Let’s Talk Skin Bleaching And Institutions

On Skin Bleaching : Black Woman, you are not the villian.

Can we really talk about skin bleaching without talking about colorism, white supremacy and institutions that promote it? 

I doubt we can because underneath the desire to change your complexion(especially for a dark-skinned African) are layers of insecurities, media and power manipulation brewing from the colonial era.

The dissatisfaction with your original skin tone and the desirability of a lighter one can be attributed to the fact that we were sold a ‘white lie’.

A white lie in this context means the lighter the better and purer, a lie sold through unfair power play but this is not an attack, we just need to talk about it. 

First thing we need to understand is that skin bleaching is not practiced by just Africans as a matter of fact, Africans did not start it. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane shall we? 

Although we have mainstream media misreporting mostly highly-melanated African women indulge in skin bleaching, factual research and history tells us differently. 

From the Victorian age, European women took to powder and lead paint to intensify their ‘ whiteness’ and this graduated to the use of arsenic wafer to help lighten the skin complexion. 

That era seemingly projected whiteness as ‘purity’ and to it only made sense then to invest in it. Not long after that, this practice was handed over to the Americas and gradually it has permeated all continents of the world. 

Coming to our continent- Africa, skin bleaching became prominent just around the colonial era. Coincidence? I think not. 

Remember how in Europe, whiteness was tantamount to purity? We were sold that narrative and unfortunately have gone with it for the longest time. 

Post-colonialism saw the flooding of African markets with skin whitening products and desperately looking to feel powerful, we consumed it voraciously. 

We all know how harmful bleaching is to our skin and overall health, it’s common knowledge but people are ready to damn the consequences to attain the accepted standards of beauty. 

Nigerian actress, Beverly Naya recently released ‘Skin: The documentary’ on Netflix and watching different men and women resort to skin bleaching to feel beautiful and powerful was heartbreaking. 

Institutional Promotion of Skin Bleaching

 Whiteness is a marketing strategy that was and is still being used to sell us products. It can even be seen in more recent advertisements, you know, the one where a dark-skinned person(usually an African woman) uses a skin product and emerges as a lighter, happier version of herself. 

Through the phases we have been  through with bleaching, one factor remains a constant, the consumer is the villain. 

This is in no way showing support or promoting an individual’s use of skin whitening products but I’m just highlighting other powerful players in the funnel. 

Time and time again, white/lighter skin tones have been projected to be the standard of beauty globally and then are institutions that give you a choice to attain that standard. Let’s paint a picture… 

A beautiful darkskin girl who has been called Blackie since she could put words together ,always plays satan in school plays because nobody has ever seen satan but we are sure so sure satan is black, friends and family constantly suggesting different hacks to make her ‘true’ complexion shine.

She wants to be a fashion model so at casting calls she constantly gets backhanded compliments like ‘you are pretty for a dark-skinned girl’ or ‘you would have been more beautiful if you were light-skinned’  and that’s how she loses gig after gig. She doesn’t feel beautiful. 

She’s withstood all the systemic colorism for so long, she can’t take it anymore. Why go through all these when the answer to the issue lies in a tall bottle of lotion or bar of soap? There are institutions that make this available to her. 

It’s time for us to shift our focus from individuals to manufacturers/distributors of these products, governments that allow for the importation, brands and consumer centric industries that perpetrate colourism at different levels and the media who continuously tell a single story on skin bleaching while promoting that lighter is better through adverts, campaigns. 

Blaming the consumer alone cannot overturn the problem as experience has shown . We need to fight the menace of bleaching from all fronts, push for legislation and challenge the systems that promote this. 

Till next time, 

Love and light. 

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