It was one of those mornings when we had a casual talk in the office before we settled down to work painstakingly for 8 straight hours, ooh with an elusive lunch break in between. An assemblage of us, from tea girls, cleaners to the rest of the folks, carrying high optimism that it wasn’t just another day in the office that would do little to make our goals in life appear a bit real. We were drawn here, debating. By now you know what we pierced apart…skin lightening craze that is gaining more confidence by day, nabbing in likely and unlikely victims from high end office dwellers in Westlands to dark alleys residents inside Korogosho slums wadding its way to the rest of the country. A good majority of ladies and older women have been caught up in this mess of perceived beauty that convinces one to shed off her native African colour and dress up in a lighter skin that promises …god knows what!!
If you stand somewhere in the streets of Nairobi and decide to interview random men about the complexion they prefer in ladies, seven out of ten will tell you they have a soft spot for yellow yellow lasses. Statistics have it that 70% of urbanite African women have either skin bleached or contemplating doing it. It’s from this numbers that has led to mushrooming black markets of unregulated skin products promising overnight skin revolution. And by the way, men are clueless in this game. They have no idea if the ladies they are dating have real beauty or artificially insulated colours. Women are subtle human beings and a good number will always hide some cards below the table if not daggers to lure you into them. I’m not insinuating all women use this products but, numbers don’t lie.
We spot them at the bus stops, at the Mpesa shops, occasionally bumping into them in our office lifts, or in estate salons grappling with a skin colour that loudly betrays their feet, elbows and other scattered parts of their bodies. You must know this Aunty who nowadays looks browner. You fight the urge of telling them, ten years down the line their faces will have metamorphosed to something worse, making them appear older than their age. Over time their bodies will resemble a rainbow, donning all colours under the sun forcing them to cover even their feet all in pursuit of this perceived beauty.
Never question God about your looks. Moreover, the obsession with ladies craving to be lighter is certainly misplaced. It’s an insult to our Africanness. The perception of holding highly the whites at the expense of our dark colours is something Africans have not grown over, still deep rooted in our conscious. In the day of our Lord today, common sense is no longer common from the look of things. I’m not suggesting men don’t judge women by their looks, however, empty fakeness and desperate acts to appear browner certainly scares a good number away. What else could you be hiding in your shrouded secretive life? We wonder.
We Africans are bleeding with self esteem issues from our skin colour. We want to be like the whites. In Western countries, they call us the People of Colour. And that maims our hearts. It bogs down our rich historical background. It makes us feel inadequate and incomplete. Unfortunately, the whites have succeeded in painting an illusion that has sunk deep into our societal bones, that being dark is not cool. That Dark colour has everything to do with evil, dirt and backwardness. Our primary school teachers made it worse. They made us believe black is bad and evil, and that white is pure, clean and good. We copy pasted that into our lives. We asked ourselves hard questions of why we were created black. We questioned our heritage angrily. Anytime we spotted mzungu tourists, we ran to them, shouting mzungu, mzungu… hello mzungu. To us, mzungus were another set of gods. We were made to believe we are second class people who should have no ambition whatsoever. History teachers made us identify with being African slaves and casual labourers who should work for the whites.
That answers the question why contemporary ladies, including the fairly older women and grandmothers crave to be lighter. They are all in a mission to identify with the whites, where light skin is perceived to increase one’s social standing, privileges and marital prospects. They are needlessly auctioning their bodies to affirm a stereotype that dark colours have everything to do with emptiness and of dull people with blurred cultures.
Seemingly, the rich and the poor, intellectuals and semi literates, religious to socialites, mothers and daughters, sophisticated ladies who drive Nissan X -trail or Suzuku Escudo to clingy housewives, all appear to have been caught up in the foggy webs of colonial hangovers and ugly confusions that imagines, turning one’s body lighter makes one more beautiful. What the victims of this euphoria are oblivious of, is that some of us call this; self-denial, self-betrayal and self-sponsored ignorance. They crawl to chemists to purchase drugs that 20 years from now will compel their relatives to run dry their investments and savings to foot defeating hospital bills that have something to do with skin cancer, liver/kidney failures and other ills. Honestly, why would one subject her loved ones to such a mess, sinking them into selfish pitfalls that milk dry every coin they have, just to mitigate the burden of their deteriorating health status?
Lupita Nyong’os of this world have done little to tone down the madness. Relatively few ladies identify with her skin colour opting to go for beauty products that promise them overnight beauty. You’ve perhaps had the story of The Clark Doll Experiment where a study was done by a couple in America who asked black children to choose between a black or a white doll; they overwhelmingly chose the white as the nice one. This happened way back in America. Fast forward today, any person who opts to change her skin colour to be lighter insults our African Heritage. It is tantamount to saying; Yes we are backward, less human, less civil, poor, not any nice and doomed. Now, that insult is being passed from mother to daughter to niece, to the house girl and to the girl next door!
Skin lightening creams can be divided into legal products recommended by dermatologists and illegal, over-the-counter and unregulated products. Most reputable skin lighteners are expensive. Because of this, the market is vulnerable to over-the-counter, unregulated and unsupervised use of skin lighteners. The use of these creams can result in irreversible skin damage. The majority of illegal depigmenting or skin lightening creams can contain between 8% to 15% of hydroquinone. The use of hydroquinone in cosmetics has been banned since 2001. Hydroquinone is used in large quantities in paints and as a photographic developing solution.
Who will stop this madness? Who will change the narrative?
Boyfriends, fiances and husbands who date or are married to ladies who use skin lightening products; you better save enough. Yours will a be a to and fro hospital kind of thing not too far away. You that finance surgeries to have your woman look lighter, you better start saving too for another round of expensive trips in South Africa and India.