Guardian readers

I was recently talking to someone who was asked to work on a skin-whitening product for India.
The people at his agency were horrified.
They thought it was an example of racism and white supremacy.
And, for Guardian readers living in the UK, that makes sense.
But hang on a minute.
Does that apply to people living in India?
Maybe they want lighter faces.
But that doesn’t mean they want to be Caucasian.
It doesn’t mean they want to copy us.
It probably just means they want to be what they are, but with lighter skin.
Why shouldn’t they?
Why can’t they be allowed to do what they want?
I want to get a suntan.
It doesn’t mean I want to be a Negro.
It means I want to be what I am, but with a darker skin.
In Jane Austin’s day, well-off English people wanted fairer skins.
It was called the English Rose complexion.
It was a sign of being well off and not having to work outside.
People who worked outside were rougher and course and indelicate.
So young ladies didn’t want to look like that.
Nowadays we don’t think whiter-than-white skin is attractive.
We think it looks pale and sickly.
In Vanity Fair there’s an ad with Tilda Swinton looking like an albino.
White skin, white hair, white eyelashes.
To me it looks like a corpse.
But someone must think it’s attractive because it’s advertising diamonds, and pearls, and gold jewellery.
So what looks good to me doesn’t look good to everyone.
It’s the same in the Far East.
My mother-in-law is Singaporean.
Racially she’s Chinese.
In the sun she always carries an umbrella.
When we go on holiday, and I’m lying in the sun trying to get a tan, she’s under the umbrella trying not to.
My father-in-law is also Chinese.
He owned a large plumbing contractor’s.
He was always proud of having dark skin on his face, forearms, and legs.
Because it showed he was always outside in the sun, on the job with the workers.
My father-in-law enjoyed being dark, my mother-in-law didn’t.
None of this is racial.
People want to be what they are, with alterations.
What’s wrong with that?
People dye their hair, so the grey doesn’t show.
Is that age-ist?
People wear contact lenses because they don’t want to wear glasses.
Is that sight-ist?
People diet because they don’t want to be overweight.
Is that fat-ist?
It used to be a sign of prosperity to be fat.
Nowdays it’s the opposite.
One of our senior account handlers, Sonia Sheeta, is half Anglo-Indian, half Egyptian.
Some of her relatives were visiting from abroad.
They said to her “What a strange country this is: the poor people are fat and the rich people are thin.”
It’s just the opposite way round where they come from.
So just notice how intolerant Guardian readers are of other cultures’ differences.
How they expect everyone to have the same values as them.
Currently they are outraged because, in India, Facebook even has an application to allow people to lighten their skin for their profile picture.
Is this really any different from applying makeup before you have your passport picture taken?

I bet Guardian readers do that.

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    Hi Dave, you make some interesting points about cultural differences. I’m Indian and I would flag up that the desire for lighter skin in India is derived from the caste system – lower castes working out in the heat and dirt and therefore having darker skin.

    However, I would say that the growth of skin-lightening products (which have been around for decades) in India is a good sign. To me it says the growing, consumerist middle class is made up of different castes and some of that middle class are trying to disguise their caste. To put it behind them.

    That means they’re letting go of caste. To me it’s another sign that the caste system’s grip is being loosened. That Indian society is easier to move within. That’s a good thing.

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    That’s great Matt.
    It’s really good to hear the other side of any argument.
    That skin lightening can be a way of people expressing their freedom from the caste system.
    Instead of the western interpretation that it is just copying the imperialist rulers who were white.
    Thanks a lot Matt.

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    It’s a shame that a piece suggesting we shouldn’t generalize repeatedly generalizes about Guardian readers. Not one of your best posts Mr. Trott.

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    I have a regional accent but I’m not gonna have electrocution lessons.

  • I thought it was bad at first until I thought about it properly. Given half our population is currently a shade of fruity orange we have no right to criticise other people’s choices!

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    It all goes back to perspective again – and your perspective (as an individual) is almost always justified (internally), so therefore it is right.

    Left-wing, right-wing, everybody is guilty of putting their views on others’ decisions – and often outrage ensues – until poeple actually take a minute to think about it.

    To be truly open minded is a beautiful state of enlightenment that everyone should strive to achieve – it would make us all better people

    At least some – like Rob – give it some thought – others just react and then stick stubbornly to their opinion – not very open-minded at all.

