The Treatment of Hyperpigmentation Sure Feels a Lot Like Fatphobia

Welcome back to the Learning Curve, a monthly column where we unpack the complicated experience of accepting your own body in a world that doesn’t seem to want you to. This month, content creator and educator Gloria Lucas unveils how closely related the treatment of hyperpigmentation is to fatphobia — and both of their sordid ties to racism.

The first time my own hyperpigmentation was pointed out was around the time I was entering puberty. “Tallate el cuello,” my mother would insist, believing that the darker skin on my neck could simply be scrubbed away. And for a time, I believed her. I actively avoided scrubbing any parts of my body so I didn’t even have to look at them. My body disgusted me. A lot of the shame for my body and skin hyperpigmentation only intensified when my body began to get bigger. Now, in my thirties, I’ve come a long way since then, but it pains me to remember how early I began self-sabotaging and disembodying.

Growing up in an immigrant home in the early 2000s, there were no spaces or even language to talk about this body-image stress I was carrying as a child. More than two decades later, I still can’t understand why so many of my body-image memories were suppressed; fully processing my body shame must have been unbearable for me. No wonder I eventually developed an eating disorder. Through my experiences and learning from other Black, Indigenous, and folks of color with skin hyperpigmentation, I realized how much deeper skin hyperpigmentation aligns with anti-fatness and anti-Blackness.

Skin hyperpigmentation is a very common and usually harmless skin condition wherein some areas of the skin have increased coloration. Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist in Hamden, Connecticut, previously told Allure that skin hyperpigmentation can happen due to hormones, aging, sun exposure, heredity, acne, and certain health conditions. Studies show that melasma, just one type of skin hyperpigmentation “affects approximately 5 million people in the United States with a prevalence rate up to 40 percent in certain populations.”

A quick skin hyperpigmentation internet search displays an astounding amount of medical and beauty articles on “fixing” uneven skin tones. In addition to paid advertisements for local beauty clinics, a wide range of skin-lightening products take up the first page of results, including vulva and anal bleaching products. Even with body diversity and anti-racism efforts taking place all over the world, the skin-lightening industry is projected to double and is estimated to be $11.8 billion by 2026, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc.