I have always thought skin bleaching was a lame topic to talk about and to even sit down and write about, until West Africa happened to me. Beauty is way beyond ones colour and texture of hair, but the demand of skin lightening products such as Yes to Soleil Sunlight & Perfect White, popularly known as Yaram Weex in Wolof, left me with a lot of bewildering questions.
It has been months since I came back to the Southern African region and have never shared my version of events while I was in Senegal, the country I call my second home. I will not take away the real spirit of Ubuntu I felt in that beautiful country and the amount of love the people have. But, I still stand in awe at the obsession that people have to be lighter than their palms, all in the name of beauty. In all this espionage, what exactly is the definition of this yearning that society seems to be chasing for?
Being my first time in West Africa, I do not remember noticing the well architectured Mosques on arrival in Dakar the capital of Senegal. The humid and dry air left me baffled as I couldn’t function properly with the higher levels of heat. Unfortunately, I arrived in the country just at the period when temperatures would go as high as 50 degrees and running water would need ice for one to bath. Beauty products billboards bearing South African public personalities such as Lira, Connie Ferguson and Sophie Ndaba, were common place. At one point I thought I was back in Southern Africa.
A few days later I was in a public transport travelling to the Kaolack Region, where I was going to be based for the rest of my stay in the Land of the Teranga. I couldn’t help but notice the lady sitting next to me; she kept on fiddling with her hands and also looking at my arm. At one point I thought something was wrong with me, I looked up and smiled frequently. In a very soft spoken French accent, she asked, “Quel produit utilisez – vous?” meaning, what product do you use? At first I was confused at what she meant by, what product I used, until I realised that I was lighter than everyone in the vehicle. I become aware of the effect that climatic patterns have, my complexion being the proof.
The lady, whom I later learnt that her name was Awa, went on to compliment my skin and admired on how beautiful it was. I was in awe, as my shade was nothing amazing from where I came from, so I thought. The short conversation we had continued playing in my head during the 6hour journey and the billboards along the road continued telling a different story of Senegal.
A few weeks later, I had a conversation with a group of gentlemen I worked with on why skin lightening products were excessively available in stores and shops across Senegal. Not that I have never seen them in Zimbabwe or other parts of Southern Africa, yes I have, but they are kept secretly. I had noticed that a lot of women had daintier faces and very dark knuckles, legs and the rest of the body parts not visible to the public. Being a Muslim country, it is religion for women to cover themselves with a veil, but many who indulge in skin lightening have also subscribed to wearing a veil over their heads so as to protect their facial skin from the heat.
The conversation took an interesting turn which evoked an ideology that is often mentioned in our modern society. For a woman to be considered beautiful, she has to be slim, have long hair and light skinned, amongst many other perceived factors. Just like the billboards I had seen, their definition of beauty was that light complexioned woman. The conversation was supported by the other gentlemen indicating that, they actually encourage their wives, sisters and daughters to bleach their skin, it is beautiful, they would say. Besides, their religion obliges them to be submissive to their husbands and male figures; hence they go through this redundant journey of bleaching.
I am still stunned at the amount of effort women go through in West Africa, just to look light. Despite that there are a lot of side effects when one bleaches and later on badly does so in an extremely hot weather condition, that does not matter to any of them.
Do I blame them, NO I DON’T. We have been brainwashed through the media and I strongly believe that society has a role to play in fixing this mess. Even on the streets of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, young men are bleaching their bodies to look fair. This issue is not about insecurities, but to a certain extent, pop culture has also brought a new sense of belonging. In spite of that, there is need to emancipate individuals from inclinations that have led us to forget who we are. The shade of one’s skin surpasses the definition of beauty, when you have it inside you, it will eventually shine through your core. It’s beneath what we see.
Picture Credit: Google & Gilmore Tee
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