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Fashion Ova Style: Contemporary Notions of Skin Bleaching in Jamaican Dancehall Culture

Donna P. Hope


This paper explores skin lightening or ‘bleaching’ in Jamaica through the lens of popular dancehall culture. In Jamaica, skin lightening or bleaching is commonly problematized as the superficial manifestation of low self-esteem and/or ideals of whiteness purportedly working in concert to negate a black, African identity in a Eurocentric region. In addition, the practice is usually associated with poor urban women. Using dancehall culture’s debates about skin lightening/bleaching, I suggest that current manifestations of skin lightening/bleaching are more appropriately associated with modern modes and models of “appropriate” fashion and style that are socially and culturally relevant on the terrain of identities that flit across dancehall’s stage. Thus, while skin bleaching is viewed as the epiphenomena of an identity in crisis or the effluent of mental instability, it is more appropriately figured in this space as an almost grotesque reversion of ideas of beauty in this space. In the final analysis, where skin bleaching is coded as feminized by non-bleachers, it is figured as a gendered, aesthetic rite of a fashioned and styled personhood that reflects the Fashion Ova Style ethos of contemporary dancehall culture.


Jamaica, dancehall, Skin bleaching, Masculinity, Gender

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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