    Are Guardian readers any more or less likely to do this than Sun, Mirror, Telegraph or Times readers?

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    Hi Cheesy and Gotnoteef,
    My problem isn’t with generalising, my problem is with prejudice.
    We all generalise al the time, we can’t communicate without it.
    (BTW that was a generalisation.)
    Semiotics is pretty much the study of generalising, as signs to communicate.
    That’s what we study in VisCom class at art school.
    My problem is with pre-formed opinions based solely on our own view of the world, and bending the facts to fit that view.
    Of course this is part of the human condition (vis Kant’s ‘synthetic a-priori’).
    But the first step in freeing ourselves from it must be to be aware of it.
    And of course, it’s not only Guardian readers who are guilty of it.
    But, personally, I do find them more smug and sanctimonious than, say, Sun readers.
    And you’re both right, this may be a prejudice I have to overcome.

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    Dave
    Smugness is not a good quality. Is this all about class?

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    John,
    I don’t think it’s about class.
    Guardian readers are basically intelligent people who think they know best.
    And, as we know, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

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    Bloody Guardian readers… Coming over here and stealing our jobs…

    Or something like that

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    Dave, i think you’ve made some very good points. in the Middle East a lot of women want to be whiter, purely out of vanity/fashion. maybe it’s still a cast issue in India, maybe it’s a mixture of the two – either way, i loved your post and i love the fact you always question the status quo and can look at life in many different ways. i love open minded, non – judgmental people.

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    Sorry Dave, I certainly didn’t mean to infer a prejudice on your part.

    I think you’re absolyely right – pre-formed ideas reek of a closed-mind and they’re often a bugger to shift.

    This is what makes kids so fantastic – they don’t have any back-story, they just take it as it comes.

    I hope that both of mine hold on to that forever.

    This thread opens interesting questions about media objectivity – or the lack of it in our increasingly sensationalised mainstream press – and the influence this is having on society.

    Is the 24hour news machine and its need to fill the slots making us more or less open-minded?

    Is the slant on news coverage creating mass opinion?

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    Sometimes what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily what’s good for the gander.

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    electrocution or elocution? I hope you’re not considering taking up lessons on electrocuting people? smarm

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    Is live the brown wire?

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    It’s all perception nonsense.
    People keep saying to me this year:-

    Wow! Where have you been to get such a great tan?

    They visibly squirm (what a lovely word) when I tell them:-

    “Been down the allotment digging up me potatoes!”

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    Dave
    Some of us are too smart for our own good, no doubt.

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    Its basically about cultural attitudes. I live in Pakistan where light skin is considered the ultimate in beauty and so the market here is flooded with skin lightening bleaches and creams. And if you ever told a traditional Pakistani housewife that you would sit in the sun voluntarily to tan, she would think you are completely bonkers! And to pay for lotions that make you darker- madness! So its all a matter of where you are sitting and which window you are looking out of.
    Ofcourse, we should all try not to impose our preconceived notions upon anyone else, but then we would live in a perfect world!

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    Not sure about the generalisation here of ‘Guardian readers’
    I wonder, what has been the massive growth & influence of Bollywood (stars) in a wish for lighter lighter skin?

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    i used to want to be brown and love to sit in the sun, now i don’t. who knows how i’ll feel in a couple of years, but it’s not a political issue for me, that’s for sure.

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    Ah the humble spud, Kev
    Great book if you want to know yer spuds from yer onions is ‘The Potato’ by Larry Zuckerman. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Potato-Century-Vegetable-Changed-History/dp/0333750640/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280485901&sr=8-1

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    Ha ha Dave. Is it smug and sanctimonious to choose to believe you were using the guise of prejudice to expose it? I remain your loyal Guardian-reading disciple.

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    Given the choice, I’d rather spend time with a Guardian reader who’s occasionally and unnecessarily culturally sensitive than a Sun reader who’s perpetually small-minded and bigoted.

    And as for “Guardian readers are basically intelligent people who think they know best.”

    Well that’s rich, coming from a Sun reader who blogs about exactly why he knows best on a weekly basis!

