It all started when the Queen asked her mirror that one question everybody knows; ‘Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
For years, fairer has meant prettier. The films said so; the billboards said so. So popular was the idea that the literal translation of “pretty” became “fair”.
Thanks to a couple of renowned personalities in the beauty industry (take Beyonce, for example), brown skin is definitely getting more recognition.
But here is the danger; because it has become a sort of movement to “love dark skin”, people are compelled to pretend they agree- the bandwagon effect.
What do I mean? It means that the average person claims that all skin types are equal, but if they were presented with two identical women, one dark and one light, they are ten times more likely to select the fairer person as prettier.
It makes you think, have we really moved forward, or are we simply pretending?
When Did It Start?
Nobody knows where the idea that black is bad and white is good came from, but we do know the origin of the stigmatisation of dark skin.
Centuries ago, while slavery was in its prime, poor women and slaves would go out to the field to work for their pay.
The long hours spent under the sun caused them to have darker skin and freckles. The richer women and wives of slave masters spent all day at home, knitting and drinking tea. As a result, they were white as snow.
And as the colonial masters waltzed unto our African soil, so did this belief.
We were so awe-struck by the white, smiling colonial masters that we subconsciously wanted to look like them, talk like them, and walk like them. Subsequently, we began to gauge beauty with them as the standard. The less African you look, the prettier.
And so began the derogation of dark skin.
The Effect of Colourism on Africans
Like it or not, this barrier exists. So what? How bad is the damage?
Employment bias: Particular positions such as waitress, air hostess, and receptionist require you to be pleasant to look at. A company or brand concerned about its image would want to select the prettiest applicants.
That’s why colourism comes in; the darker you are, the less likely it becomes for anyone to place you at the forefront of their company.
As a dark skin woman, you better be smart because nobody’s going to want to look at you for long.
Bleaching: Some call it a remedy, but it is more like a plague. To fit in with the acceptable skin colour, many women spend a lot of money killing their melanocytes and peeling off layer after layer of their skin.
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), 77% of Nigerian women use bleaching products. In fact, bleaching and lightning products top fourth on the list of the most essential household products, right after soap, tea and milk.
Further exploitation: Guess who benefits from our poor self-esteem? You guessed right, the colonisers again. The bleaching industry in the US is estimated to be worth 4.8 billion dollars. They have been reaping returns since 1960.
Bleaching: A Solution Or A Disease?
We know that Princess Ariel sacrificed her voice for a pair of legs. What do women sacrifice for fair skin? A lot. Bleaching creams contain a high amount of mercury, a substance widely known for its poisonous activity. This poison kills melanocytes and renders them unable to produce melanin, the popular skin darkening pigment. If this chemical can affect melanocytes, of course, it can poison other cells too. Over time, the use of this chemical predisposes its user to skin cancers.
Worse still, because the skin is significantly weakened, bleaching products cause wrinkling, hyperpigmentation and poor healing. The result? Women that bleach age faster, have multi-coloured skin patches, and almost all their injuries leave a scar—quite a monstrous picture.
What Can Be Done?
Someday, we will realise that we can decide what is beautiful by ourselves. The only way to be free from Eurocentric beauty standards is to appreciate the wealth and depth of our culture. Remember, your skin feeds directly from the sun.