it
as taking place right across the country but is more prevalent she feels in the
cohort mentioned above. Again, given the financial standing of this cohort as
well the belief that being brown will improve their socioeconomic fortunes there
should be some truth and validity to this statement.

The belief that this activity

connects more with the lower socioeconomic strata was also supported by our
second professional Dr Desnoes, even though he was also clear in stating that it
was not exclusive to this group only. He stated
I dont like talking about it. It is not confined to the lower socio-economic
bracket. I would say it is more of low socio-economic background but not
exclusive
When the findings shared by both professionals from differing fields is
assessed with the demographics of the participants of both groups the
characteristic of lower socioeconomic background is pervasive. So from a
qualitative perspective we are able to infer that there is a correlation between skin
bleaching in Jamaica and individuals from the lower socio-economic level of
society. This is very important information as it should allow us to develop more
effective and targeted prevention initiatives.

The Browning Phenomenon

The social implications of skin bleaching was asked of Dr. Hope and her notions
dovetail with the ideas shared by our group participants. She states :
Anything that challenges Jamaicas status quo usually gets a lot of attention and
quarrel because people are not behaving themselves in the way that befits their
status. We understand in Jamaica people do have an understanding that while we
have darker skin people who have risen to the top of our social and economic
ladders by various means, economics, education politics and so forth, the greater
percentage of persons in Jamaica who are very poor are usually very darkskinned.
Again here Dr. Hope reinforces the perception shared by group participants
that in order to achieve much one has to be of a lighter shade even though there
have been a few who have achieved such the percentages are too low to trust that
it will happen for them. She as well qualifies why the issue of skin bleaching has
been so topical because it challenges what society believes should be the norm
and fortunes of particular people. I do believe from the group interaction that
participants are also well aware of the view reiterated by Dr Hope that their
behavior is viewed as deviant and as such brings attention and focus. Again
attention and focus can have the effect of making one feel more important or
generally good about ones self.

She goes on :

And people feel that there is a challenge many times when people reject that
aspect of their personhood to say well I dont wish to be black today and you
cant tell me that I cant be brown today and it creates a lot of challenges because
people are not behaving themselves. So they must snap them back in their
position and there is a lot of row and cry about people bleaching and what they
are doing with the little money that they are supposed to be spending on other
things. So there is a lot of quarrel about people not walking in the socially
approved pathways that have been preset for them by our society. That is a big
quarrel as well people will complain that it disrupts your sense of stability when

The Browning Phenomenon

you see people doing all these strange things in a society which we claim because
it is not true that we are conservative, we are Christian and we behave ourselves.
Here she shares the view that explores an individuals freedom to choose to do
what they want to do within the ambit of the law. It is the attempt to clamp this
freedom that may continue as one of the driving forces behind the bleaching
phenomenon. Despite the belief that skin bleaching is an activity for persons
with expendable income (Thwaites, 2013) it is engaged in by many from low
socioeconomic backgrounds . People from the lower socioeconomic strata have
always felt that their cries and shouts have fallen on deaf ears or basically
ignored. It is ironic that they have a greater chance of being heard for what is
deemed abnormal behavior as opposed to the regular cry for upliftment,
opportunity and progress.
Both group members shared their views on Jamaicans perception of bleaching.
Here are some views ;
Most persons in Jamaica dislike bleaching and I am sure about that
No, I don't think so; it depends on where you are
Most of these young men don't explore Jamaica like I do...
It is the same thing like in your household. You have some persons that love it
and you have some person that talks against it, but overall that is the way it is in
Jamaica, everyone will not be on your side
No, most persons don't like bleaching
It is oversees that they really don't like it. If you leave Kingston and go to
Montego Bay or in another parish you will find someone doing it, I think 40% of
the population is bleaching
My aunt works at Sagicor. she works in the AC. she saw me bleaching and
ask me what I was using to bleach and I told her and she goes out and get her
stuff. She is a Christian and when I look at her she said that she has to stop. She
did not expect that her face would be white, she is a civil servant and she is doing

