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WATCH: BEYONCE KNOWLES In Ad For L'Oreal Feria Hair Color (2008)

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*BEYONCE AND SKIN WHITENING ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH

50

The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “What bleaching cream does Beyoncé use?” each month.

110

The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Beyoncé skin whitening” each month.

12,100

The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Skin whitening cream” each month.

*All figures for “Beyoncé And Skin Whitening According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.

L'Oreal Feria Hair Color Ad 2008: Skin Whitening
Allegations Overshadow Music Star Beyoncé Knowles

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WHITENED OR NATURAL? Singer and actress Beyoncé Knowles in one of the stills for L’Oréal's Feria hair color range, after which there were unfounded allegations that the celebrity was secretly using skin whitening agents.

IN 2008 BEYONCE KNOWLES appeared in a TV ad for L'Oreal's Feria hair color range, looking dangerously pale-skinned. This led to allegations that she was whitening her skin. Was it true? By Ben Arogundade.

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IN AUGUST 2008, singer and actress Beyoncé Knowles appeared in a magazine advertisement for cosmetics giant L’Oréal Paris and their Feria hair color range. The ads, published in a range of fashion and beauty titles, appeared to show the singing celebrity — a spokesperson for the brand since 2001 — with a much fairer complexion than she actually possesses. A rumour quickly started that the company had deliberately whitened her skin colour for the ad — an accusation that was quickly refuted by the company.

BEYONCE ACCUSED OF SKIN WHITENING
But the allegations didn’t rest there. Since 2008 Beyoncé herself has been accused of using skin whitening bleach. “In recent years Beyoncé’s tone seems miraculously to be changing from dusky to peachy,” claimed Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Daily Mail in February 2011. The speculation that began as a piece of digital manipulation, came off the page and into real life.

Skin whitening is a sensitive issue amongst blacks, Asians and Indians. Thanks to the insecurities created by slavery, colonialism and the promotion of European beauty values within culture, pale skin is considered more attractive, while ethnic beauty values have been downgraded. In America in the 1890s this drove the market for the first ever skin whitening creams. Early examples carried names such as “Black No More” and “Cocotone Skin Whitener”. 1920s African American dancer Josephine Baker famously whitened her skin by rubbing lemon juice into it each morning, while Michael Jackson took the decision to bleach his skin white as a result of suffering from vitiligo, the condition which stripped away his brown pigment.

SKIN WHITENING PRODUCTS LUCRATIVE
Today, the fashion for light skin is endemic amongst people of colour. In India alone the market for skin whitening creams is worth almost $500m a year. In Jamaica things have become so serious that the government recently launched a campaign called “Don't Kill the Skin”, aimed at dissuading young black females from using skin-whitening products, which are known to thin the skin, and are thought to be cancer inducing. The main concern is the quantity of hydroquinone these products contain — the substance that strips the pigment from the skin. Over-the-counter whitening creams usually contain two per cent, but more dangerous products with far higher volumes are easily available on the black market or over the Internet.

But the question is, is Beyoncé helping to drive this market by whitening her skin? So far the photographic evidence offered up in support of the allegations is far from conclusive. The alleged before-and-after paparazzi pictures (such as the ones shown opposite) of the music celebrity's alleged skin whitening reveal nothing that cannot be attributed to the tonal ranges within flash photography and digital retouching. One thing is for sure — skin whitening culture was there before Beyoncé and will be after her. Combating it will require initiatives on all fronts within the communities worst affected.

BLACK BEAUTY by Ben Arogundade is out now.

NEXT: DISCOVER MORE ABOUT BEYONCE KNOWLES

A MANIPULATED WHITENING: Misleading photographic comparisons showing different lighting conditions, such as the images above, have been used to suggest that Beyoncé Knowles is whitening her skin.

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