Leadership (Abuja)

7 June 2008

Nigeria: Bleaching And Coloured Women

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What is being black to you? Is your black colour so dark that whenever you see a black woman on TV who is light skinned, you ever wish you had the same colour as her?

As an African, or to be politically correct a "black person", why do you feel the need to bleach your skin to look lighter? Do you believe that by bleaching your skin, you might be more sought after by men? In our culture, especially in Nigeria, it is a well known piece of information that light skinned women are more favoured than their dark skinned sisters. Some consider identifies being light skinned to be synonymous with beauty. Evidently, when a very dark skinned or a light skinned woman enter a room, the one to get the attention would probably be the light skinned woman. When your skin is lighter; it automatically calls attention to you.

When I was in Nigeria, to bleach one's skin was very much in fashion. There was a time in Nigeria, when almost all the women bleaching their skin or rather, toning their skin to give them a lighter complexion, although, then, it never occurred to me, why women bleach their skin, I considered it normal. Until I grew up and began to understand the dangers of bleaching one's skin. The beauty of a woman is mostly her skin, you can tell a lot about a woman, just by looking at her skin and how healthy it is. During my time of adolescence, my thinking was that, it was a natural thing for women to lighten their skin in order to be beautiful, but as time went by, I saw it differently. The women I knew whilst growing up, were reacting badly towards the creams they are used to bleach. After prolonged bleaching, the skin deteriorates into a different shade, which looks dirty and wrinkled. For older African women who reside in Africa, the side effects of bleaching are never to their favour, as the Weather and of course, nature deal with their skin in a way that would make one puke. It was mostly a horrid sight, seeing rubbery, burnt skin on a person's face.

So why do African women bleach their skin? This question has been asked numerous times by academicians and of course the man on the street. Simply put, African women bleach their skin to look beautiful and in a way, to look more like their Western sisters, who are much fairer. During the colonial times in Africa, it was said that if you were a black woman and light skinned, life was much easier, as being light was almost like to being white. It is not hidden that Africans prefer black women who are light in complexion.

As a female who grew up in a female dominated household, I witnessed Aunties mixing different types of bleaching creams, to fade away their natural skin tone, in order to be accepted by society and of course, date rich men. The lighter you are in Nigeria, the better your chances of success, said one of my aunties. My aunty, whom I call Aunty A, is not your conventional beauty, but she was one who made the best of what God gave her by enhancing her skin tone so she could get the right job or man. When I was about twelve years old, I sat down one afternoon with Aunty A in the kitchen. She was about to mix her bleaching cream and I asked her why she felt the need to bleach. Head bowed, mixing her creams, she smiled and said it helps in the society that we live in. She said I should take a look at her. At her age (then 31), she had no boyfriend, she had no job. She could not understand why she could not get a job in Nigeria, even though she had the right qualifications and to make it worse, neither did she have a boyfriend. She said she'd noticed that all the women that were favoured in Nigeria were mostly light skinned women, and as soon as she'd realised that, she knew she had a private war on her hands. She got some money together and bought bleaching creams so she could get a job and at least get a man that would marry her, and true to her words, after she began to bleach, she went for about five job interviews and finally got a job. However, she could still not get the man of her dreams. Once her salary was paid to her, most of it was spent on bleaching her skin, to enable her to attract the man of her dreams. I asked her what sort of man she thought bleaching her skin would attract and with a glow on her face, she gave a wide smile and said, "Of course, rich men." I had never laughed so much in my life. At twelve, I didn't know much, but I knew that my knowledge surpassed my Aunty A's, as she had no clue. She actually thought by bleaching her skin, she would attract a rich guy. My reply to her was that she should stop bleaching, as I doubted that any sensible man would want to marry a 31-year old with bleached skin. She gave me a knock on the head! true to testimony, she did stop bleaching her skin and got a man. She is now happily married.

To be fair to African women, especially the ones in the diaspora, it is very hard to be a success in this world, as you will find so many hindrances would be placed on your feet; It is not easy for African women in the diasporas, it can be problematic being very dark skinned. In the Western culture, you are mostly judged by your appearance, how you speak and how you present yourself. Being black is almost a curse in the world we live in today. No matter how educated and enlightened you are, once your skin colour is black, the boundaries are set for you. You are invisibly set invisible limit on how high you can go in the Western world. One must also point out that the issue of women bleaching their skin does not only lie in the Western world, it is in every part of Africa. Wherever there are black people, you will always come across black men and women who bleach their skin in order to look the part.

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