The Browning Phenomenon

it. Now you find that everybody is doing it. I see persons who 40+ rubbing on
cream
Both groups of bleachers presented mixed views on Jamaicans perception of
skin bleaching. Both groups felt that some Jamaicans are ok with it while others
are not. The notion of some individuals being hypocritical was also shared with
the belief that some Jamaicans will use it behind closed doors or if they get a
bump or two but yet chastised them for their constant use. Several participants
highlighted the fact that they believed some persons are interested in bleaching
but cant afford to maintain the habit so they do not engage in it. Most here used
their own struggles to purchase the resources needed as testimony to how costly it
is. What is very clear both from their physical appearance and verbal expressions
members of both groups are not deterred by societys judgment of them but
believe that the benefits derived outweigh the negative feedback experienced.
One truly instructive view shared by a male participant was that of the
acceptance of bleaching behavior is dependent on where you are located. From
the qualitative data shared communities located in the lower socioecomic group
tend to be tolerant and in some cases encourage and reinforce bleaching by their
members. Female group members shared :
Everybody is doing the same thing
They want to know what you are using
No not everybody most persons
Some persons dont like it, out of 10, 9 of the 10 persons in the community
are bleaching
90% of those in the community are bleaching
A lot of big women are bleaching and is rubbing their face
I would not give it 50% because some of the little girls in the schools are
bleaching
75%...

The Browning Phenomenon

Out of 100 I would say 90%...


Yes, you hardly see face and their body is not bleaching
However, the lives of their group members require them to engage often
times outside of that safe or non judgmental space and this is when the non
accepting judgmental behavior is experienced.

It is also useful to note as well

that we are mainly sharing perceptions here and some of these perceptions on
both sides are guided by experiences and beliefs about self. A participants self
consciousness about his or her skin bleaching may influence perceptions of non
acceptance from others.

In analysis members from both focus groups are very

aware of the mixed levels of acceptance that they receive but appear to be
prepared to choose to do what they want to do even at the expense of some
societal benefits.
All but participants were able to share to some extent a perceived benefit of
skin bleaching. As previously explored and stated in other sections these
perceived benefits range from personal beliefs about self to societal acceptance
and elevation. The participant perceptions were corroborated by Dr Hope who
delved deeper in her analysis of the bleachers perceptions. These benefits
according to Dr Hope are both tangible and intangible. She goes on :
Yes that is why people do it. If people didnt think they were benefitting from it
they would not spend, I would say invest so much time, energy and resources,
money as well into this activity. People believe quite fervently that there are
rewards. Some of the rewards may not be tangible, they may be intangible
rewards but people do believe. When I talk to people who are bleaching they
believe that it is going to do something for them. It is a positive move. So the rest
of the society can say what they want but people will see me more. I will be in the
video light. I will be more visible. I will be prettier as defined, when I go out at
nights I look better. There is all of that and so there is a range of rewards. You will

The Browning Phenomenon

also be a part of a group of people, a community, a special set of people, it is


almost as if you are all wearing locks and you are a part of the group of people
who wear locks. These things are all seen as rewards.
The notion that there must be some perceived benefits is strengthened by the
belief that all behavior is not only goal oriented but driven by motivation if it is to
be sustained as well as overcome obstacles in the attainment of the goal. This
study remains consistent with using the term perceived benefits as any value
extracted from the activity of skin bleaching by participants may be deemed
subjective.

Dr. Hope makes reference to one intangible that I dont believe was

shared by the group members that of the sense of belonging to a special set of
people or specific community. This brings a sense of belonging, identification
and to some extent safety for skin bleachers. This is highlighted by the fact that
youth who bleach their skin usually hang out with others who are involved with
the activity as well as shared and confirmed by the focus groups especially
noticeable in the process of choosing focus group members.
Skin Bleaching and Age
All participants in the study inclusive of the two professionals confirmed that
a younger age range for persons engaged in bleaching.

Dr Densnoes stated :

People in their 20s and 30s are amore prevalent, teenagers are not exemptbut
its more young adults.
Dr Donna Hope shared :
They are now available so people dont have to make them at home anymore.
You find that more people are drawn into it, so you find that younger people in
this era are showing the effects of what we call skin bleaching. A lot of them are
fascinated by the fact that they can change their skin colour and join a different

The Browning Phenomenon

group of people. So now if you do a study in terms of age you will find a lot more
people who are younger below 35, below 25 who are bleaching than their older
counterparts

She gives her reasoning for attributing skin bleaching to a younger


demographic as being because of increased availability drawing more persons to
the activity. Interestingly Dr. Hope is calling for a qualitative study to validate her
perception of the demographic 25-35 years old. Again this study supports that
call as again it would yield critical data regarding how we treat skin bleaching
issues.
The data shared by the groups is congruent with the experts in the field but
reveals too that the activity of bleaching may begin for a majority of people at an
even earlier age. Given the age cohort of this study and the dates of
commencement of bleaching behavior this age of initiation can be derived. To
the question of when did you start bleaching your skin they stated :
Last week Monday was when I first started to bleach
I started to bleach from I was 13 years old
Eczema medication has bleaching cream in it
I started two weeks ago
I started about 3 years now
I started to bleach about 7 years. I use to bleach and stop then I start again
I started to bleach from I was 13 years old and now I am 24 years. Anytime I
realise that my skin is getting too white I stop bleaching so that my tissues can get
back together, I dont want to destroy my skin
I started 1 year ago
I started to bleach 7 years ago
I started to bleach 6 years ago
The group presents data that reflects an even greater challenge as it is clear
that skin bleaching activities have begun to take place at an even younger age,

