AN OVERVIEW OF SKIN BLEACHING PRACTICE IN AFRICA
Immersed in a culturally diverse environment, I became less ignorant about what's happening around the world and more aware of my privileges....
Immersed in a culturally diverse environment, I became less ignorant about what's happening around the world and more aware of my privileges. Last week, I went to an open discussion about the skin bleaching practice in Africa, held by my African friends, to know more about their life. I felt the urge to expose this problem so that's why I put my effort into researching, making this article. Enjoy.
THE UBIQUITY OF THE PRACTICE OF SKIN BLEACHING IN AFRICAN COUNTRIES
Skin bleaching is a practice that you use chemicals to lighten your skin. People would buy skin bleaching cream to apply directly to their skin, or go to designated venues for professional application. Recently there appeared another method of getting one’s skin lightened, which is by injections. The practice is extremely popular in Africa: data collected by the WHO demonstrates that 40% of African women regularly use skin lightening products and bleaching creams. The number reaches 77% of the women in Nigeria and 59% in Congo. When you relate this number to your closeness, the number becomes drastically huge as with every 3 of your friends, 1 person bleaches their skin.
I remembered vividly my friend saying that she grew up when everybody else around her was doing it. It was, and still is, extremely easy to be part of that cycle. Moreover, the impact from black celebrities who bleached their skin is not to be neglected. The brightest pop star Michael Jackson, the retired baseball player Sammy Sosa or rapper Nicki Minaj - whatever the reasons why they decided to bleach their skins - all have a certain influence on why young people continue to damage their skin.
People don’t have to pay a fortune to get access to skin lightening products. Such cosmetics are everywhere: from online, like Amazon, to the most remote grocery stores. Another fact to mention is that there is no age limit or any restrictions in general to hamper the consumption of skin bleaching products. A little girl, as long as she has the money needed, can do the purchase and get herself whatever kind she wants. However, little do people know that hidden behind the ubiquity of the skin bleaching practice is the billion-dollar industry, puppeteering the consumption and assumption of people.
THE HARM OF SKIN BLEACHING PRODUCTS TO THE HEALTH OF THE PEOPLE
Yet, people have to pay a high price for bleaching their skin. How skin bleaching products work is that they destroy melanins of your skin, which is the factor determining your skin color. In common knowledge, in order to adapt to the heated weather in Africa, genetically the body would produce more melanin to protect them from the sun and the harmful UV rays.
The products contain many harmful chemical ingredients such as mercury, hydroquinone, which can remove the outer layer of the skin, exposing the bare skin to the outside environment, thinning and showing the blood vessels and gradually leading to skin cancer. They do this by stripping the melanin of the skin, which accounts for the reason why this process is described as “the biological equivalent of paint stripper”.
“The modality for these products used in skin bleaching in Africa varies by age group as well. While the older generation prefers lotions and creams, the younger generation opts for injections and pills such as glutathione capsules. More concerning is pregnant women’s use of glutathione capsules to manipulate the skin tones of unborn children.” - Skin Bleaching in Africa and Public Health (The Borgen Project).
The effects of skin bleaching are displayed on many levels. Some might show the trace of burns, scaling, scarring and boils. Worse, the practice would lead to the skin discoloration, also known as exogenous ochronosis, or blue-black pigmentation of the affected areas causing disorder from deep inside and disrupting the equilibrium, which make it impossible for the skin to go back to the original color once the users overuse the products. The more serious consequences can be blood cancer, kidney cancer and liver cancer.
THE CONCEPT BEHIND
There exists a huge and complicated history and way of thinking behind the practice, yet I will try to make all of it come together.
The history of skin bleaching can be traced back to Western colonization and the transatlantic slavery trade towards Black people. It is straightforwardly a legacy of colonialism that has endured time. Although slavery was abolished completely from the world from, its consequences are still visible today, causing a lot of people to struggle and suffer, even without knowing. Skin bleaching can be said to be one of them.
However, does the color really matter? As far as I know, there is this phenomenology that one of my friends from Norway told me. In Norway, tanner skin is favored over lighter skin and is often associated with higher social status and preferences. It boils down to the fact that people whose skin is lighter are workers who work during the daytime in factories - that’s how they get their light skin, while the advantaged people have time to have sunbath to get the tanner skin. That is to say, color is never the core problem, but rather, an socio-economic system that runs beneath the color of the skin.
“To justify racial slavery, slave-holding interests espoused a white supremacist ideology which held that persons of African descent were innately inferior to whites. Whiteness became identified with all that is civilised, virtuous and beautiful” - an American Sociological Newspaper explained. Whiteness or lighter skin in general is often associated with high social ranking and a lot of other privileges and preferences. The problems get worse when the false belief is internalized by people who suffer from it. As I delved more into the circumstances, I was heartbroken to witness the blatant disparity and inequality between the light skinned people and those with darker skin. Because of your skin, you won’t get the job. Because of your skin, we don’t trust you with this job. Because of your skin, you are less preferred. This makes no sense.
There are more happening around the world than we could ever imagine. Skin bleaching is such a huge problem in Africa specifically and as well as around the world yet not only after travelling half the globe did I know about this phenomenon. As a youngster, I know that there are multiple problems of the modern world that I can dedicate myself to resolving.
Skin bleaching also leads me to the realm of colonialism and what’s left after such a bloodshed history (post colonialism). Really hope I could educate myself more on this matter.
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