The success of skin lighteners as a cosmetic practice arose out of an accident of industrial history—in the 1930s tannery workers in Chicago experienced temporary depigmentation of the skin due to gloves that including the chemical compound MBH (monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone). Dermatologists quickly realized the potential of compounds derived from MBH within depigmentation treatments that corrected freckles or sought to lighten a person's entire complexion. Lynn M. Thomas includes this history in her most recent book, Beneath the Surface, an expansive and rigorously researched monograph that takes as its central subject skin lightening as an aesthetic, political, racial, and commercial practice. Her book demonstrates that practices of skin lightening have moved across geographic locations and cultural frontiers, attracting diverse and shifting groups of people (20); yet Thomas predominantly focuses on how and why Black South African women used skin lightening products. Through tracing how skin lightening intersects with...
Technologies of Visibility: The History of Skin Lighteners in South Africa
Maggie Fitzgerald entered the PhD program in African history at Indiana University in the fall of 2018. She studies the intellectual and cultural history of southern Africa, and is particularly interested in cultural production, Staffrider magazine, the Black Consciousness Movement, theater, and political resistance in Durban, South Africa. Fitzgerald has experience teaching both history and isiZulu and has held a position as an editorial assistant at the American Historical Review.
Maggie Fitzgerald; Technologies of Visibility: The History of Skin Lighteners in South Africa. Cultural Politics 1 July 2022; 18 (2): 267–270. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-9716324
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