The Browning Phenomenon

that of teenage or adolescent years. In reflection the literature review had


difficulty identifying studies presenting data on skin bleaching and age range not
only internationally but at the regional and local levels. With the revelation by Dr
Desnoes that there are many who use these dangerous products to good effect and
with little harm it is understandable why many skin bleachers may not develop
any issues and present only to dermatologist late on into their bleaching life.
Also factor in the tendency reported by the group to bleach their skin periodically
or as they shared it to bleach and stop and begin again months at a time.

If it is

as reflected here that skin lightening activities begin in adolescence for many we
may infer and strengthen our case for family support of this activity as most
adolescents do not have the means to support this habit consistently. There may
also be sharing of bleaching materials as a peer group or community as well.
At least four of the group members shared that they began bleaching at the age
of 13 years old which with simple mathematical calculations gives them an eleven
year span of bleaching their skin, over time this must be damaging and as they get
older this damage may begin to reveal itself. While our medical expert promoted
the idea that not all persons who bleach their skin develop issues he did share the
possible or various forms of skin cancer that may arise. The idea that I am
postulating here is that given the early onset of skin bleaching by some of our
participants as revealed by the data it would follow that there is an increased
likelihood of the development of skin cancer and other complications as a result
of a greater duration of activity. Therefore this earlier onset of skin bleaching

The Browning Phenomenon

among this cohort exposes them to more of the possibilities of the negative
medical consequences of skin bleaching.
Skin Bleaching and Gender
As stated in my literature review the standard of beauty universally is
measured against and directed to women. The review while acknowledging that
the vast majority of skin lightening activities that take place worldwide are
initiated by females reflected that though a minority, there are some men involved
with the activity. This study however through its methodology has been able to
unearth crucial information as well about skin bleaching among males and in
particular young males. Dr. Donna Hope again through her contribution agrees
that while women have always been the hallmark of beauty things have certainly
changed in the 21st century. She reflected :
Women were the ones accused of bleaching and lightening their skin, then we
find in the early 2000s men are now also doing the same thing and this is a part
of all the other things men are doing. Men are fixing up their hair, fashioning
their hair, fixing their nails, taking care of themselves, someone is rubbing their
feet with a little saw looking thing. So men are now borrowing from female
fashion aesthetics to look good. And this is not just men who are downtown, these
are men from all the different socio-economic levels and it is now approved
socially Now there is more of a sliding balance where both men and women are
bleaching, they are fixing their hair; shaving eyebrows, they are doing everything
and people accept it.
Dr. Hope shares the belief that some men have adopted some of the standards
for which feminine beauty is measured and in some instances society has accepted
this. Certainly in the Jamaican space many of these trends have been accepted
and skin bleaching for men is one such activity. In many years gone by these

The Browning Phenomenon

men would have been thought to have been gay or homosexual. This is not so
any more as within the skin bleaching community there are men known to be
heterosexual that are into that sort of lightening activity that have forced the
already established norms to change and have initiated a new way of
understanding and interpreting the culture. Of course this new socially accepted
behavior did not establish itself overnight but over years of practical observation
and investigation our discomfort levels have shifted to that of comfort and safety.
Dr Desnoes also provides conformation the notion of bleaching being primarily a
female oriented activity but there is an increase in males engaging as well. He
stated :
Regarding gender, I think there is still a dominance of females but males are
definitely on the increase especially since I have started becoming aware of the
bleaching phenomenon. It is definitely on the increase in males, especially young
males
I believe that it is safe to infer that as the gender barriers or boundaries with
regard to beauty have been broken down and as men are allowed to make
themselves more beautiful we will find more young males engaging in this newly
created safe space. The abovementioned concept supports the observation of Dr
Desnoes with regard to the increase in bleaching activity by young males.
The male and female groups shared contrasting views and perceptions of
themselves and each other with regard to skin bleaching among the genders.
From the perspective of the females most participants were tolerant of men
bleaching only their faces but not their entire body. They shared :
I don't like the idea of men bleaching their entire body, I prefer if they bleach
their face

The Browning Phenomenon

If as a male you are too black you should not bleach your face
Every minute you see them at a pipe with cake soap
I would like to infer here from the responses given that these females still
believe that skin bleaching is a female activity hence the limitation of only the
face for males. No female in the group supported full body bleaching for males.
In their view this may be a way of maintaining their masculinity which apparently
is important to them. There also appears to be some prejudice towards very dark
skinned males as it is shared here that they should not bleach their faces. This is
primarily so because the contrast between their face and the rest of their body is
going to be so patently obvious that it wont be graded as a good look.
Therefore, as according to the females of the group there are established
norms as to whom among the males are allowed to bleach dependent on skin
color.

