In the tradition that is Coronation Street storylines, writers recently introduced the issue of colorism to its drama. Many viewers, unfamiliar with colorism, skin currency or pigmentocracy, took to social media expressing confusion over why a beautiful, young girl would risk skin burns to lighten her skin tone.
The storyline involves Asha, the daughter of local businessman Dev Alahan, and her quest for lighter skin after a brief trip to India.
“In India she’s seen all the Bollywood actresses she looks up to sponsoring these skin lightening creams, she wants to be successful and pretty like them so she thinks ‘what’s wrong with it’. But ultimately we’ll find out it’s a lot more about Asha’s low self esteem,” Tanisha Gorey, the actress who portrays Asha Alahan said in an ITV interview. “She’s seen what girls are doing out there, she wants to follow the crowd and it’s making her feel a bit better about herself. Her self-esteem is low and this is a way she feels she can fit in. Historically, dark skin was believed to denote a lack of evolutionary vigor, and therefore, primitiveness or a lack of mental and intellectual aptitude. Scholars like Walter Clyde Curry , wrote as early as 1916, in The Middle English Ideal of Personal Beauty that “If a brilliant whiteness of the skin is so highly appreciated as to make white synonymous with beautiful, then a dark or brown skin should be considered ugly.”
In some communities the value of light or white skin creates enough anxiety and disenfranchisement that those with brown and black skin seek the aid of bleaching soaps and creams or makeup foundations that cover their pigmentation.
In a 2015 essay, author Neha Mishra cited a survey that asked Indians between the ages of 20–25 to describe “pretty.” Seventy-one percent of those surveyed used words such as “fair” or “light.” The survey also revealed that the pressure to look fair is much higher on Indian women than men.
Skin lightening products -- also known as bleaching creams, whiteners, skin brighteners, or fading creams -- work by reducing a pigment called melanin in the skin. The active ingredient in most skin lighteners is either hydroquinone or mercury. With mercury-infused products, bleaching can lead to mercury poisoning, as it is toxic and can cause serious psychiatric, neurological, and kidney problems. When the ingredient is hydroquinone, it acts as a carcinogen or cancer-causing chemical.
As Asha’s story plays out, it would serve it well to include words of encouragement from at least one of the Black female characters on the show—preferably Aggie Bailey — as the history of bleaching in Black communities, globally, mirrors that within Indian communities.