Skin Bleaching by African Women

The potential dangers and harmful side effects of skin bleaching notwithstanding, it is on the increase in Africa. It is believed that about 25 to 80 percent of women regularly use skin whitening products to achieve what they believe is a beauty enhancement.

Among the many reasons why women bleach their skin, particularly their faces, include the removal of rashes, acne and skin blemishes to achieve a shining, even skin tone. Probably more common in Africa, the practice of skin bleaching is not native to Africa and it is not limited to the female gender. In Africa, however, it is closely associated with lightening skin color, beauty and attractiveness. Invariably, as researchers conclude, low self-esteem emanating from slavery and colonialism as well as white supremacy account for the practice. According to Adetoogun, MBBS et al, “women who bleach are perceived as loud and lewd in most African societies.”

There is a mixed perception in spite of the increasing and growing patronage of skin whitening products and the act itself. Messages are also mixed. A section of the public in Africa and elsewhere view the practice as wrong and destructive not only to the skin but to the self-esteem of the black race. But the reaction to the practice, especially by young and vivacious girls, and even among adults who indulge in it, is the resultant effect: skin lightening gives them the confidence of the false impression of beauty. On the other hand, positive social response to skin whitening is increasing.

In Ghana, for instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned and warned against the use of some substances used in manufacturing that could be detrimental to the skin. In 2017 the regulatory agency banned all creams containing hydroquinone considered damaging to the skin. Unfortunately, it has not stopped importers from bringing them into the country. They smuggle them or conceal them from customs authorities at the entry points to the country. A skin-care advocate in an interview is quoted as saying: “Now everyone is bleaching, and it is even the educated and wealthy ones who are deeply involved – even more alarming is the fact that mothers are bleaching their newborns. A scary development, and Amandla is appealing for a serious investigative process to stop before it becomes a health scare.

A notable and renowned dermatologist with the Accra based Rabito Clinic Dr. Delle has this to say: “What is sad is that the users don’t even know the chemical composition of what they are spending so much of their money to buy. These newer forms expose users to irreversible skin conditions, and can damage the liver and lead to all manner of life-threatening diseases.”

Not only is skin lightening considered wrong even by some of those who indulge in it. It has sociopolitical implications and enhances perceptions held by non-Africans that Africans are inferior. Ghana’s first leader, Kwame Nkrumah introduced what he termed African Personality, a concept borrowed from early anti-slavery advocate and Africanist Edward Blyden. The African Personality theory is explained as “emphasizing the interrelatedness between a person and their community.”

Amandla considers African Personality as conceived by Nkrumah as meaning the need for Africans to embrace their africanness in thought and deed but not necessarily isolationist.

 We at Amandla consider skin lightening as defeating the concept of ensuring that Africans behave as Africans, do things as Africans, but rejecting what others impose on Africans. Skin lightening reinforces self-loathing. It is an expression of lack of confidence and could be a psychosomatic condition.

Nkrumah emphasized the need to appear African and exemplified it by appearing at the United Nations in Kente cloth. The theory embraces the entirety of Africanness as unnecessarily adopting lifestyles that demean Africans. The concept of Assimilation introduced in French colonialism sought to destroy anything considered African and even related to the African. It sought to educate the African to become French without consideration of the African’s personality. We dare say that it is such historic and colonial impact that continues to influence the lack of consensus among ECOWAS nations.

Among some of the affectations of western lifestyle by Africans and slaves and their ancestors include hairstyles.  Black slaves adopted the practice of hair frying that was essentially hair straightening as well as skin lightening.

Skin lightening is a fad not only in Africa. Asia Pacific accounts for 54.3 percent of the global market. The rest, including Africa share the remaining 45.7 percent. CNN reports that in the Asian Pacific region bleaching is practiced mostly among the wealthy. In such an economically growing area, the use of skin bleaching could also be as equally devastating to users as they are in Africa. As in Africa, the trend is rooted in colorism and culture and we presume it is also a colonial legacy. Male use of skin bleaching is also on the increase not only in Asia but in Africa.

Fair-skinned women are celebrated in African societies in folk music, poetry and stories. There is a deep-seated admiration in Africa for colored women against the concept of African personality that Africans must fight. African leaders are not helping either as some continue to marry white women, probably because whiteness is considered superior and the fair skin opens doors.

Amandla suggests education as the only way to divest African minds against such a self-destructive perception.

Posted by on Sep 13 2023. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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