It must be pointed out that the very same perceived prejudice towards

dark skin that has been the impetus behind many of the women engaging in skin
bleaching also exist within the group itself and the culture itself.
The reference made by the female group to the males being at the pipe
constantly with cake soap clearly again demonstrates their displeasure with men
bleaching their skin. I believe that this reference delineates the hard work that it
takes to get your skin color to change and some of this required repetitious
activity is not viewed as being masculine. Add to this the possibility of both
having to compete for space in the bathroom or the wash pipe to commence or
initiate the activity.

The Browning Phenomenon

The male group shared the converse of what the females revealed. While both
groups agreed that more females engage in skin bleaching than males it was not
without some rational and reasoning by the males.
They shared :
Females first started the bleaching
Women always want more
They love attraction more than males
People accept female bleaching more than male bleaching because they think
that men are not to bleach
Back in the days when females use to bleach they used to be ugly. They used
to bleach because they want the men to be more attracted to them and cheat with
them
I think bleaching cream was made for women and I have never seen an
advertisement for a man bleaching
Women feel that men accept brown women more than black women so they
bleach
Most of the girls that are bleaching out there, they like it when men see them
and call to them saying browning
I love the ladies that bleach
One male in the focus group stated clearly that females started the skin
bleaching activity in Jamaica hence it is naturally a female dominated act. One
principle that is clear among this group is the idea that they perceive that the
society on a whole despite being more tolerant of males bleaching their skin
recognizes the skin bleaching phenomenon as a female activity. Some of the men
equate the activity with females because they believe that females want and
appreciate attention far more than men. The fact that advertisements as
referenced in the literature review speak solely to and target females encouraging
them to purchase these so called beauty products was also validated here by our

The Browning Phenomenon

male group of participants. Despite engaging in skin bleaching one young male
reported never seeing an advert encouraging men to bleach their skin. I believe
that the facts and perceptions shared above help to validate the beliefs shared by
our group of females about their discomfort with males bleaching despite giving
them permission to bleach face only. The males shared congruence in the belief
that women perceive being brown as being in a better position to attract the right
male who can provide stability and security for her. The females validated this
position of the men as they acknowledged the belief that brown is better.
However the males that skin bleach shared a mixed view about their liking for
and attraction to women that bleach. The males stated :
From I was young I just love brown ladies with big bottom so I love the girls
that bleach
I love dark ladies because they try to be themselves
I love the brown ladies but I dont love them over the black women, the black
women have tighter skin and you get better loving
I would date a brown woman but my heart is with the black woman because I
get better loving
These responses though mixed appear rife with contradiction on the part of the
males. One could draw the conclusion that despite the fact that they themselves
bleach the majority of the male participants tend to prefer women who do not
bleach and appear on the darker side of the complexion pendulum.

It is both

interesting and contrasting to note that they are not attracted to naturally brown
skinned females but tend to like the darker ladies.

One may want to assume or

investigate whether the liking for dark skinned ladies has anything to do with the
penchant of some dark skinned women for fair skinned men as perceived within

The Browning Phenomenon

the Jamaican culture. Again here this inference is not just speaking to a physical
attraction but to a perceived upward movement in her status if she is seen attached
to a brown man.

More contradiction can be derived from the revelation of one

male group member in stating that the darker skinned ladies usually try to be
themselves. If that perceived assertion is followed to its logical conclusion one
would have to assume that persons who bleach are artificial and are not being
themselves which would be inclusive of both him and his group.

It would be

apparent here that for the males there is one standard set for themselves and
another set for the females who skin bleach.

I believe that the same double

standard obtains with the females but is hinged on a different premise that of
wanting males to maintain their masculinity. Coming out of the findings we
should highlight a standard that must be noted which is the fact that generally
females who bleach prefer men who do not bleach or only bleach their faces while
from the male perspective some prefer women who bleach and others prefer
naturally dark skinned women.
Skin Bleaching and Life Perspectives
The data revealed some correlations as well as diversion in thought and
perspectives about life by all group members and solidified by Dr Donna Hope in
her contribution through her interview. When asked to introduce themselves and
state what they like to do for fun these were the responses as well as other
questions as highlighted in the chart that follows. The first chart represents the
responses from the females and the one that follows is representative of the males.
Life Perspectives from the Female focus group

The Browning Phenomenon

What is your
first name and
what is it that
you like to do
for fun"

What do you
hope to achieve
in the future?

some of the
things that you
need in order
to achieve
these goals

and for fun I like


to sleep

I would like to
send my children
to school so that
they can get an
education and
buy me a big
house.

