Who is the whitest of them all?
A fair complexion equals beauty in many cultures around the world. In Saudi-Arabia white is definitely the preferred skin tone for both men and women. But like most things in the world, the pressure of being fair is mainly placed upon the woman. Sadly, mothers and other female family members are the ones maintaining and contributing to this phenomenon.
The obsession of white skin tone starts when the baby is still in the mother’s womb. Expecting mothers might be instructed to eat certain foods to help “make” their baby develop whiter skin. They say adding saffron to milk makes white babies. Pregnant women might be told to avoid coffee, iron tablets or dark chocolate. Such ignorance when everyone today should know it’s up to your genes! If some women really think it has some effect, shouldn’t they as Muslims avoid changing God’s creation anyways?
Daughters will be kept inside the house and not allowed to play in the sun in fear of exposing the skin to the tanning effects of the sun. Never mind the health benefits such as obtaining vitamin D from the suns rays. The levels of vit. D of Saudi women are alarmingly low, one of the lowest in the world. Vitamin D deficiency causes multiple health problems to the mothers and the children. Complete veiling of the body would also have an effect on the low levels.
So the couped up girls spend their childhood mostly indoors while boys of course can do what they want and play outside all they like. Girls worry about their knees and elbows not becoming too dark from playing on the floor like their mothers warned them. It’s very common to hear comments on children’s skin tone here. People will even talk about their own kids to other people pointing out how this one is much whiter than that one. How this sister is so white and beautiful while the other is dark and ugly. I can’t even imagine the damage this does to the girls self esteem.
When the Saudi girl starts menstruating their childhood is over and many will be forced by their families to suddenly veil their entire bodies. Check out how miserable blogger Omaima felt when she had to wear the abaya for the first time: http://omaimanajjar.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/how-i-felt-when-i-wore-an-abaya-for-the-first-time/
Reaching puberty will also further increase the pressure of a whiter skin tone and this is when many girls start trying different treatments.
When Saudi men start seeking for brides they inform their mothers who then start looking for potential wives at weddings and other social functions. Young women will come to show off to weddings for this very reason. The man will often have a few desires on his list of requirements of the woman’s appearance. Most often than not, white skin tone is on the top of the list. Second in line would come straight hair, perhaps large boobs, small nose. Seriously, men say these things to their mothers! As if they are in search of cattle.
Under this immense pressure to have a white skin tone and keeping in mind how it might raise their chances of landing a good husband, the Saudi woman will go to great lengths to obtain a pale complex. Some mothers will be obsessed with the daughters skin tone from birth which continues this vicious cycle.
Most women will opt for whitening creams which are extremely popular around Asia and the ME. I personally never saw so many types and brands of whitening creams in my life. Most are marketed to give you a “healthy glow”.
That reminds me of when I first moved to the Kingdom and I was searching for a self-tanning cream at the pharmacy. I was in awe of how many different kinds of whitening products there was available, and as I browsing the aisle of the bleaching products out of curiosity, an Arab male pharmacist approached me. He took a jar from the shelf and asked me “I think this is what you’re looking for”. I took the product from him and started reading the label. WTH!? I was so shocked at what this pervert had just suggested I completely froze. It was a whitening cream specifically for female private parts. The description clearly read “vaginal bleaching cream”. I really didn’t need to know of this products existence. That this guy would come up to me and out of all the hundreds of products hand over the VJ bleaching cream, was utterly disgusting. I mean why did he think I wanted to bleach anything on my already pale as a ghost body, let alone something down there? And why was he even thinking of my vagina for God’s sake!!
I wanted to slap him right then and there but could not utter a word from my disgust and amazement. I just turned around and walked away.
After I recovered from my initial shock I was able to think about the absurdity of the whole thing. Why would a woman put something potentially very harmful on her private parts just to please a man? Why would someone want to bleach their VJ? Is this one of the requirements Saudi men have for their brides?
So there are all sorts of whitening creams out there. Also, all sorts of home-made whitening creams are available. They are the most sought after products because they contain ingredients that are banned from the market. Anything that has been banned for sale because of harmful ingredients should be avoided like the plague right? Nope.
This reminds me of a tragic story of a young bride to be.
A teenage Saudi girl had gotten engaged and in preparations for her wedding, had obtained one of these whitening products available on the black market. A while after she had started using it she got a nasty eye and skin infection. The infection did not improve with oral antibiotics and she was taken into the hospital for treatment.
After a while the infection had spread so bad it reached inside her eyes and they had to remove both her eyeballs. The doctors were not able to control the infection and at this point the girl was already in the ICU. Even though she was in the hospital for weeks, the doctors were not able to cure her. Finally the infection spread into her bloodstream and days after she passed away.
Such a unnecessary, sad and tragic death! An innocent hopeful bride that just wanted to look more beautiful on her wedding day. Just because the society she lives in tells her she is not beautiful enough as she is, this tragedy had to happen. Just because of this sick twisted mentality of admiring white skin, a beautiful soul was lost.
Another strange way of skin whitening I’ve come across is applying camel urine on the skin. Yes, camel pee! It’s true that camel urine has been proven to have bleaching qualities, but who would want to rub it on their faces?
Don’t get me wrong, camel’s milk and urine have many scientifically proven health benefits, such as controlling diabetes, Crohn’s disease and it even has cancer cell killing properties. Just check these articles to read all about it: Camel Milk and Urine Medicine Camel Milk- The Elixir of the Desert
One of the daughters of a patient I was treating had taken camel urine bleaching to the extreme. Her complexion did seem remarkably more white, albeit with a grey-ish undertone to it, compared to the other family members. Her hair was blonde and brittle. The woman told me her secret was applying camel urine on her skin and hair everyday, even mentioning how it works for “female areas” as well. WTF? Now that can’t be healthy anymore?! Just another example of the extreme measures women will go through for whiter skin.
Ironically most fair skinned women in the west prefer to get a tan and hate pale complexions. I have to admit I used to be the kind of girl that always went to the beach for tanning and in Saudi for the first year or so, I spent all my days off at the hospital pool enjoying the sunshine. Like in the east women overdo the whitening, also in the west some women take tanning to the extreme. Spray tanning, tanning booths and creams resulting in a year round “healthy glow”, which looks more like a unnatural orange hue than a tan. So is the grass always greener on the other side? Fair skinned women try to become darker and vice versa? Why can’t women just be happy with how they were born?
Instead of tanning booths, they actually have whitening booths in KSA! Salons will have a wide variety of skin whitening treatments available. One of the newest trends is using laser.
It’s really sad to witness this phenomenon in Saudi and elsewhere in the world. My daughter has already been effected by it. It’s always pointed out how “white” she is and that I should protect her from evil eye by saying reading so and so surah from the Quran on her before we go out. I have been requested by some of my husbands family members not to take my daughter out in the sun so she wouldn’t get tanned. When we got back from our summer holiday in Finland, where we spent most of our time out in the sunshine my daughter had tanned quite a lot and unfortunately I heard some pretty negative comments on her new color.
I love that my daughter has a darker complexion than mine, I think it’s beautiful just the way she is. In Finland she is perceived as”dark” by locals but in Saudi she is seen as “white”. I don’t really care! I wish people would stop looking at the surface and look deeper for beauty in the person. The outer color really does not matter.