“No one is born ugly, we’re just born into a judgmental society,” (Popular Korean boyband leader Kim Namjoon of BTS)
IT HAS been over six decades since Ghana declared her independence from her colonial masters, yet, it has taken a lot longer for most Ghanaians, both men and women, to free their minds from the clutches of European influence.
The perception that fair-skinned women are superior to their darker-skinned counterparts is held in most parts of the world especially, in Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. It is assumed that the condition was drilled into their heads through Europeans who colonised them, insisting on their appearance as being better than ours. Sadly, this notion still stays with us today.
In Asia, the business of skin whitening is booming at a faster rate every single year. In a documentary produced by Vice News in India, it was discovered that saree, a traditional women’s clothing, is modelled by women from Ukraine who have natural ‘white’ skin. The saree companies do not choose Indian women to model the saree because, according to them, their skin is too dark to qualify them to be in the catalogue.
Similarly, to get a blue-collar job or be recruited into the entertainment industry in India, it is a necessary requirement that one must have fair skin. If one is lucky to be born with a fair skin, then they are praised for it. If not, they will spend the rest of their lives finding ways and means to brighten their skin.
In Philippines, one in two people have at some point in their lives, tried to bleach their skin. According to a news report by Refinery29, the Philippines has one of the highest rate of skin bleaching in the world. Skin whitening, here, goes beyond the creams and extends to laser treatments, injections, scrubs and wet and dry dermabrasion which show temporary results but have dangerously lasting effect.
Africans and the Caribbeans have not been immune from this dangerous trend. In Jamaica, both men and women tend to bleach their skin to the point that they eventually become unrecognisable. A woman lamented on a Vice News report that men don’t want you if you are not at the very least brown or lighter, hence, she bleaches her skin to get their attention.
And it is a fact that the average Ghanaian man can unapologetically state that fair women are his ultimate taste. Moreover, there has been many a song sung to worship the fair-skinned woman. This has influenced many dark-skinned women to bleach their skin and continue to do so to earn the level of attention that fair-skinned women get from men.
This is why the bleaching cream market in Ghana continues to grow and does not show any signs of collapsing. Some of the most popular creams on the market which fly off the shelves are bleaching creams even though their side effects are well known.
It must be emphasised that skin bleaching is not without adverse side effects. Glutathione injections, a type of skin whitening treatment, apart from being expensive, can cause liver and kidney failure in the long run. Since bleaching is essentially the removal of the melanin from one’s skin, it causes the skin to age faster as well as causes cancer eventually.
Some people who cannot afford the whiting pills, injections and creams, prefer to make home remedies with toothpaste and hair relaxers. Hair relaxers are known to cause Alzheimer’s disease, developmental and reproductive damage as well as increase the risk of cancer.
Knowing all these harmful effects, however, some women still indulge in skin whitening treatments because they want to meet society’s expectation of what is deemed beautiful.
The irony of the skin whitening phenomenon is that the Europeans whose skin colour influenced it, also undergo treatment to darken their skins. This is what they call tanning. They have tanning beds containing lamps which stimulate the melanocytes to produce melanin thereby making the skin appear dark.
There are also tanning injections as well as natural tanning which is usually done in the summer. White people lie in the hot summer sun for hours and allow the sun’s ultra-violet rays to naturally oxidate the melanin in the body.
Hannah Tittensor, a Caucasian woman from Northern Ireland, is such a woman who enjoys tanning her skin. In a documentary put together by Truly TV formerly known as Barcroft Tv, in 2015, Hannah admitted that she used under-the-counter tanning injections to darken her skin.
So, while Africans and Asians brighten their skins to look more like the Europeans, the latter tan theirs to be a little darker like the former.
In my opinion, therefore, whether a woman is dark-skinned, or light-skinned, does not matter. All women are beautiful regardless of the standard that society has set. Besides, we all have body parts that make us feel insecure. Let us embrace who we are and love our natural skin colour, for it is a part of our identity.
BY Stella Botwe, Legon Intern