Midnight, madness, and mercury.

I actually got up early enough this morning to have a bagel and a cup of coffee while reading the paper. An article about writing and neuroscience caught my eye, something I suppose happens when you want to be a writer but studied brain & cognitive science instead. It’s an interesting take on creativity and cognition, and I have to confess that I now want to read the book.
And then there was this piece about mercury poisoning resulting from skin-whitening creams, which is a frightening commentary on race:

Apparently, the patients reporting to clinics with mercury-induced disease believe that the health risks associated with bleaching their skins are outweighed by the rewarding sociocultural return. In other words, they believe that removing the healthy melanin from their skin with toxic creams and soaps makes them more valuable in their own cultures and in European and Euro-American societies in general.

Scary stuff. It’s both appalling and fascinating to see the lengths to which people are willing to go to be accepted or fashionable. As they mention in the article, it’s just like tanning (or smoking, or diet pills, or…).

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5 thoughts on “Midnight, madness, and mercury.

  1. on the topic of skin-whitening creams… haha. Jovonne Bickerstaff, a Writing Major (your year?) wrote a thesis based in part on her travels in France and the French perspective on the black/white cultural divide. apparently lots of Fr women bleach their skin pretty aggressively…
    http://mit.edu/eloranta/racial.html
    i actually have a copy of her thesis at home (?!). might give it a look if i remember and even bring it back here if i remember/if you’re interested.

  2. speaking of the racial divide…
    Actually, that skin whitening thing seems to be something I’ve been hearing about for a long time. In Asia, girls with whiter skin are considered much prettier than girls with darker skin. In terms of making yourself look more ‘white’ (as in caucasian), there is the everpopular eyelid surgery, where they make your single eyefold (right above the eye) into a double eyefold. A girl I knew in high school actually ended up getting it; I was literally shocked. This was here in the U.S.! She went to Tufts.
    Also, another really surprising thing my (southeast Asian) friend told me was that her father actually encouraged her to marry a white man so that her kids would turn out looking more ‘acceptable’ in white society and have an easier time getting ahead.
    It was really scary and weird.

  3. Jovonne was actually in the poetry class when I took it sophomore year. She’s awesome. And I always thought she had the coolest name ever. Jovonne Bickerstaff. Incredible. You can imagine so many stories behind that name.
    I had never heard of this eyelid surgery. In general, I find cosmetic surgery to be revolting, and think that people who elect to go under the knife for vanity’s sake are out of their damn minds. I mean, if you get half your nose cut off in a car accident, that’s one thing — but putting a fold in your eyelid or getting breast implants? Disgusting.

  4. Of course, this raises the question (for very light-skinned me, anyhow) of whether tanning is any more or less ridiculous. Tanning for its own sake, everyone I value thinks that’s stupid. Tans allegedly ‘look healthy’, which is to say ‘sunned’. But if that’s a fair thing to say – that people will respond more favorably to you if you get a little ‘color’, and that’s perfectly OK – what’s the big deal about whitening one’s skin? It doesn’t change your race nor your ethnicity, only people’s reactions to you – and that’s no different from, say, poking holes in your ears and danging metal objects from them.
    I think it’s reprehensible and stupid, for what it’s worth, to get a potentially dangerous or disastrous operation to change your appearance. And earrings don’t actually bother me (though I can’t imagine wanting them). It just merits asking, I think. Is it really any kind of identity-betrayal to go under the knife? What about a vasectomy – why deny the basic human impulse to reproduce? Similar intensity of social change involved with that, I’ll wager…

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