Caribbean Fashion Week - Dance Hall and Skin Bleaching

Uploaded by vice on 26.10.2012


CHARLENE: Welcome to "Fashion Week International," the show
that reports on the most fabulous fashion weeks in the
world, and the culture and politics behind them.
This time we're in Kingston, Jamaica, for
Caribbean Fashion Week.

CHARLENE: In June 2012, Caribbean Fashion Week
descended on Kingston, Jamaica.
Although Jamaica might not be known for catwalk couture,
reggae and dancehall style have
become a worldwide export.
CHARLENE: Whilst dancehall parties are probably the best
parties in the world, they're also the place where you'll
find some unusual beauty trends,
including skin bleaching.

CHARLENE: And girls ingesting agricultural chicken feed to
get a bigger ass.

CHARLENE: Welcome to Caribbean Fashion Week.

CHARLENE: Caribbean Fashion Week has been running for the
last 12 years, mainly without a hitch, with the exception of
2010 when the whole event had to be to postponed due to a
small war being fought between the army and local hero/drug
lord, Dudus Coke.

This year's fashion week was going ahead without a drugs
war in sight at the National Sports Center in New Kingston.
The problem with sports centers, is that no matter how
much hotel furniture and DHL fashions stalls you set up,
it's always going to look like a sports center.
Once the show is actually started, the gorgeous models
definitely had their own way of working the runway to an
eclectic soundtrack of Skrillex and Bob Marley.
However, it wasn't until the fashion stopped and the
after-show entertainment began that the
catwalk really blew up.

CHARLENE: As local dancehall artist and heartthrob
Conscious took to the catwalk, the previously prim girls on
the front row summarily transformed into insatiable
dancehall queens.
In Kingston, dancehall nightlife is omnipotent.
You can rave every night of the week if you want at
imaginatively named parties such as Mojito Monday, Nipples
Tuesday, Weddy Weddy Wednesday, and so on.
To find out more, we were going to meet a man who, to
describe as an authority on the subject of dancehall,
would be an understatement.
We just spontaneously were told we had an interview with
Elephant Man.
And I was like, yeah, cool.
Let's do it.
And then when we walked in and I met him and I shook his
hand, I became completely overwhelmed and I dissolved.
MAN: Love this!

CHARLENE: Yes, pretty man.

CHARLENE: I wore them just for you.

CHARLENE: And what about trends like skin bleaching?

CHARLENE: What for you is the essence of Jamaican beauty?

CHARLENE: How are you going to stay fresh?

CHARLENE: Back at the party, it was easy to see why some of
these girls might cause the men some problems.
Their outfits made their bodies pop in
all the right places.
However, it was hard to ignore an unnatural paleness on some
of their faces.

Skin bleaching is a controversial topic
all over the world.
But Jamaica is the only country where it has become a
subject immortalized in song with popular dancehall stars
such as Vybz Kartel endorsing it.

CHARLENE: However, this is not the only DIY beauty treatment
causing a stir, as we'd find out the next day.
CHARLENE: So we're coming to look at this private farm in
someone's backyard.
A poultry farmer.
Now, this is obviously not entirely fashion-related, but
you'll see.
We were here to find out about an underground trend that
started in Jamaica in the '90s of girls consuming
agricultural chicken feed in the hope of
obtaining curvier bodies.

Colloquially known as fowl pills, they might contain
anything from growth hormones to appetite stimulants.
And one of the key ingredients is arsenic.

CHARLENE: How many do you have?

CHARLENE: You're going to end up as KFC, my friend.

CHARLENE: So girls put this in their porridge?
CHARLENE: And it helps them get
bigger, just like a chicken?

CHARLENE: As this is an underground phenomenon,
there's no actual proof that this plumps girls' breasts and
buttocks the way it does chickens.

CHARLENE: What's nice about fat?

CHARLENE: Why is it better to be bigger in Jamaica?

CHARLENE: Another thing, since I've been here, one of the
fashion is bleaching skin.

CHARLENE: Do you bleach?
BOY: Yeah.
When did you start?

CHARLENE: It's bad for your skin?

CHARLENE: As usual, fashion week was bucking the trend on
the street.
But if eating chicken pill porridge for breakfast was one
of them, then it's probably best left on the street.
I wanted to ask the models what they thought of these
trends, if indeed they'd heard of them.

CHARLENE: General opinion seemed to suggest that this
was a matter of economics and education, as these practices
are popular in low-income areas.
My questioning was eventually overwhelmed by the
excruciatingly loud Europop, so we left fashion week and
headed back to a dancehall party.


CHARLENE: I'd heard dancehall superstar Lisa Hype was going
to be at the party.
She was a protege of Vybz Kartel's and fellow bleaching
advocate, so I was keen to talk to her.

CHARLENE: The dancehall may initially seem intimidating,
like walking into an exclusive club where everyone dances
better and is hotter than you.

But on closer inspection, you realize this is an arena that
welcomes all sorts, just as long as you get involved.

CHARLENE: We make plans to meet Lisa the next day.
In most countries, a celebrity turning up at a nightclub
causes a scene.
Not here.
I was surprised Lisa's presence didn't cause some
sort of hysteria, but not half as surprised by
what happened next.
King of the dancehall, Beenie Man, strolled in to break the
news of the death of his father to the
unsuspecting crowd.