Go back to
school

Are there
anything that
you are doing
now in order to
achieve these
goals that you
are telling me
about?
I am doing
hair

and for fun I


like to trouble
people and
beg

I want to uplift
myself ....and
help my son to
further his
education

Get a job

I do eyelash

and for fun I


love to cook and
smoke

don't want to
stay in the ghetto
want to have my
own hairdresser
shop I want my
son to live
happy

Seek some
help from friends
to get subject
and so on.

I am furthering
my education by
going to class. I
am going to
Mathematics and
English class

and for fun I


like to read and
smoke

My dream is to
get a good
education and
live right

Right now I
need a
certificate; I need
to go back to
school

I am a

and for fun I


like to dance and
gamble.,.

To get out of
the ghetto, nice
home and start
my own business,
self employed

and for fun I


like to sing and
read and for fun I
like to watch
T.V
and I sleep for
a living.....and I
wash some
clothes
sometimes

handcart seller, I
am selling

The Browning Phenomenon

Life Perspectives from the Male focus Group


Introduce
yourself, just
give me you
first names and
tell me what
you like to do
for fun.

What do you
hope to achieve
in the future?
Tell me your
hopes and
dreams for the
future.

What do you
need to do?

So what are you


doing now in
order to
achieve the
goals you have
set for
yourself?

surf the net

Soldier or
professional
footballer

Finish up
college

In football now
I am playing for
Cavaliers Premier
League,

draw

Lawyer

Get
qualifications

Financial
needs you can
recycle Money
hustle... sell
clothes any little
thing. Small
entrepreneur

text

Engineer in a
the room

Getting
subjects you
need

Nowadays you
see people sell
plastic bottles,
scrap metal

, swimming

Financially
settled

Get an
education

Trying to finish
school

play football

Entrepreneur
or professional
footballer

Work hard

play football,
study, texting,
when my peer
girlfriend is a
around me,
bleach Ill stop
there
read, look girl,
rubbing, going
out a lot

Own my own
business

Have a strong
mind set towards
the goal you have
set or want to
achieve, mentally
and physically

Doctor or if
not a professional

The Browning Phenomenon

footballer

As a complete group this data on life perspectives re-establishes or confirms


the notion that there is a correlation between low socioeconomic level and skin
bleaching. The responses the question about present action now that would assist
with the achievement of goals set reveals to some extent employment as well as
employability levels. It is fair to state that the vast majority of persons involved
with the focus group aspect of the study were either unemployed or under
employed.
The goals of both groups demonstrate that these individuals despite engaging
in skin bleaching desire to achieve the same goals as the average young person
within the society. This despite the fact that some of the careers listed may be
beyond the present reach of some of the participants. These findings when
analyzed against Dr Hopes social diagnosis of the problem or what are the root
causes of the decision to bleach ones skin creates a logical frame work. Dr Hope
states :
My solution is socio-cultural because I believe that things are a kind of
epiphenomenal of a larger problem. There is a root cause and what we are seeing
are just the leaves and the fruit. The causes of a lot of these things especially with
persons at lower socio-economical levels are lack of real opportunities, lack of
real guidance as to what you can and cannot do and who you can and cannot be.
So people give up themselves and their essence to what I like to call fantasies.

And our findings confirm this desire for opportunity as the female focus group
members shared in response to being asked what do they want. They stated :

The Browning Phenomenon

Anything
More community centers, more programmes for the children to become
involved in
Evening reading class
Computer classes
There is too much violence in the community and the children are practicing
what they see
The male focus group reported their concerns as well which fit into the same
socio-cultural context that we are exploring. They reported that the issues that
concern them presently were :
Crime
Crime and violence
Fewer jobs
The fewer employers you have the more corruption will be in the environment
less persons will have jobs so they stray to the negative things
Babies having babies, the overpopulation in the country
Poverty
Overpopulation
Certain persons are selling on the road and they cant get a job and when they
are on the road
...job they are seeking
They are seeking but when they are on the road you will always have the
Police and they cant get to sell a dollar to buy a pound of rice for their
children

These findings correlate positively with the observations of Dr Hope with


regard to the need for opportunity as the participants from both the male and
female group espouse above.
By providing a socio-cultural solution Dr Hope confirms that the issues that affect
young skin bleachers hover around a socio-cultural dilemma. However, she is
positing through her contribution here that some of these socio-cultural issues are

The Browning Phenomenon

not at eye level and may require digging to unearth and understand the deeper
causes.
One central theme that came out of this life perspective discussion was the
concern that most participants had for the level of crime and violence around
them. This fits with the theory being proposed by Dr Hope that in the absence of
opportunity to progress individuals will create ways and means of surviving or
progressing albeit with deleterious consequences. One male group member stated
vociferously:
I am proud that I am not gone already; I am still here and strong
The analysis of these statements or findings clearly establish a sense of
celebration and pride that he is hearty and alive and at the same time shares with
us the reality that he has friends or even family members who did not make it and
have died violently and gone.

