The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Bleaching, Beauty, & Cultural Bias

Lakenda Wallace

Why do we desire that which is not granted to us? If we have curly hair, we wish it were straight. If we have straight hair, we wish it were curly. The grass is always greener.

Actually, that should read, the grass is always whiter.

Did you know skin bleaching was a $43 Billion dollar beauty business globally in 2008, expected to be an $88 Billion business by 2024? Yes, having the whitest skin is so revered around the world that carcinogenic bleaching agents are regularly found in lotions and cream that promise to make your skin lighter. Imagine a commercial with a beautiful, pale, Korean woman slathering herself with a bleaching lotion, smiling, as the jingle behind her croons, “White is so nice.” Disturbing, yes? And real. These products are well controlled in the United States, but can be found throughout South Korea, Japan, China, Caribbean, Ghana, India, Nigeria, and unnamed countries in Africa, South America and Asia.

I recognize the economics tied to the preference for lighter/whiter skin. In India darker skin can mean a lack of marriage offers. The darker skin is perceived as being associated with a lower caste. In America lighter skin is associated with agreeableness and education. According to a Harvard Study, Skin Tone Effects among African Americans: Perceptions and Reality by Joni Hersch, “Lighter skin tone has a consistent positive impact on educational attainment but has a less consistent influence on wages.” Of course, we know education has a huge impact on wages, so…

Lighter is better. In the United States and abroad the reverence for blonde hair cannot be overstated. As In fact, as recently as 2016, Inc. Magazine ran a piece called, Why Are Female CEOs Disproportionally Blonde? Research explains why half the female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are blonde. “Statistics don't lie. Only 2 percent of the world's population has naturally blond hair. If you narrow your sample to white people in the United States, that percentage goes up, but only to 5 percent. But look at women in leadership positions and you'll see a lot of golden tresses. More than a third of female senators--35 percent--are blonde. And though the sample size for female CEOs of S&P 500 companies is admittedly small, 48 percent--nearly half--are blonde.”

The research that is the basis for this article was conducted by Jennifer Berdahl and Natalya Alonso, professors at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business. The professors interviewed a study of 100 men to gauge the impact of hair color on immediate perceptions found, “given photos of blonde and brunette women paired with a quote, such as "My staff knows who's boss" or "I don't want there to be any ambiguity about who's in charge." Suddenly there were big differences, with the brunettes coming in for harsh criticism, while the blondes were rated much higher on warmth and attractiveness.”

So whiter is better, whether hair, skin, teeth…and that perception is, literally, killing people. Skin bleaching has been linked to mercury poisoning, dermatitis, damage to the kidneys, linked to cancer, and unbelievable discoloration and scarring if you stop using the product. So think twice before you start adding that bleaching agent. It is a beauty commitment that really asks till death do you part.

Hair bleaching has not been linked to any cancers, though it is known to damage hair, damage scalp, cause chemical irritations (read low grade allergic-like reactions) to the scalp, damage hair, and cause possible hair loss. Not deadly, as far as we know, but not beneficial for the hair, just your status.

So what have we learned? Bleaching is caustic and corrosive and does damage. It is commonly used for an advantageous positioning within society.

Professors Alonso and Berdahl seemed to sum up their findings when they told the Huffington Post, "If women are choosing to dye their hair blonde, there's something strategic about the choice. If the package is feminine, disarming, and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, independent, and masculine behavior."

Ladies and gentlemen, we are that society. We are letting baseless, superficial perceptions influence our decision-making. So the woman with dark hair is a bitch and the blonde is “cute for being all bossy and everything.” Anyone else recognize how demeaning that is for all sides?

We are killing ourselves, literally, to be perceived as more. That is a mentality of lack, bolstered by you-need-to-be-something-more-to-be-accepted advertising and media. Well, Oprah is not a blonde. Viola Davis is not a blonde.

You are enough. Right now as you are.

Now, I am not saying we need to all go brunette tomorrow, but it is worth ruminating over these truths. Can we not accept whoever we are, as we are? The biggest glow up of your life is accepting who you are.

Think about it. Our shared collective trauma is beginning to show.

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Scent & Emotions

Lakenda Wallace

Scent has the power to inform whether we feel comfortable in a place or not. Scent has the power to trigger memories, bringing people long gone before you. An agitated mind that bends a nose deep into a fragrant rose and inhales, straightens with a sense of momentary calm.

These same tenants of aromatherapy are still true in natural perfumes. An accord (a blend of fragrant extracts and scents layered to create a singular harmony of fragrance) can be used individually or blended with other notes and accords to craft a multidimensionally exquisite olfactory experience. Each of these natural, harmonious additions to an accord come with their own fragrant frequency to support us emotionally.

