redemption of ham

‘The Redemption of Ham,’ a 19th century painting by the Spaniard Modesto Brocos, portrays a dark-skinned grandmother celebrating the fact that her grandson has lighter skin. Most news stories about colorism fail to trace its history. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

*Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s also first and foremost in the eye of the person in the mirror, if you get our drift.

We’ve reported numerous stories about dark-skinned (black) people who will do whatever it takes to lighten their skin. Remember Vybes Kartel and Sammy Sosa among the many?

Well, would you believe that dark-skinned people are not the only ones in search of a remedy for what God made them to be, reports NPR:

Chinese-American TV personality Julie Chen reveals she had plastic surgery to make her eyes look less “Asian” to advance her career.

Korean women are getting surgeries for permanent smiles. In Venezuela, breast augmentation is so widespread, it’s a popular coming-of-age gift for quinceañera, or 15th-birthday celebrations.

What century are we in, anyway? Around the world, women continue to go to extreme measures in pursuit of “beauty.”

That women subject themselves to these complicated and bizarre, not to mention dangerous, procedures got me thinking about these notions of physical beauty — and who gets to define them. And what struck me is the irony that what’s considered “beautiful” or desirable in one culture is often the exact opposite in another.

The Tyranny Of The Tan

Take skin color, for instance. In the West, women expose their skin to harmful radiation and buy self-tanning products in pursuit of skin that’s “sun-kissed” and glowing.

About a million people hit tanning beds each day in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology, with nearly 70 percent of them women ages 16 to 29. The market for sunless tanning products is big business, too, with one industry report estimating annual revenue in 2011 at $516 million.

But for all this money and effort, this very same shade of skin would be viewed in the complete opposite way in some other places — in African, Asian, Latin cultures, you name it.

“Aiyah,” my Chinese-American mother would scold my younger sister when she was a teen in search of a “savage tan” (thanks, Coppertone). “Too dark.”

When Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America in mid-September, commentators immediately noted that she would never have won the Miss India contest because, among other reasons, her skin was too dark.

Really, a sister just can’t win.

Nope, it would appear that she can’t. Especially if she’s dark-skinned and has a big nose.

The article goes on to point ,out that “the prize of ‘white skin’ is directly related to social status and hierarchies — and the legacy of slavery — around the world. Racial aesthetic politics aren’t confined to one country or the other; they’re playing out around the world.”

Get the rest of this report at NPR.