This sadly is a reality of individuals who reside in

the lower socio-economic echelons of society. And as our participants being


skin bleachers and connected to this particular socio-economic status it is
important for us to understand the context within which they reside and operate.

The Browning Phenomenon

Chapter V
Conclusion, Implications and Recommendations
Conclusions
This study on skin bleaching among Jamaican young adults has provided a
strong platform from which to infer some meaningful conclusions. These
conclusions will be shard and discussed below and will add to the already existent
but limited conversations that engulf the Jamaican landscape presently with
regard to the issue skin bleaching. The study through the answers given to the
research questions was able to make a positive connection between skin bleaching
and socio cultural factors as it relates to the initiation and sustaining of these
activities.
As stated in the section on findings and discussions this study and the issue of
skin bleaching in Jamaica remains one of controversy and contention (James
2013). There is a perceived division at the socioeconomic level, among the
social classes as well among the various subcultures that exist and contribute to
the make up of the flavorful Jamaican landscape.
The findings of the study has established that even at the level of definitions
and labeling there is controversy evidenced by the use randomly of the terms
bleaching and toning. Given the negative perceptions attached to the activity of

The Browning Phenomenon

skin bleaching it is believed that the term toning is being used interchangeably as
it is felt that it conveys a less harsh notion of this activity involving the use of
dangerous chemicals to lighten ones skin. And in so doing perceived judgment
on their actions is deemed lighter. Even among the participants in the study there
was evidence of the term toning being used to imply less intense use of chemicals.
The study from a qualitative standpoint also established that the terms toning and
bleaching also had some socioeconomic status connections and that person within
the higher socioeconomic levels who were involved in skin lightening activities
regarded their behavior as toning and not bleaching.
The bleaching versus toning differential is further compounded by division in
the beliefs shared by participants that on the one hand the resources used to tone
are less harsh than the ones used to bleach and on the other one can tone using the
same harsh products that one would use to bleach but in a less aggressive manner.
What is clear is that the conversation around the definition of toning versus
bleaching is a very important one and needs to be taken to its ultimate level so as
to remove any distraction, cover or smokescreen that it may provide skin
bleaching participants hence lessening the perception of the emotional and
physical severity of this behavior.
The findings from the study also help us to conclude that skin bleaching
activities though not immediately life threatening has the capacity to cause
debilitating medical problems some of which may eventually become life
threatening.

On this theme of health risks it is also important to note that despite

The Browning Phenomenon

knowledge of the various conditions including disfigurement of the skin on body


parts skin bleachers are willing to take the risk and engage in the process.
Finally, skin bleachers in this study demonstrated a perceived level of
competency and understanding of the chemicals that they use in spite of having
no such training in the dispensing of pharmaceuticals.
The existence of a positive correlation between the initiation and maintenance
of skin bleaching activities and family involvement was conclusive. Most of the
participants male and female were able to share instances of family support and
encouragement for skin bleaching practices. Not withstanding this, the study
acknowledged that at least one participant shared being chastised about bleaching
his skin by immediate family members.
The need for attention, perceived upward mobility and opportunity were
highlighted as reasons for initiation as well into the experience of skin bleaching.
However while being able to clearly identify the abovementioned themes the
findings demonstrated too that the issue of skin bleaching is multifactorial in
nature and represents what is believed to be an epiphenomenon. Participants
shared various points of entry into the behavior including early use of chemicals
to remove bumps etc.

Information and data derived from all participants when

triangulated presented the themes of the lack of opportunity, lower socioeconomic


level, the need to cope as well as cultural and community acceptance and
tolerance as being factors that promote and sustain the skin bleaching
phenomenon in Jamaica.

