Ok, so I actually started writing this article a few weeks back, but seeing how bleaching is so rife in Nigeria I decided to abandon it thinking it was too controversial a topic to tackle! That was before I saw interesting pictures of an actress (who shall remain nameless) on twitter yesterday, literally looking like a mixed race person when prior to her oh-so-obvious bleaching she had a lovely cocoa brown complexion. The picture was re-tweeted many times with comments, one saying that somebody should write an article on the subject, and so just like that my article was resurrected! But even before the unbelievable transformation I saw in the picture, it seemed as though there had been more focus than usual regarding bleaching, with various before and after images floating around and the emergence of the infamous Egyptian Milk, rumoured to be an expensive yet very effective skin lightening product.
I’m sure you all know what skin bleaching is, but for those that don’t, bleaching is the process of lightening the epidermis through using products that either reduce or block the production of melanin in the skin, which is the pigment that makes us dark. A notoriously famous example of someone who bleached their skin is of course Michael Jackson who, may his soul rest in peace, went quite rapidly from a brown skinned boy to a pale skinned man. There are a range of different products that are used to lighten the skin, but the most common is lightening cream. And despite most products having questionable long term effects as advancements in technology mean the formulations are always changing, they continue to be widely used as people persist in their quest for lighter skin.
But why are we so unhappy with our natural skin colour in the first place? As someone who is “chocolate” toned, I must confess that I am very happy with my skin tone, which can sometimes appear fairer than I am in the same way that it can sometimes look darker. If I holiday in a hot climate, I actually enjoying lying in the sun and feeling the rays on my body, but for some people, the sheer thought of this is madness. I have been told people in the past, “Why am you sitting in the sun, don’t you know you’re black?” and even “Ahn, ahn, Funmi you be oyinbo?”, simply because I happen to look quite content standing in the sun, rather than running to stand in the shade as many do.
Nevertheless does it mean that because I enjoy feeling the sun on my body or my face, I’m a white person? Or because I don’t feel the need to scurry into a shaded corner I’m not a “serious” black person? Of course not! When I’ve been told these things, I simply look back with an amused expression on my face because a part of me sympathises with people who find it difficult to be happy in their own skin. I mean of course, we are all different and everyone is entitled to do what they want with their bodies, be it bleaching or whatever; but I believe it becomes an issue when people to try to push their own dissatisfaction with their skin tone on to others, or when society somehow forces people to make certain decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make.
Yet again I come back to the all important question I asked before, why are we so unhappy with our skin tones in the first place? Why is yellow or fair skin perceived to be better or prettier? Why do some people spend so much money, time and energy (because believe me, with the all the exfoliating and even application of cream, it is work!) changing their God giving skin colour? And more importantly, what is the effect of all this bleaching on the skin and body?
As bleaching is not limited to just Africa with both Indian and Japanese people all attempting to lighten their skin, it leads me to think the international quest to become lighter is perhaps due to problems with self-imagery because of our colonial histories. I mean let’s take a step back in time here; back in the days of slavery, fairer skinned people were perceived to be better as they were usually those who were selected to work in the houses and not spend hours under the hot sun carrying out various manual tasks, they sometimes even played the role of the bed mates of the slave owners which probably afforded certain advantages over the other slaves. Is this where our modern obsession with lighter skin comes from?
Lighter was “better” then so have we been brainwashed into believing the same is the case now? I repeat again, this is not limited to the shores of Nigeria. In places such as Pakistani, it is socially unacceptable for a person who is lighter skinned and therefore of a higher caste to marry someone who is darker and from a lower caste system. All of this suggests that it is in fact remnants from our days in captivity that lead us to believe that white or anything close to it is superior to black.
Delving deeper, it’s my opinion that for a lot of women the real motivation for bleaching is about the desire to be attractive to the opposite sex. Feeding into the lighter is “better” theory; I’ve heard various male friends say they only date light skinned girls, and even some guys who believe once they have “made” it stating that they deserve a “correct yellow babe”. I mean of course we all have our type and each to their own; but these men that state they only date light skinned girls, is it literally just the colour of the skin they see, do they see whether the girl is even pretty, if she has a nice figure, or any of the other things that usually attract a man? Because not all light skinned girls are pretty in the same way not all dark skinned girls are pretty, but despite this fact, you can be sure that men who claim that they “only date dark skinned girls” are definitely the minority.
There is no right or wrong here, but the increasing use of bleaching products whatever it is you use, definitely deserves a re-think, if not for any of reason than for your health. Most of the products used contain mercury albeit in small doses; but with continued usage mercury can accumulate in the body causing poisoning which can lead to liver or kidney failure, and this is just one of the known side effects that emerge with long term use. So, you really have to ask yourself at the end of the day, isn’t it better to be darker and healthy rather than fair and ill?
Written by Funmi Daniel