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Skin Lighting Trend Sweeps China

Update Date: Oct 15, 2012 10:49 AM EDT

What do you see when you look in a mirror? Are you satisfied with the image reflected back at you, if you are young woman in an industrialized nation, then probably not. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but what happens when the beholders' eyes dismiss over half of the world's population?

Most countries have a booming cosmetic business, and the more label conscious, status seeking, bling obsessed the country is, the bigger the demand for products that promote whiter skin. But, why does a whiter skin mean more beautiful? Is it imprinted on the world's psyche by Disney princess characters when we are young? Is it the images that Hollywood and Madison Avenue tell us are beautiful and successful and those images are overwhelmingly white? Or is it something more primal? In almost every country without a native population comprised of people whose skin would be considered fair, you have people who spend exhorbitant sums of money seeking white skin despite the fact that they are not genetically disposed to have white skin.

Of course, here in the west, people with white skin tan themselves, but this process is temporary and does not seem as obsessive as those seeking treatments and processes for skin lightening.

In the 1970s, a common saying among African Americans was that "Black is Beautiful". This was a concerted effort to instill pride in people at a time when African Americans sought to celebrate those physical attributes that were natural to them. Afro hair styles, adoption of African sounding names for their children, clothing and fashions reminiscent of Africa, were not only political statements, but affirmations of identity.

But, the term "Black is Beautiful", would be at best a joke in other countries and perhaps an insult in some.

In an interview with CBS News, Yang Mingxuan, nicknamed Aki, the beauty director of the Chinese-language Cosmo Bride, explains that her intensive daily routines to whiten her skin are a small price to pay for whiter skin. "In China," she said through a translator, "there is an old saying, that fairness covers one hundred faults."

Then, a special diet of foods that she believes has skin-lightening abilities: Milk and Chinese yams. She said, "If you eat dark, like soy sauce, you will get dark."

Also, she keeps well-hidden from the sun when she's outside. "It shows that a woman takes good care of her skin, and more people will be jealous of her."

At Chinese beaches, people are wearing anti-sun masks and full head-and-neck no-tan systems; these are full body suits with only small holes for eyes and the nostrils.

And for an ever-more affluent population, there is always the surgical solution. At the EverCare plastic surgery center in downtown Beijing, Dr. Chang Weiling shows off before-and-after pictures of saggy skin tightened, noses reshaped, and skin lightened with freckles gone, thanks to laser treatments and whitening injections.

"You know, no one would like to be called a 'yellow-face woman,' so you have to get rid of brown spots in order to maintain a fair color," said Dr. Chang, through an interpreter.

 With this market worth an estimated $2 billion annually, China can expect the skin lightening business only to expand. Let's hope that in pursuit of lighter skin, shorter lives are not the actual costs.

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