Beneath the Surface: A Transnational History of Skin Lighteners

Beneath the Surface: A Transnational History of Skin Lighteners

by Lynn M. Thomas

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For more than a century, skin lighteners have been a ubiquitous feature of global popular culture—embraced by consumers even as they were fiercely opposed by medical professionals, consumer health advocates, and antiracist thinkers and activists. In Beneath the Surface, Lynn M. Thomas constructs a transnational history of skin lighteners in South Africa and beyond. Analyzing a wide range of archival, popular culture, and oral history sources, Thomas traces the changing meanings of skin color from precolonial times to the postcolonial present. From indigenous skin-brightening practices and the rapid spread of lighteners in South African consumer culture during the 1940s and 1950s to the growth of a billion-dollar global lightener industry, Thomas shows how the use of skin lighteners and experiences of skin color have been shaped by slavery, colonialism, and segregation as well as by consumer capitalism, visual media, notions of beauty, and protest politics. In teasing out lighteners’ layered history, Thomas theorizes skin as a site for antiracist struggle and lighteners as a technology of visibility that both challenges and entrenches racial and gender hierarchies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781478007050
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 01/10/2020
Series: Theory in Forms
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 364
File size: 90 MB
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About the Author

Lynn M. Thomas is Professor of History at the University of Washington; coeditor of The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, also published by Duke University Press; and author of Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix
A Layered History  1
1. Cosmetic Practices and Colonial Crucibles  22
2. Modern Girls and Racial Respectability  47
3. Local Manufacturing and Color Consciousness  75
4. Beauty Queens and Consumer Capitalism  98
5. Active Ingredients and Growing Criticism  150
6. Black Consciousness and Biomedical Opposition  190
Sedimented Meanings and Compounded Politics  221
Notes  237
Bibliography  293

What People are Saying About This

Self-Devouring Growth: A Planetary Parable as Told from Southern Africa - Julie Livingston

Beneath the Surface is nothing short of a tour de force. Lynn M. Thomas's ‘layered history’ does justice to the immensely difficult subject of skin lighteners. Carefully attending to the complex politics of race and color that are grounded in skin, Thomas at once provides a vibrant history of South Africa and a global history of commodity, beauty, and the body. This landmark study sets a new standard in the field.”

Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women - Noliwe M. Rooks

“Allowing for a comparative analysis over a period of time when the global relationships and meanings of skin color became tied to class, race, and racism, Beneath the Surface helps us understand the intense and long-standing interest whites and blacks have had in lightening the color of their skin despite the potential for severe health risks. There is simply no other book like it.”

Customer Reviews