A perfumer, for instance, may create three different accords based on the distinctive notes of three different lavenders with three different, yet obviously overlapping, emotionally supportive focuses. Lavender is scientifically proven to induce calm, provide migraine relief and more, however within the family of lavender there are different strains, which have different properties (smells + health benefits). The classic scent most associated with lavender is the round floral of French Lavender with just a hint of menthol sharpness. Inhale deeply and feel a sense of calm spread through your body. Raised shoulders naturally untensing and lowering.

An accord crafted to bolster its particular fragrant frequency might pair The French Lavender with an atlas cedar to enhance the calming restive qualities or a rose or to bolster the feeling of safety, which blends well with the calm of this strain of lavender brings.

The second accord based on Spike Lavender, playing over the intense sharpness that borders on the medicinal with hints of lavender beneath. Spike Lavender brings on an alert calm, perfect for feeling focused and being productive. This accord could blend with a rosemary or peppermint to enhance the alert and focused aspects of the scent or a clary sage to help the mind wind down into calm.

The third accord, based on an unencumbered lavender floral from Napa, boasts the delicacy of a gardenia top note, but with less hubris. This Napa Lavender from DeVero Farms offers up notes of honey, chamomile, Spanish mint and the riotess, herby lands on which it grew--all while remaining distinctly lavender. Deep inhalations of this essential oil or hydrosol brings an expansive sense of peace and freedom. You can feel the acreage of wild lands around you, even in a small space. This could be blended with chamomile to increase the sense of calm or spikenard to add the comforting warmth of self appreciation and confidence.

Clearly, many of us will need more than scent to cope with what is the world around us in 2020. So, we know the calm of a lavender cannot be compared to a valium, however, I find when present in my world--through room sprays, perfumes, or flowers--I have an easier time of shifting my thoughts to support my emotional state. The scent is the little tap on the nose that reminds me I am safe. The whiff of the lavender-rose-spikenard accord remind me that I am calm and capable before I step into a meeting. Clearly, I have to decide to believe I am capable--even if that means ‘fake it til you make it’ Let me say, it is the repetition of the concerted effort to change a behavior, along with the supportive fragrant frequencies, mentors, friends, music, outdoors, etc. that bring noticeable changes. No essential oil, accord, or natural perfume alone will support mental health. Nor will one pill alone or one therapist alone. It takes finding the supportive life attributes that harmonize to help you lift your mood, change your way of thinking. Find balance.

Let’s face it, the road is rough out here. Isn’t it nice to have a little help on the journey? Go, explore. Find the fragrant frequency that supports you feeling your best you.

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Honoring the Fragrant Mind

Lakenda Wallace

Exploring the techniques, folklore, and history of perfume, herbs, and flowers sparked a question for me. If herbs and flowers have healing properties, would those healing properties be available once extracted into scents? Could scent actually elicit positive emotional states of being?

Research led me to Valerie Wormwood’s The Fragrant Mind. The sense of smell is the ONLY physical sense with direct access to the brain. It was one of early man’s first danger detectors. Smells bad, don’t eat. Smells good, take a try.

The concept: use scents to improve your mental outlook and happiness. Sure, it’s no Xanax, but let’s face it, every little bit helps. Think “A little grapefruit essential oil for happiness in the morning and a little lavender blend to settle at night.”

This was a new concept. The traditional perfume scents of the 1980’s and before were meant to capture attention through smoke-filled rooms. Perfumes, historically, were necessarily strong and overpowering to drown out the less pleasant smells of the day. However, in today’s smoke-free interiors (and regular bathing), those perfumes are the second-hand toxin.

Synthetic perfumes use chemicals to achieve those dense, forever-lasting scents. According to The Guardian, “Why Smelling good could come with a cost to health," 

outlines the many issues with our synthetically fragrant world. Cancer, reproductive effects (hormone issues), migraines, skin rashes, and more have been linked to the very worrisome chemicals lurking under the label under the legally-undisclosed cover of “fragrance.”

The overload of chemicals in car fresheners, fabric spays like Febreeze, and synthetic perfumes cause reactions for me. My sinuses become inflamed in minutes, literally, which triggers a migraine. This is where my search for a modern, natural equivalent began. Valerie Wormwood’s Fragrant Mind is where my passion was lit. I created Cashmere to help me feel more self-assured. The alchemical recipe for this includes roses for love, spikenard for self-love, and lavender for a calm demeanor.

