Africa: Where Black is no longer beauty
By Aipu Adoba
Black, they say, is beauty. But this profound truism may not have enjoyed wide acceptance after all. At least, not to some Nigerians who have chosen to alter their natural dark look in preference to lighter complexion. It reminds one of Jame Aggrey, the Ghanaian poet and politician when he declared, “l’m proud of my color.” In utter disdain for the white supremacists, and to underscore the black man’s inalienable right to self-determination Aggrey had intoned, “Anyone who is not proud of his color is not fit to live. “
But the desire for light skinned color by black Africans is rooted in neo-colonialism. A product of mental servitude orchestrated by western capitalists through highly persuasive media advertisement by the cosmetic giants deeply rooted in media messages that tend to portray the white as superior skin. Only recently, Fair and White, a cosmetic giant that manufactures skin lightening product held a beauty pageants for Skin-bleachers named ‘Nigeria's Miss Fair & White Pageant in Nigeria, world most populous black nation. The urge among Africans to become ‘white like’ is so pervasive that even Aggrey’s Ghanaians today spend as much as $3,000 to procure ‘Half-Caste’ babies through a scientific method called vasectomy, a trend that is fast becoming a status symbol. The process requires implanting white male sperm to fertilise the black female egg.
The Ghanaian experience is captured in the recent report of infoboxx.com reports. According to the online publication, “In Ghana, they are regarded as hotcakes. Their complexion put them on a fairly higher pedestal, as they are the ones every guy or lady craves to date - the half-caste! But ever thought that a time will come for half-caste babies to be bred in Ghana? Well, thanks to modern science, one can have a half-caste or mixed-race baby without necessarily having to marry or have sexual intercourse with a person of different race. Following in the steps of artificial insemination, a novel venture to create a new society –‘Half-caste World’- on the African continent is bourgeoning in Ghana’s capital, Accra”.
The half caste phenomenal has rudely diminished the African pride of black as beauty. But not just in Ghana, even in Nigeria where the quest for white complexion skin by some people has led to outright bleaching. So, worrisome it was that the ministry of health at one point decided to campaign against the bestial habit by highlighting the danger it poses to victims especially, when they are required to undergo medical surgery.
The habit of skin bleaching cut across sex. It is found in both men and women alike. While it is still prevalent among women of low social status, it could also be found among the highly placed in the society. But the question is why are people bleaching? What are the motivations and the implications?
Communication theorists have tried to explain media-audience reactions within the context of media message-channel-audience response. It explains how media contents influence audience behaviour, which provides a clue as to the question of why people bleach. In Nigeria and indeed many African countries, advertisers have had to employ the sex-appeal on televisions as one way to gain the heart of fashion inclined men and women.
The trend is driven by the media as light skinned women are portrayed to be more beautiful and adorable, Lupita Nyong'o a popular Kenyan actress who leaped to limelight in an award winning movie titled “12 years a slave” had her picture photo shopped in Vanity Fair magazine such that she looked several tones lighter than her original self. Such a celebrity is a ready choice for advertiser and models, and is often used to endorse beauty ads.
According to a research carried out last year by the WHO, 77 percent of women in Nigeria use skin-lightening products, the world’s highest percentage. The figure compares with 59 percent in Togo, and 27 percent in Senegal.
The report said in many parts of Africa, lighter-skinned women are considered more beautiful and believed to be more successful and likely to find marriage. It also said it is not only women who are obsessed with bleaching their skins. Some men too are involved in the practice.
According to Dr.Robert Inalegwu ,a dermatologist who spoke with The Nigerian Times also said skin bleaching comes with hazardous health consequences. The dangers associated with the use of toxic compounds for skin bleaching include, blood cancers such as leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys, as well as severe skin conditions. She said hard-core bleachers use illegal ointments containing toxins like mercury, a metal that blocks production of melanin, which gives the skin its colour, but can also be toxic.
Despite all the side effects of bleaching cream, skin bleaching is still on the rise. The Nigerian Times decided to find out from a cross section of Nigerians why they bleach.
Before and after picture of Dencia, who rose to fame after releasing whitenicious, one of the most controversial bleaching creams ever to be sold in Africa
According to Ndidi a health worker in Abuja, “80 per cent of Nigerian men are attracted to light skinned women, as a result Nigerian women are inclined to bleach,” She said. But, Phoebe and Ifedolapo would not agree with Ndidi. As far as they are concerned, it’s as a result of inferiority complex.
Mrs hannatu Wakawa a fashion designer believes most Nigerian women bleach because of the wrong perception that it makes them more beautiful and attractive.” I think they do so based on their erroneous perception that if they bleach their skin to become fair in complexion, they will look very beautiful. Such women must have beheld other women of fair complexion that are beautiful and want to be like them,” She said.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) approved only 2 per cent of chemicals such as mercury and hydroquinone in cosmetics products. But then, a careful examination of some of the beauty products in the market contains far more than the approved percentage.
Uchenna Emeka, a cosmetic dealer in Wuse market, Abuja, said most customers would pay anything to have beauty products with a high percentage of any of the above bleaching chemical.” Many of my customers are not satisfied with cosmetic product that has just 2 percent of bleaching agent, they insisted on getting the ones with higher percentage because they work faster,” Emeka said.
Despite the serious and well known side effects of bleaching creams, most users in their blind quest for beauty remained undeterred. Africa and indeed Nigeria may not be sharing in the joy of ‘being black’. Yes, many are eager to shout how proud they are to be black, yet some would do anything to look ‘white’ while claiming black. Bleached skin does not end with health side effects alone but transmit the lack of core values of blackness. The tale of colonialism, slavery and apartheid which ought to bind black Africans to their cultural heritage is rather been eroded. It is heart breaking that the Blackman is revolting against its own ancestral heritage by himself. Many have described this as the sign of the time, when the black is no longer beauty.