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    I take it you’re a Guardian reader Paul.
    I say this because of the usual response: don’t debate the point, discredit the person making it.
    However, it could have been an interesting debate.
    Jeremy Bentham defined Utilitarianism as ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number”.
    John Stuart Mill worried about where this might lead if followed ‘to the letter of the law, not in the spirit of the law.”
    He foresaw, taken to the extreme, this could lead to the drugs & benefits culture we have now on sink estates.
    Which is why his response was to modify Bentham’s purist utilitarianism, saying (something like) ‘I’d rather be Shakespeare and miserable than a pig and happy.”

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    Paul, the nicest and most interesting thing about Dave is he always looking at things from a different perspective and never comes across as he knows best.

    i’m one of many who are very glad of his bog each week, if only to liven up a really dull day. fresh thinking is a breath of fresh air and we all could do with more of it.

    many people would have taken your post, which let’s face it, is just a cheap shot, with nothing remotely interesting about it, down.

    and yes, i do read The Guardian – as well as several other papers (when i’m really bored), but i don’t expect it would bother Dave as he’s open to different opinions.

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    Thanks Soap Box.
    Incidentally the one thing The Guardian always does better than any other paper is the art direction.
    The comedian Peter Cook (founder of Private Eye) used to read every newspaper, every day.
    I once asked him, if he could only read one paper which one would it be.
    He said The Sun and The Guardian.
    I said, no, just one paper.
    He said “Put together, they’d make up the best paper.”

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    Why can’t we have a newspaper like the one we saw in Miami on a shoot once. It ran with local stories about a woman who’d lost her cat, and some bloke who was proclaiming he was the second messiah who we actually saw in the shopping mall that day. Such a laugh to read. That’s where the Sun scores. Humour. Yes The Guardian is a good paper, always reflecting both sides of the argument, but do you want to read an academic paper whan you’ve just got out of bed in the morning? A writer friend of mine at Saatchi told me the whole story is always in the first paragraph anyway. The rest is detail and heresay. Try it. He’s right.

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    Hi Dave,

    Delighted you liked my contribution to the discussion. Thanks very much. Made my day.

  • Unlike you I’ve done the focus groups with skin whitening products across asia and here is why you’re wrong. Skin whitening products reinforce a pernicious office hierarchy that permits only the lightest skinned to rise to the top. Based on this female office workers (just one example) will avoid going to lunch with darker skinned colleagues. It’s not a makeup issue, it’s not a tanning issue it’s pure non agrarian low melamine skin prejudice against the new metropolitan arrivals and it is the opposite of meritocracy.

    No skin whitening manufacturer is going to tell that story. Neither is the News of the Screws.

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    Interesting post Charles. If I place myself in a dark room, my skin goes pale and dead. If I put a Tomato in a box out of the sun it gets brighter and better. Do Asians only eat green tomatoes?

  • Thanks Dave, this post certainly made me think!

    I don’t read a paper very often, but when I do it’s usually The Guardian (but anyway, even if I don’t read it very often, I’m self aware enough to know that I am absolutely a ‘Guardian reader’ in the way that you meant it – a liberal lefty do-gooder!).

    And my initial response was that I disagree with skin-whitening products, much as you’d expect from my newspaper-perusing habits. Then you made me question my initial reaction, and I will admit that I hadn’t thought to see skin-lightening products in the same category as tanning products. Just two ends of the same continuum.

    I can see that in a country where it’s difficult to avoid the sun (like India), lighter skin is harder to achieve, and therefore more desirable. And in a country (like Britain) where it’s harder to catch the sun, a tanned skin is more desirable (although I think that trend is on the turn due to concerns about skin cancer).

    I can also see that there are other social/political issues that affect the desirability of a certain look – caste in India, class in the UK. Wealth, fashion, elitism – all play a part.

    But what’s perhaps most interesting is that huge numbers of people (women?) all over the world are buying products to change their appearance. Is it saddening that changing our appearance can have an impact on major things such as our earning power, and how we’re perceived?

    And does that mean it’s sensible to buy into these products, hoping for these bigger effects?

    I recognise that I’m not above such behaviour – I wear make-up and jewelery, I buy fashionable(ish) clothes, I care about my haircut…

    And as you’ve said in other posts Dave, even if I’m trying to present an image that is ‘non-branded’, I’m still creating a brand. Perhaps I (a white woman in Britain) should express my dissatisfaction with the issue of buying products to change my skin colour by buying and applying skin-lightening products? Would that be subversive or just stupid?