The pursuit of beauty has been a world facing out. How am I perceived? What do I need to hide or cover up? But these perfumed cover ups are taking their toll.

Modern Peasant is trying to turn that beauty pursuit around. Beauty should be more of a quest to find ways to appreciate yourself-- flaws and all--so your inner radiance shines out. Natural perfume is one of my insider beauty tips. Use a scented “cheat.” It is better than the alternative, fragranced perfumes and room sprays, which are, literally, making you sick.

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Garden Alchemy

Lakenda Wallace

How does your garden grow?

Are you straining to find the sun because you are not planted in a space of thought that aligns intention, needs, and action? Are you depleted because you have allowed encroaching weeds of self-doubt and accepted criticism to divert your growth-inspiring nourishment?

How does your garden grow?

Are your branches heavy with fruit, standing in the glorious knowledge that who you are is supported by a lattice of determination and intentional living? Do you allow your vibrant blossoms of personal expression to mix flawlessly in a vivid canvas of color, scent, and texture that is the garden?

Like the garden, your stillness vibrates with the energy of growth towards your perfect expression of self. Conditions will sometimes be mild and at other times harsh, as is the cycle of life. Expand into the breath of stillness. Explore your strength. Recognize the beauty of your unique bloom in the rampant foliage of the garden.

When you recognize and accept your unique gift to the garden, it will be easier to see the unique beauty all around you in this verdant space.

Shape how your garden grows.

Start a practice. Everyday tell yourself one thing you like about yourself. Then, throughout the day, recognize one thing you like about every person you see. You do not have to know them. You do not have to speak or interact with them. The practice is for you.

Answering the question, "What do I like about you?" can be daunting. But there is always something to appreciate in every person. Whether it is acknowledging the resilience of a homeless person who finds the strength and tenacity to keep asking in the face of a literal parade of rejection. Or the shoe selection of the person in front of you at the grocery store, curt and impatient with the cashier. That said, the practice is not meant to substitute for helping where one can or accepting rude behavior. It is a practice, for you, so that you can shift your perspective to see more of the beauty within this glorious garden. Every day and in every person.

Appreciate the uniqueness of who you are and the power you have to create a semblance of Eden for yourself in your own backyard.

How does your garden grow?

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The Delicious Encounter of Ochun + Ogun

Lakenda Wallace

The story goes, Ogun, the god of iron and innovation, had grown depressed by the state of the world—the state of humanity ceaselessly using his gifts to bully and injure. So, deciding he could see no more, he took himself and his gifts into a cave. To stay.

With Ogun gone from the world, civilizations began to break down. Obatala, his father and King of the gods asked him to come out. “There is no beauty left in the world. I am staying here. “

Shango, the God of Justice, tries to reason with him. And still Ogun refuses to leave. His mother, Yemanja, the Goddess of the Ocean tries to flood him out.

And still Ogun refused to leave.

Iyansa called up her army of the dead. Ogun quickly sent them back to peace and, still refused to leave. This back and forth with the gods trying to trick, reason, and bully Ogun out of the cave (while the world slid back into the Dark Ages) were unsuccessful.

As the gods discussed new tactics to get Ogun out of his cave, Ochun cleared her throat. Ochun, Goddess of the Sweet water, known for her beauty, her sensuality, and her deep and abiding sense of self-respect said, “I can get him out.”

The gods laughed, “You! What can you do to get him out?” Obatala stepped in to restore order before Ochun got mad and took herself away again  (but that’s another story). “Ochun, if you can bring your brother from the cave, you can save humanity.”

Ochun looked back at the gods who still giggled. She flicked her hair over her shoulder and slowly straightened her dress over every curve of her body. The giggling ceased. Dry throats attempted to swallow. Ochun had that effect. She was sensuality incarnate and neither god nor man was immune. Slowly, sauntering towards the cave her hips beat out a rhythm that churned rivers and smashed with force against the rocks in a waterfall. Just as quickly, the water pooled into a basin dug from its own force and tenacity.

Ochun’s newly created lake was just outside of Ogun’s cave. Sacred plants of basil sprung up, showing this to be a protected space, cleansed of lower energies. Shrubs of honeysuckle, fragrant in full bloom, cast a sweetness into the air. She knew the perfumed breeze would announce her and, so, she stripped off her dress—appreciating every sensation of the air against her skin—and waded into the water.

Ochun began to lather her body with honey, slowly washing and rubbing the honey across her neck and breasts...

And Ogun stood erect before her—out of his cave.

Never underestimate the power of scent and Divine Sexual Energy to change the world.

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