The Answer: Very
I'm part of the minority group that still buys bar soap. But of course, I never use it in the house.
It's for the gym; bar soap won't run the risk of leaking in a gym bag. And its innocuous enough to run around the locker room with without someone stopping me and asking if I've set up shop in a corner somewhere. Bar soap is still useful.
Or so I told myself when I was in the store the other day. When I was standing there. On the periphery of a sale aisle. With a bar of soap on clearance in my hands. Totally worth the purchase. Right?
But all I saw when I bought it was "coconut oil" and "hibiscus." (And the sale price.) It wasn't until after I got home and I was trying to cram it into a traveling container that I read its tagline: "Tones and Brightens." And all of a sudden I had a mental flash of tan and dark women in yoga pants all across America--women far savvier than I, who could actually read and process three words while standing in the store--who intentionally purchased this soap to tone their thighs and brighten their "dark" complexion.
And then all of a sudden I felt really sad.
I thought of a friend of mine from high school, who was so excited to visit his family in the Philippines over Christmas Break. He was going to spend all his time at the beach, and come back with a glorious eye-catching tan. Christmas and New Year's came and went, and when I saw him back in his seat on January, he just looked like his regular self to me. "How was the trip?" I asked. "Awful," he said. "I spent as much time in the sun as I could, but no one told me that soap in the shower was a skin bleacher. I'm whiter than when I left."
That's what I think of when I think of brightening soap. But I get it. Sort of. I spend more time in the sun than I do looking in a mirror; my own complexion can range from brown to really brown, and sometimes when I think I have the hue down I walk past a window and realize that I don't at all. Maybe there's a tip in a beauty magazine for this, if I had learned to pay attention to such things.
All I know is this: when I was in Montreal a few weeks ago, a man much darker than I walked into the cafe I was sitting, drinking a chai. And he was dark. Like, Nubian dark. Tall, Dark, and Handsome dark. And he was wearing a white shirt and light electric blue shorts. And I remember wishing that I was dark enough to wear something like that, or at least to find the colors that would "pop" against my own fluctuating skin tone.
Suntanners exist--they're a whole...thing. But I don't remember seeing any skin darkening soaps.
How racist would it be if I walked around in blackface?