The Browning Phenomenon

From a psychological perspective it was evident that skin bleachers want and
yearn for personal and social upliftment much in the same way that the average
Jamaican does. However what is significant is the lack of resources and
guidance within their social milieu for the achievement of goals set.
With regard to skin bleaching and age the findings have determined that this
activity is being perpetuated by more of the youth within our society. Data
shared by participants though of a qualitative nature reflect skin bleaching taking
place in early adolescence and at the start of teenage years. This is not to say
that older adults are not initiating and engaging in the practice but that the
younger generation of Jamaicans appear to be more involved.
The overwhelming perception among participants with regard to gender is that
more females are involved with skin bleaching than are males. Perceptions
among female skin bleachers with regard to males bleaching their skin are
generally negative. The underlying theme here for the female skin bleachers is
the perceived removal of the male skin bleachers level of masculinity as a result
of the bleaching. Conversely, the male skin bleachers were somewhat divided as
to their attraction to females who bleach as there were those who loved the
browning and others who preferred natural dark skinned women. The
categorical imperative or Universal law of willing for you what I will for myself
does not fit for the participants in this study.
The study also allows us to conclude that despite women being the benchmark
for beauty and skin bleaching being primarily initiated by women within the
Jamaican culture, there is a growing acceptance for and tolerance of males

The Browning Phenomenon

engaging in skin lightening activities. The evolution of this paradigm shift has
had the effect of inviting younger males into the skin bleaching arena as
evidenced by the participants.
Finally, evidence from the data shared and analyzed leads to the conclusion
that skin bleaching given its controversial and provoking nature has the ability to
cross barriers as well as cultures and social class.

It is this ability to infiltrate

other areas of Jamaican life that maybe of the most critical concern to those in
complete opposition of this behavior. Reflecting ostensibly, what may be
perceived as a threat to what is normal, secure and stable.
Implications
Given that the issues that involve skin bleaching are deemed to be
multifactorial the implications are also multifaceted.

This is highlighted by the

studies findings on skin bleaching and sociocultural factors as well as age and
gender issues.
One critical area that the findings of this study should impact is that of the
development and implementation of policy. Foremost, the issue of skin
bleaching represents a public health concern. The findings demonstrate a false
level of confidence by young adult skin bleachers with regard to acquiring and
dispensing very toxic chemicals. Most of this knowledge is street based and
loaded with experimentation both on self and others. A major implication that is
conclusive from these findings is the fact that participants primarily those from
the lower socioeconomic level are at high risk as a result of the freedom with
which they purchase readily available skin bleaching chemicals. Add to this mix

The Browning Phenomenon

the data shared about the volume of wholesales that carry these chemical that
have expanded island wide and issue of availability and opportunity to bleach
become worrisome at a national level.

With regard to our health facilities and

specialists in the field a continued increase in the numbers of persons using skin
bleaching products in an unsupervised manner coupled with early initiation and in
particular in early adolescence, will most naturally increase the likelihood of more
persons attending our already fractured health care system for treatment.
The increase in young males engaging in skin bleaching activities has serious
implications for communities and ultimately society. Given that the study
demonstrated a correlation between skin bleaching and the perceived ability to
secure employment given perceived discrimination the implications here are for
the families of these young men and their ability to progress financially. Further
to that there has been clearly established a required amount of time and resources
to be used in the skin bleaching process much of which these young men should
be using to progress from a technical and educational perspective.
There are implications as well for families who perpetuate and ritualize the
skin bleaching activity in what appears to be or may be perceived in as a
generational pattern. Patterns and cycles can be disrupted but are usually more
difficult to short circuit when the bond of family is involved. This study views
the family as one of the perpetuating factors of skin bleaching in Jamaica. Note
well here that the threat is not so much to the breakdown of families but the
ability of the strength of family ties to solidify the skin bleaching cycle and hence

The Browning Phenomenon

the manifestation of some of the negative consequences that are a byproduct of


the experience.
The studies findings that the skin bleaching activity is generally engaged in by
younger adults and even adolescents has implications as well specific to that
demographic. Adolescence is a time of development not only physically but
psychologically, emotionally and socially. It is of critical importance that young
persons have an opportunity to deal with the challenges of development with the
least amount of obstacles in the path. Unfortunately some of these obstacles are
self initiated and so require external support.
As far the implications for gender related issues are concerned the standard
bearers of beauty being women will not be changed for now if ever. However
there are implications for the adoption definitions of beauty and the feature
characteristics that are attached to this definition of beauty not just from a local
context but truly from a global perspective. Therefore there is still a lot of work
to be done with regard to the correlation or connection between beauty and skin
color.
From a cultural perspective the phenomenon of skin bleaching continues to
test and challenge pre existing norms of communities and society exemplified by
the creation of subcultures and the provocation of cultural flexibility to aid
acceptance and tolerance. Giddings (2010) speaks about analyzing skin
bleaching not as imitating whiteness but as a cosmopolitan move that facilitates
transnational mobility. The desire and openness to understand and gain
knowledge about how others, who are often perceived to be lesser, view the world

The Browning Phenomenon

without feeling insecure will determine the implications here. The determination
and motivation of skin bleachers has already seen them carving out a space within
the dancehall culture and is indicative of their desire to permeate other perceived
boundaries.
Finally, the government of Jamaica has in the past developed educational
campaigns with the aim of reducing the incidence and prevalence of skin
bleaching but with little evidence of success. This study therefore highlights the
implication for the government in crafting a policy that is more inclusive and
effective in achieving the targets or goals set.

