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Yellow Fever-Melanin Fights Back

‘Black is beautiful’, ‘Made of melanin’ and a lot of catchphrases have come up to change the narrative of the negative attachment to being dark skinned. Colourism exists and more recently, has come to the fore in a lot of conversations due to an ad by beauty company Nivea with their ad in Nigeria and Ghana with the caption, For Visibly Fairer Skin.

As usual, social media had a field day discussing the ad and how it was trying to suggest that fairer skin is better skin. Was it really a suggestion or did it capitalise on the reality of the Nigerian society as regards colour? This brings us to the obvious issue of colourism. Although this issue occurs all over the world, Nigeria will be our focus. What is coloursism? It is discrimination based on skin colour where certain people are treated differently based on the social connotations to their skin.

El Nathan John, author of Born on a Tuesday created a thread on Twitter to discuss how the Nivea ad was only profiting from a colourist society. This thread highlights the high demand for skin lightening products in the country due to acceptance (from being lighter) and a statement of choice (for some). Highlighting the latter is a quote from Dr Bibi Bakare, in her argument Yellow Fever, NKO?, “Some of the women I know on Lagos Island who bleach their skin do so on their own terms without any desire for whiteness and its privileges. Far from self-hatred, these women are so self-possessed they would find the idea of desiring whiteness quite ludicrous. For them, skin bleaching provides the opportunity to change what they don’t like about their appearance, or to further enhance what they find beautiful with cream or ‘concotion'”

But what do they find beautiful? Why do they think being fairer is beautiful? It is simply because the Nigerian society has equated being light-skinned to being more beautiful, sophisticated, tender and better overall. John cites instances from his childhood from the preferential treatment to teachers to adulthood where he felt complimented by fairer women because of his dark skin.
Women have been known to bleach their skin because it has been known to make them ‘more attractive’ and has granted them access their dark skin couldn’t. Recently, makeup artist and beauty influencer Teniola Kashaam opened up about her obsession with being fairer and what she now describes as her ‘journey to melanin’. She revealed that she started bleaching at the age of 19 because she felt it made her more attractive. According to her, “I felt like I looked more attractive…it became an addiction, I just couldn’t stop. I craved so much to be lighter… I felt being black wasn’t beautiful enough…I guess the society we live in played a little role in my decision to bleach my skin.”

Her post, which went viral on Instagram spoke to many as it was relatable with the challenges of being dark-skinned face in a country that thrives on coloursim. Although she was commended for taking such a courageous step in addressing one of the many ills that eat at this fabric of the community, this step is not one a lot of faux light-skinned people are looking to take.

So many people have built their success stories from changing the beauty products they use. Despite the negative effects of this decision, colourism has moved many to the ‘relaxers in tubs’ and despite the conversation to change this narrative, will still be a major source of profit for many established and rising beauty companies.

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