CHARLENE: So we've come this lovely house on the outskirts
of Kingston for a photo shoot for Lisa Hyper's album.
Lisa Hyper is one of the biggest female dancehall stars
at the moment.
She started out as one of Vybz Kartel's proteges, and since
he's been in prison she's trying to reinvent itself.
Obviously, she's one of the most influential female stars
of the moment, but one of the main reasons I want to talk to
her is because she's one of the few stars that advocated
skin bleaching.


CHARLENE: Obviously, here, fashion is so
tied up with music.
CHARLENE: How do you feel now about being a role model to
young girls in Jamaica?
How do you feel about that responsibility?

CHARLENE: People overseas are obsessed with the fact that
everyone is bleaching their skin.
Do you still bleach?

LISA HYPER: Yeah, I still do.
CHARLENE: And can you explain for us why it's so popular
here, because I think there's a lot of ignorance and a lot
of people don't--

CHARLENE: I mean, for some young girls I think because
the processes is not monitored, you can't go and
safely buy the cream and there's no real instructions
because there's no education around it, do you think it
would be better if there was--
somewhere it was more regulated so that--
CHARLENE: --people weren't hurting themselves.

CHARLENE: Lisa seemed uncomfortable
with the term, bleaching.
Many people here prefer to sugar coat the trend by
referring to it as rubbings or toning the skin, making it
sound more like a health treatment at a beauty spa.
CHILD: Come watch me.
CHARLENE: After meeting Lisa, someone who grew up in the
ghetto and is so influential there, I wanted to talk to
some young girls from there for whom the bleaching trend
is a part of everyday life.

So that one is when you're at your whitest?

CHARLENE: So that's like the lightest you got?

CHARLENE: At what age?

CHARLENE: Did people tell you that you shouldn't do it?
It's dangerous for your health?

CHARLENE: And who are the people that say that?

CHARLENE: That's how I clean my bath.

CHARLENE: Do you think, also, the popularity of having
lighter skin comes from the media?

CHARLENE: So what is this chicken pill?

CHARLENE: And it works the same you think for humans?
CHARLENE: Peritol.
The pills they showed me had Peritol stamped on them.
These have nothing to do with chickens.
Peritol is actually an appetite stimulant for
depressed cats.
Chicken pills seems to be an umbrella term for any
under-the-counter pharmaceutical that may help
you gain weight.
Some girls aren't too worried about what they are putting in
their bodies if there's a chance it'll bring them closer
to their ideal look.

CHARLENE: So what happens?
Where do you get the pills?

CHARLENE: The girls then took us into downtown Kingston so
we could see just how easy it was to get hold
of bleaching products.
So where are we going now?

CHARLENE: We are in Kevin's Haberdashery and this is where
the girls buy their bleaching cream.
How do you know what you're buying?
There are so many different types.

CHARLENE: What do you mean by risk?

CHARLENE: Because it's kind of a bit illegal.
You can't just go and ask the doctor what to do, you have to
try yourself.

CHARLENE: I'm looking at Vybz's own brand cake soap.
CHARLENE: Is it-- does it work?


CHARLENE: So we just kind of followed the girls into the
place where they buy the bleaching cream, and I was
quite surprised to see it all on display because from what
I've heard, I thought it was kind of more of an
under-the-counter thing because it's not legal.
So we were OK for a while and then once the people who
worked there realized that we were filming, they asked us to
stop because they thought we were going to expose them.
So we've had to step outside.

CHARLENE: We managed to find a vendor of lightening products
who agreed to talk to me about it.
Generally, like any other accessory fashion store that I
might find in the world.
Except that you sell bleaching cream just like
it's another accessory.
What is it about being lighter at the moment that is more


CHARLENE: Despite the risk of atrophy, stretch marks,
chemical burns, and acne, not to mention the long-term
systemic health effects such as Cushing's syndrome and
diabetes, many girls and boys continue to bleach in the name
of fashion.
The girls we'd met were unwilling to actually apply it
in front of us, so we headed to one of Kingston's premier
strip clubs, Caesar's, to meet a girl who would.
So the girls that we spoke to before, they were really open
about skin bleaching and they let us talk about it for ages.
When it came down to actually showing us how the process is
done, they were a bit uncomfortable doing it.
So, we've been put in touch with a girl who works here.
This is a strip club in Kingston called Caesar's.
I've got to tell you, she's not a stripper,
she's only a hostess.
But she's going to show us and hopefully give us some further
insight into why girls bleach.
What do the men here want?

Who are these girls here?

CHARLENE: So is this kind of what the demand is,
lighter-skinned girls?

CHARLENE: So using skin bleachers is logical, really.
It makes sense--

CHARLENE: Interesting.
Do you ever think about it, and just wish that it was
different and the trend was to be black?

CHARLENE: She took us into one of the back rooms usually
reserved for more amorous encounters where she could
demonstrate her bleaching technique.
So show me what you do.
HOSTESS: All right.

CHARLENE: What do you think would happen if I used it?

CHARLENE: Shall I try?

CHARLENE: It's definitely a little bit warm.

CHARLENE: So you would go out with this under your clothes?
All day?

CHARLENE: If you have a boyfriend already, doesn't it
interfere with your sex life?

CHARLENE: What's more important?
Sex or bleaching?

CHARLENE: And even in summer, like how it is now--

CHARLENE: Some of the beauty trends we've seen here may
appear extreme, but when put up against permatanning and
plastic surgery, it's just another example of the theory
that making our self darker, lighter, fatter, or thinner,
is going to radically alter your fortune.

Fashion week had definitely been a celebration of the more
positive side of Jamaican fashion, but I think couture
will have a tough job taking over from dancehall as the
flagship of Jamaican style.
And a good thing, too.