In “Cultural Imperialism,” Tomlinson remarks that while multinational corporations may see globalization as the opportunity to capitalize and market their products worldwide, the subsequent cultural homogenization is worth noting. In favor of capitalism, Tomlinson argues that the spread of homogenization is merely an adaptation to the social environment of capitalism and is therefore not the concern; rather, the type of “shallow, ‘one-dimensional,’ and ‘commodified’” culture that comes with homogenization is bothersome (Tomlinson 351). While Tomlinson harshly criticizes Hamelink’s argument on the way in which capitalist culture has negatively impacted cultures, I do wonder how Tomlinson would react to capitalism’s effect on colorism and the practice of skin-lightening.
Beneath the umbrella of the ways in which men and women have chosen to alter and beautify their bodies is skin-lightening, a tactic that has come to perpetuate yet another “-ism.” Colorism is defined as prejudice or discrimination that occurs as a result of the social meanings that are prescribed to one’s skin color. However, colorism has of course come to mean more than just prejudice or discrimination based on skin color—it is more frequently marked by the preference and privileging of whiter skin over darker skin. While skin color used to be seen as something unalterable, the increasingly popular production and consumption of skin-lighteningproducts now allows men and women to change what was the unchangeable and achieve the universal beauty mark of being light-skinned.
Many people find cultural capitalism in tangent with colorism problematic. As men and women seek to lighten their color and boost their status, multinational corporations, such as Pond’s and L’Oreal, have certainly capitalized off of colorism, which is arguably a negative culturally imperialist approach to cultural homogenization. While some people view the ability to purchase a product that will lighten the skin and consequently improve one’s socioeconomic position as a form of choice, and by extension, modernity, others view the practice of skin lightening as a remnant of colonialism and imperialism that is ultimately destructive to cultural identity and instead strengthens social hierarchy. In other words, the practice is divisive within ethnic or racial communities as the most privileged and the wealthy are able afford skin-lightening products. As a result, identities are prescribed to individuals based on skin color. For example, while a woman who benefits from skin-lightening may be viewed as modern or better off, she may also be negatively viewed as “Westernized” or somehow “less in touch” with her culture. Likewise, a woman who is dark-skinned may be assumed to be more “rich in culture.” In such cases, one might argue that capitalism is not favored by those who are prescribed cultural identities rather than given autonomy over their identities.
The practice of skin lightening is almost universal—it is present among the African diaspora, African America, India and the Indian diaspora, Southeast Asia (especially the Philippines), East Asia (Japan, Korea, and China) and Latin America. While the capitalism of skin-lightening products has certainly brought along a wave of health hazards, it has also reinforced and perpetuated the idea that being light-skinned is superior, especially among the cultures and societies that were faced with Western colonialism and subject to the ideology of white supremacy. While men and women may be able to alter their skin color, the fact that light skin is desirable due to its association with social access and privilege prevails.