No focus group participant in this

study demonstrated any awareness or impact from the efforts of the government
through policy to educate them on skin bleaching issues hence preventing them
from starting or continuing this activity. Only the non bleaching participants (Dr.
Hope and Dr, Desnoes) in this study had an awareness of the campaigns against
bleaching engaged in by the government.
Implications for Research
There is a paucity of studies on skin bleaching in Jamaican and by extension
the wider Caribbean area. Comparatively there are not very many studies on skin
bleaching globally. The experience in developing the literature review is
evidence of this. To be clear however, all the studies found to have been executed
have been done in Jamaica. This does not obfuscate the need for more in-depth
studies on the phenomenon island wide.
The findings of this study have highlighted the fact that the issues
surrounding skin bleaching are multifactorial. And as such for us to truly

The Browning Phenomenon

understand the phenomenon, we must dedicate time and resources to the study of
the varied factors that influence the behavior and challenge ourselves to delve into
this somewhat unchartered and under researched territory. Given the general
dearth of studies coming out of the literature review the findings of this study
actualizes the need for both more qualitative and quantitative research on the area.
A few studies, inclusive of the findings of this project have correlated lower
socioeconomic background with skin bleaching and therefore this theme appears
to be an area prime for further research given its findings ability to generate
programmes of transformation and enhance nation building.

Conversely, the

findings of this study though pointing poignantly at individuals from the lower
socioeconomic echelons of society should stimulate or agitate some in-depth
research on skin bleaching among those individuals deemed from within the
upper socioeconomic strata of society.

This vital data when compared with

what we already have on the lower socioeconomic group will strengthen our body
of information on the subject. Other critical areas arising out of the findings of
this study are skin bleaching and culture, adolescents and skin bleaching as well
as skin bleaching and family influence.
Recommendations
This study though qualitative revealed that individuals and specifically young
adults are motivated to take serious medical risks to engage in this activity.
Beauty is not measured solely by epidermal dimensions ( Ly, Vasseur, Fecky &
Verschoore 2012). The abovementioned notion must be taught to young people.
The first recommendation of this study is a revitalization of any policy previously

The Browning Phenomenon

formulated to address this issue. This revitalization must include and embrace a
meaningful level of cultural and age related sensitivity and understanding which
will allow us to capture the attention of the desired target population.
The second recommendation arising from the findings of this study is stricter
and more consistent monitoring of the sale of some of these banned and
dangerous products on the black market. Even in places like South Africa
officials readily admit that they do not have enough investigators to manage the
illegal skin bleaching market (Schuler, 1999). Undeniably, in Jamaica, it will
take deploying more resources in to the streets but the costs to individuals using
these products with very little knowledge may eventually become costly to the
society in general and as such worth the undertaking.

Further to that it is the

obligation of the state and the society in general to ensure the safety and
protection of its people even when they are a danger to themselves.
Thirdly, given the principle of primary prevention this is to keep persons not
engaged in a particular harmful behavior that way, and based on the findings of
this study it is recommended that any bleaching prevention programme
established target primary school aged youth. With knowledge comes power and
the belief here is to empower youth to be able to combat both the internal and
external influences identified that promote skin bleaching from an early age.
Fourthly, both government and civil society groups need to embark upon an
innovative campaign targeting young girls and women with an aim to demystify
the confusing messages about beauty that are being transmitted from a local,
regional and global perspective.

The Browning Phenomenon

Concluding Statement
Skin bleaching is a complex activity engaged in by complex individuals
(Brown-Glaude, 2013). This study has been able to unearth some of the sociocultural factors the influence skin bleaching among Jamaican young adults. The
study has also been able to identify an influential relationship between skin
bleaching and gender, skin bleaching and family as well as excavate meaningful
qualitative data on the relationship between young Jamaican skin bleachers and
age. It is a refusal to understand the epidemic of color prejudice in Jamaica that
that has contributed to the spread of the bleaching virus in Jamaica (Cooper,
2011). With that said Jamaica has a lot of work to do in order to effectively
combat and curtail skin bleaching among the population in general and young
persons specifically.

The Browning Phenomenon

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