There has been an unspoken, unending personal struggle faced by dark-skinned African women. “Black is beautiful” is a phrase so used that it has almost become hackneyed.
Last year, Beyoncé released a collaborative track with Wizkid off her critically-acclaimed “The Lion King: The Gift” album. This track was well-received, especially among dark-skinned African women. The reason for this is not far-fetched.
It is an observation that dark-skinned African women sometimes seem to subconsciously view their female counterparts with lighter hues as the epitome of beauty, and this stems from the internalised idealisation of everything with a semblance of “white”.
Hence, “Brown Skin Girl” was widely celebrated because it seemed that, for the first time, someone, and not just a random person, a celebrity who has attained demi-god-like status, popularised the pride of the demographic that has been made to feel inferior over time due to the success and rifeness of skin-lightening products.
Now, Khafi of Big Brother Naija, upon disclosing that she turned down a multimillion-naira ambassadorial deal with a skin-lightening brand because of her principles regarding skin confidence, brings this topic to the fore once more.
And although this conversation might not be the sweetest one to have over coffee and cookies, evading it might not exactly be favourable as well. It is not a fabricated idea that most entrepreneurs who specialise in skin-lightening products tailor their advertisements around the insecurities of dark-skinned women.
They often write: “lighten your skin in 7 days and become beautiful”, with a “before” and ‘after” picture of a woman whose skin colour changed from dark to fair in less than a week. Some others term the “after” effect of their product as “glow”. They write: “now, her skin is glowing”.
This promotes the notion that perhaps women have to become white or fair-skinned to be termed “beautiful”. And isn’t this an offshoot of the ideology planted in our minds since time immemorial that black is inferior to white?
Perhaps this is also from the notion that portrays black as negative and white as positive. Interestingly, people who exhibit this bias often do so subconsciously. It is not always a premeditated affair.
However, it still creates a ripple effect in the sense that not only would light-skinned women subconsciously think of themselves as more beautiful, dark-skinned women would also subconsciously develop an inferior view of themselves.
The understanding of this dynamics is what informs the appreciation of the aptness of Khafi’s disclosure. The deal came with an enticing amount undoubtedly, but she weighed the effects of her accepting the deal in relation to the principles governing her brand image and decided to relinquish the offer.
Certainly, this does not tamper with her right to choose to become a brand ambassador of the company, as we have seen a lot of African female celebrities go-ahead to sign endorsement deals with skin-lightening brands and even become skincare entrepreneurs specialising in skin-lightening products.
It is not about questioning their choice to promote skin-lightening products per se. It is more about questioning the underlying concept that implies that light-skinned women are more beautiful than or should be favoured above, dark-skinned women. It also has to do with the inferiority complex that disturbs some dark-skinned women to the point that they do not rest until they find a product that promises them a total transformation.
At the risk of sounding condemnatory, it is important to highlight the validity of choice. Personal choice remains legitimate, whether or not it is conventional. And choice, in some cases, may override sincerity of purpose. This, however, does not diminish its legitimacy in any given situation, including this.
This is just to arouse the consciousness of the underlying concepts that govern consumer choices, especially as it relates to skin lightening. Perhaps we might later come to recognise that some of our choices are not independent of pop culture and subtle media representation.
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