The Dark Side of Beauty

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As the skin-lightening industry continues to boom globally a new documentary shines a light on perceptions of colour and race inside modelling.

It's something that many in the western would rarely ponder but there is such a thing as the global skin-lightening business – women from dark-skinned backgrounds using chemicals to lighten the colour of their skin. It's not just business; it's big business.

By the end of this year the worldwide market for skin lightening creams and procedures will be approaching $10 billion. The proliferation of this market is, to some extent, supported by stereotypes of what is beauty. But often the decision to use such products is prompted, not by external factors, but by pressures young women come under from their friends and even family members.

While negative attitudes to dark skin play upon the minds of ordinary young women, it also plays a big part in the lives of the women considered to be amongst society's most beautiful: models, actresses and television presenters.

London-based fashion filmmaker, Glen Mackay uncovered a dark side to the modelling business while working on a fashion show in 2013. "I was at a fashion show in a country with a predominantly black-skinned population," he says.

"But on the catwalk most of the models were light-skinned so I turned to one of the photographers next to me and said where are all the dark-skinned models? He turned to me and said: 'The darker the skin, the uglier they're considered.' That's what inspired See Me Now."

See Me Now is his documentary which brings twenty models, actresses and TV presenters from around the world. While they recount the challenges of their chosen profession, the underlying theme is the self-belief which ultimately led them to success.

"See Me Now is not a comment about the fashion industry," says Mackay. "It's using fashion to highlight what I think is a positive message, that dark is beautiful. But the key to feeling beautiful is being comfortable in your own skin.

Fijian-born model Veniana Natekuru tells her story through this documentary, which is now being shown in schools across her country. She says, "I was once just a girl from Fiji, but to tell other girls 'If I can do it, you can do it' makes the whole project worthwhile.

Indigenous television presenter Leila Gurruwiwi, has made her mark on NITV's popular Marngrook Footy Show. She took part in the documentary, and while her experience growing up in the Victorian town of Bendigo was largely positive, she felt empathy hearing the stories of other women from around the world. "For me it was very sad to hear some of the stories of some of the girls that have had really bad experiences especially when it comes to their skin and being uncomfortable in their own skin. Coming from a Yolngu background a strong Yolngu woman from northeast Arnhem Land it's something that we've always been very proud of."

See Marcus Reubenstein's report for more.

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