Stop bleaching away your destiny
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment,… Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty…. which is of great worth in God’s sight.” — 1 Peter 3:3-4(NIV) “God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” — William Shakespeare(Hamlet)
Gwyneth Paltrow once said: “Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin.” We are living in a world where being natural is no longer fashionable, what a monumental psychological loss! Don’t ever bleach away your natural colour so that people will like you; be yourself and the right people will love the real you.
The appalling trend of bleaching among Nigerian youths has become unprecedented and portends a great danger to their future, as most of them have actually bleached themselves irredeemably beyond ‘redemption’. The legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in a sarcastic style that belongs only to him, totally condemned the deteriorating effect of skin bleaching among the Nigerian folks in his album (Yellow Fever, 1976).
He labelled skin bleaching as one of the artificial sicknesses that is ravaging Nigeria and Africa at large, making the ‘bleaching fever’ to be even more devastating, damaging and destructive than malaria fever, Jaundice fever, hay fever and so on. In his typical mix of Yoruba and Pidgin English, the Afro beat legend and his Africa 70 Crew lashed out against the demented way with which Nigerians bleach their skin with blatant impunity.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” We are living in a world where we are so accustomed to disguising ourselves to others that, in the end, we become disguised to ourselves. It is very rare nowadays to see people with unadulterated, natural and authentic beauty. I want to emphatically underline that obsessive bleaching pattern is more than just a skin issue; it is actually a reflection of a deeper problem.
I have at various fora campaigned that skin- bleaching problems are more than skin deep; in fact, it permeates deep into our values and mentalities. It is a cover-up for a deeper psychological problem of unhealthy and low self-esteem. The only thing some people have is facial value, they lack intrinsic worth; your self-worth and not your face-worth determines your net-worth. We must first deepen our relationship within ourselves before we get preoccupied with how we look ‘outside’. There is nothing more attractive than a healthy self-esteem, once you see your own beauty, so will everyone else. The best self-image is not facial; it is the one that is internally motivated.
The global skin lightening industry was calculated at a worth of $10 billion USD for 2015. The products cost anywhere between 50 cents and $150, affordable by everybody, with Nigerians being the greatest patrons. The bleaching statistics is highly alarming especially in Africa. According to the World Health Organisation, 77 per cent of Nigerian women use skin lightening products on a regular basis, as do 59 per cent in Togo, 35 per cent in South Africa, 27% in Senegal and 25% in Mali. These products are also used in Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Tanzania.
These figures seem unusually high, but even if they’re overblown, the problem is more than just cosmetic, it is culturally destructive. It encroaches on our culture, values and heritage. We might really have gained independence from the ‘whites’ but we are really in dire need of mental emancipation and Bob Marley had in a prophetic way delivered this message succinctly long time ago in one of his songs, Redemption song, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind. Have no fear for atomic energy, ‘Cause none of them can stop the time…… Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom? ‘Cause all I ever had, Redemption songs…..These songs of freedom.“
We are actually fighting to free ourselves from modern colonialism; it is actually a classic case of colonial mentality in the post-colonial world. Colonialism didn’t end that long ago. As Africans, we freed ourselves and won our independence, but psychologically we continued to view ourselves through the lens of ‘whiteness’. In other words, we were left with the shackles of colonial mentality. It is not the dark skin that is the problem; it is our dark, jaundiced and uncultured way of thinking. Skin-lightening/bleaching is a problem, but it’s only a sign of much deeper inter-related issues: self-hatred, a race-based identity crisis, and the internalisation of Western-created cultural ideas that are inimical to the mental health of black people.
This internalised form of racism is an invisible presence in our psyches, and some of us don’t even realise it is a factor in how we perceive others and ourselves. The plague of skin bleaching is a classical matter that borders on the issue of identity, self-worth and self-acceptance.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had a vision of a sane world where people will so much focus on the content of their character without jeopardising the colour of their skin. He once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The black pride movement that was pioneered by great minds like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela et al must not be allowed to dwindle in the face of infective globalization. We must definitely be global in expression but we must never globalize our skin. The Black Pride movement celebrating heritage, personal pride, authenticity and afro-centricism needs to be consciously and actively injected into expressions of pop culture by artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers. In the face of acute self-degradation, we must not allow our sense of self to be distorted through a white lens.
Skin bleaching comes in different forms, so are the side effects. Its attendant side effects can be short or long-term and most times are irreversible. Those with little resources use the soaps, creams and powders which are common in the market. Others prefer steroids that bleach the skin from the inside. These substances contain high level of hydroquinone (above 2%), mercury and acids that suppress the enzyme responsible for producing melanin. Melanin is the substance that gives the skin and hair its natural colour. It protects the skin from Ultra Violet rays. Melanin is produced to darken the skin when exposed to the sun for extended period of time to keep the body from burning.
Fortunately for blacks, the skin produces more melanin than light-skinned or white people making us less susceptible to skin burns and skin cancer resulting from UV rays exposure. The side effects of using these bleaching substances are life threatening. They include: thinning of the skin that results in poor health, skin infection and surgical failures; skin cancer, leukaemia, kidney problems, premature aging, mercury poisoning, pungent body odour, permanent skin discoloration and allergies. In some cases psychiatric and neurological problems are associated.
Many ladies, women and men have become victims of their own uncontrollable and obsessive addiction to toning and bleaching of their natural skin to the extent that they have lost touch with their natural selves. I am reaching out to the African and Nigerian youths to be more comfortable in their natural skin. Stop depending on your facial worth in order to get people’s acceptance, be secured from within, and put more effort into building your self-esteem and stop spending too much time on things that are ephemeral and transient. I am advising the Nigerian youths to be more comfortable in their own skin, real beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.
Fredrick Douglas said, “I prefer to be true to myself even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence”. I dedicate this piece to all the African queens that have vehemently refused to join the mad and demented race of skin bleaching, we have been inspired with your flawless, natural and exquisite beauty! I look forward to your comments on today’s publication because I would really love to publish it next week in the YOUTHS WITH PURPOSE column. Please send your brief comments to 08053139316 or firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and location. I sincerely welcome your diverse opinions. Watch out for the second part of “STOP BLEACHING AWAY YOUR DESTINY”.