Beneath the Surface

A Transnational History of Skin Lighteners
Author(s):
  • Publication Date: Feburary 2020
  • Dimensions and Pages: 229 x 152 mm; 368 pp. Illustrations: 85 illustrations (incl. 39 in color)
  • Paperback EAN: 978-1-77614-615-4
  • Rights: Southern Africa
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 420

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 colour from precolonial times to the postcolonial present. From indigenous skinbrightening practices and the rapid spread of lighteners in South African consumer culture during the 1940s and 1950s to the growth of a billiondollar 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 consumer capitalism, visual media, notions of beauty, and protest politics. In teasing out lighteners’ layered history, Thomas theorises skin as a site for antiracist struggle and lighteners as a technology of visibility that both challenges and entrenches racial and gender hierarchies.

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.
— Julie Livingston, author of Self-Devouring Growth: A Planetary Parable as Told from Southern Africa

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

Acknowledgments
A Layered History
1 Cosmetic Practices and Colonial Crucibles
2 Modern Girls and Racial Respectability
3 Local Manufacturing and Color Consciousness
4 Beauty Queens and Consumer Capitalism
5 Active Ingredients and Growing Criticism
6 Black Consciousness and Biomedical Opposition
Sedimented Meanings and Compounded Politics
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author
Lynn M. Thomas is Professor of History at the University of Washington, co-editor of The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, and author of Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya.

Beneath the Surface is nothing short of a tour de force. Lynn M. Thomas’s ‘layered history’ does justice to the immensely diffi cult 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.
— Julie Livingston, author of Self-Devouring Growth: A Planetary Parable as Told from Southern Africa

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

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