Coloring the Narrative: How to Use Storytelling to Create Social Change in Skin Tone Ideals

Synopsis:  Many millions of people around the world experience the pervasive, and often painful, societal messages of colorism, where lighter skin tones are asserted to be more attractive and to reflect greater affluence, power, education, and social status. The root of colorism lies in the unresolved racist legacy of colonialism, whereas the modern-day continuance is fueled in part by relentless advertising from the multi-billion dollar skin-lightening products industry.  Even in places where the destructive effects of colorism are fairly well understood, far less is known about the problem of skin-lightening (really, it’s “skin bleaching”) creams and lotions, and the health risks that consumers – the vast majority of whom are women and girls — assume with these products and their dangerous chemical contents. In this teaching case, the protagonists are two women who have recently immigrated to the United States from Nigeria and Thailand, both with a life-time of experience with these products like many of the women of their home countries. As the story unfolds, they struggle along with the rest of the cast of characters in the case story, coping with the push and pull of community norms vs. commercial influences and the challenge of promoting community health in the face of many societal and corporate obstacles. How can the deeply ingrained messages of colorism be effectively confronted and transformed to advance social change without alienating the community members we may most want to reach?

Skills: Students will develop skills in media advocacy and strategic storytelling techniques by beginning the process of creating a media- and storytelling-based campaign to challenge the skin-bleaching product industry.

Narrative Document for Students

Lesson Plan for Teachers

PowerPoint – Mini-lecture