This month, guest contributor to the Provocative Objects series Jade Lindo offers a brief glimpse into the history of Nadinola DeLuxe Bleaching Cream.
Although the tradition of skin whitening can be placed far back in the history of beautification, the twentieth-century beauty industry has various characteristics which make it unusually interesting: most of its products were marketed initially to women using large advertising budgets, it even crossed boundaries of health vs science and aesthetics and methods of beautification. The shaping of the beauty industry is rooted in cultural and societal norms based on the way individuals perceive themselves through the views of others. Skin bleaching is practised disproportionately within communities of individuals of ‘colour’, especially those of Caribbean and African descent. In correlation to this practice, it is crucial to acknowledge the colonial context and historical, cultural, and socio-political pressures stimulating the practice. It must be noted that within this matrix of complexity, White supremacy must be identified as an instigator of affinity for skin bleaching.[i]
The recurring discourse is centred on White ideals of female beauty, especially as non-White women were banned from participating in beauty contests in the USA for three decades after the contests’ conception in 1921. Images of beauty were incarnated as blue-eyed, blonde representations, that featured extensively in Hollywood movies.[ii]
America’s beauty culture was a key to many women’s points of aspiration, especially those in developing countries.[iii] These aspirational images created an ideal that could be achieved through vigorous regimes of the most dangerous concoctions that could be placed on the skin.[iv]
Nadinola Deluxe, which was originally created by the National Toilet Company, was founded in 1899 in Paris, Tennessee, USA. ‘Nadinola’ was officially filed as a trademark by Strickland and Co. on 21 August, 1931 and was held by them until 1967 when the licence was registered by E.W. Abrahams & Sons of Kingston, Jamaica. A family-run cosmetics business specialising in hair and skincare, E.W. Abrahams & Sons focused on formulating a toning cream that became known as Jamaican Nadinola Deluxe due to its distinctive list of ingredients, including 3% ammoniated mercury, enabling its utilisation as a skin-bleaching cream.
For Caribbean women the quest to become more socially accepted has relied on equating to Eurocentric ideals of feminine beauty. These ideals were directly influenced and continued by the inner-city social context of Jamaica developed from British colonial impressions. The practice of skin bleaching by women and men in Jamaica involved illegal and often dangerous substances to lighten the skin colour in response to these pressures. Jamaican bleachers used a variety of steroid-infused lightening creams, such as brands like Nadinola, and home-made concoctions like toothpaste and bleach, to lighten their skin.[v]
[i] Yaba Amgborale Blay, "Skin bleaching and global White supremacy: By way of introduction." The Journal of Pan African Studies 4, no. 4 (2011): 4-46.
[ii] Kathy Peiss, ‘Educating the eye of the beholder—American cosmetics abroad’, Daedalus, 131, 4 (2002), pp. 101–9.
[iii] Geoffrey Jones, ‘Blonde and Blue-Eyed? Globalizing Beauty, c.1945–c.1980’, The Economic History Review 61, no. 1 (February 2008): 125–54, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0289.2007.00388.x. pp.144
[iv] Jones. p.144
[v] Donna Patricia Hope, Inna di dancehall: popular culture and the politics of identity in Jamaica (Mona [u.a]: Univ. of West Indies [u.a.], 2006).
Jade Lindo is a Design Historian and recent MA graduate of the RCA/V&A History of Design. She holds a BA in Fashion from University for Creative Arts, Epsom and is a Gillian Naylor prize winner. Jade is intrigued by issues of social and cultural histories surrounding identity, hair, beauty and colonial impacts within the Caribbean diaspora.
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