When baseball great Sammy Sosa showed up at a Latin Recording Academy event last week, he looked jaw-droppingly different from his days as iconic right fielder for his Chicago Cubs. It wasn't that the 41-year-old Dominican ballplayer seemed older or heavier. It was that he looked, well, white.I never knew that skin whitening is actually a big business in some parts of the world.
As his ghastly white image shot around the Web, Sosa quickly found himself the brunt of uncharitable comparisons to another famous, mysteriously lightened celebrity -- Michael Jackson. One jokester even put Sosa's "blackness" for auction on eBay, accompanied with damning before and after photographs. Sosa soon spoke out -- in his native Spanish -- on the Univision program "Primer Impacto."
"It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," he explained. "It's a cream that I have, that I use to soften [my skin], but has bleached me some. I'm not a racist. I live my life happily."
In India, where fair skin is associated with attractiveness and marriageability, sales of over-the-counter whiteners rose a dramatic 17 percent in a nine-month period. And the cosmetic companies that make the products, which have long had a loyal following among women in Asia and Africa, are discovering a growing new market among men. When the Fair and Lovely brand spun off a Fair and Handsome line and recruited Indian superstar Sha Rukh Khan to endorse it in 2007, sales went through the roof.I don't suppose this is any different, except by a matter of degree, from hair relaxing.
Lighter skin, with its Western, aristocratic associations, isn't peddled overseas as merely attractive. It's a ticket to a better life. In a head-smackingly crazy 2006 spot for Fair and Lovely, a doting father plies his grown daughter with the cream and voilà! She gets a job she'd previously been turned down for -- and captures the eye of a handsome new colleague.
And it isn't as extreme as cosmetic surgery, especially since I imagine just spending some time in the sun would reverse the effects of the lightening cream.
But it is a bit shocking to see someone's desire to look different illustrated in such stark relief.