I don’t normally write about this topic because I feel there’s already been so much said about it that I don’t need to add to the noise, but after watching this video, I just had to say something. A friend of mine posted a clip of a Cameroonian recording artist named Irene Major being interviewed recently by two talk show hosts in London. The topic of the interview was Major’s skin bleaching. There were so many things wrong with the interview, on so many levels, that I’m not even sure where to begin. So I’ll just focus on the issue of skin bleaching in the global Black community.
Growing up, dark skinned with full lips and wide hips was not easy in a society that seemed to only celebrate slim, light skinned women with long, flowing hair. Ask any little Black girl that has grown up in a predominantly White society, and most will have a similar story. You make sure that your hair—at the slightest sign of kink—immediately undergoes a treatment to help “relax” it. Or you hide it under weaves because you don’t want the kink to show—period.
You even stay out of the sun so you can avoid getting any darker than you already are. And/or you lighten your skin using over-the-counter creams so you can look more desirable to the opposite sex.
Although skin bleaching is certainly prevalent in the U.S. (think Michael Jackson), it seems to be even more prevalent in parts of Africa and the Caribbean where women are less exposed to the “Black is Beautiful” messages we see more regularly in Black American culture. Take Bill Duke’s documentary, Dark Girls and his newly released book of the same name which features Lupita Nyong’o on the cover. Even Senegalese women are getting in on the action with their Ñuul Kukk campaign—an effort to counter the dangerous practice of skin bleaching by celebrating dark skin in West Africa. Finally, the rest of the world is seeing it. Black is beautiful! Or is it?
Not everyone seems to think so. Irene Major’s interview is only one of a million stories that give a much different view on embracing your natural beauty.
Globally, the skin lightening industry is an almost $20 billion industry. An estimated 77% of Nigerian women lighten their skin—and that’s just one country.
Somewhere along the line, we drank the Kool Aid and are continuing to drink it to the tune of billions. Never mind that just about all skin lightening products have been known to cause countless health problems including thinning of the skin, skin infections, mercury induced illnesses (i.e. cancer), and major skin discoloration with prolonged use.
But the problem isn’t really skin lightening or the health issues associated with the practice; the real problem is the mentality that causes individuals with darker skin to feel like their success—personal or professional—is in direct proportion to the shade of their skin. Historically, it’s a fact that those with lighter skin experienced more favor in society; however, what I’ve come to learn, is that many light skinned Blacks experienced a different form of discrimination growing up. So many of my light skinned girlfriends have told me that even though their friends thought they had it easier, they didn’t feel like they did. Many have spoken about not fitting in because they were too light. Because of their skin color, their peers would think they were automatically stuck up and avoid them, while others wanted to fight them just because. As a result, some of my light skinned friends would spend as much time in the sun as they could to get darker.
Madness. Just. Plain. Madness.
Why do we insist on being something other than what God created us to be? And why does it seem like the thing we detest most about ourselves is the very same thing others envy and want to emulate?
At what point do we take responsibility for how we internalize what beauty really means? We’ve got to get past the cliché of “beauty is only skin deep” and instead recognize that our own self acceptance and self love issues go so much deeper than our skin—but are certainly tied to it. How we decide to enhance our beauty is completely a personal choice. We all want to look our best; but that enhancement should go hand-in-hand with the inner work we do to make sure that it’s not all just superficial. And that it doesn’t end up being a distortion of who we really are—especially if we have young people that look up to us and are modeling our behavior. Although I have chosen to embrace all of who I am and define my own standards of beauty, it wasn’t always this way. I had to do some serious work on myself and discover that, indeed, there are many shades of beauty—regardless of what society thinks.
As Lupita Nyong’o has so eloquently stated:
“…I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.
“What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you…That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul…
I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty.”
BMWK, Do you think practices such as skin bleaching are an enhancement or a distortion of natural beauty?