Race, identity, Body Dysmorphia and the Nigerian Woman

One of the most used beauty brands on the continent, Dove, came under fire for their most recent advertisement.

There were four frames in this advertisement. In the first two frames was the image of a dark skinned woman taking off a dark brown t-shirt, and the next two frames shows the top changing from brown to white, and the woman changing from black to white.

You’re black? … Better as white.

This was not the first time Dove will be advertising their products in such a manner. One of their body lotions proclaimed that it’s for a range of skin colours from dark to ‘normal’.

…because black skin is abnormal

Racism is the new ‘normal’.

About two years ago there was an outrage over another advertisement, this time from an Asian country, in the short clip, a woman dips a black man into a washing machine, sprinkles soap on him, shuts it and by the time she re-opens the machine, the dark skinned man had turned into an Asian, an Asian with white skin.

Up until about eight years ago, when Taofick Okoya started a new line of doll business, African Queen Dolls, the only kind of dolls you can get on the market were white skinned, they were slim and had blonde hair, luxuriously long, blonde hair, these were the toys that a majority of black girls grew up playing with. Cartoons, advertisements, even down to customer care services in banks and other major corporate bodies, white skin or at the least, fair skin, with long, luxuriant tresses are touted as the standards of beauty.

“Why doesn’t your mama wash you with Dove Soap?” … you dirty little girl!

As at 2016, available data estimated the beauty and personal care industry at about 595 milion dollars. The millions of dollars translates into thousands of cream that promises to transform the skin with unabashedly racist names like Whitenicious, Fair and Brite, Carotte Whitening Serum and so forth. There are whole websites dedicated to the ‘best practices’ of skin bleaching. The contents of these whitening creams include Hydroquinone, Kojic Acid etc, substances that are harmful to the skin, on the long run. Although with the advent of the #blackgirlmagic movement, which started in America and is being embraced by women of colour worldwide, there has been a rise in the number of women eschewing bleaching, and spotting their natural hair. One of the horrors suffered by Nigerian women who carry their natural hair in either dreadlocks or afros is being confronted by strangers wanting to know why they’ve decided to carry dirty and smelly hair about. On-air-personalities, actors, musicians, boldly promote skin-bleaching creams and injections.

The whiter you are the higher your social ratings.

Except for a few actors like Adesua Etomi, the only time Nollywood portrays African Hair in movies is when shooting a film about pre-colonial Nigeria, and there are times they’ve been able to sneak in a weave… or two. The message being passed to the black woman, on a daily basis, is that white is the standard for beauty, white and preferably thin, with long blonde tresses, so you’re encouraged to try yourpossible best to attain this standard in order to be appealing. There’s no way we can discuss the politics of hair and beauty without touching on the subject of mental health, particularly body dysmorphia. A young lady recently took to a blog to share her heartwrenching tale of trying to stop bleaching. She claimed she would stop for a few months and then start again. In most parts of Nigeria, the one of the signifiers of wealth and good breeding is skin colour. In most social gatherings the lighter your skin is, the higher your value is. And since marriage is the highest achievement of women in this society, fair skinned women are in higher demand on the marriage market. However, its not all gloom and doom, the #blackgirlmagic movement is gaining momentum, particularly amongst professional (educated) women, who are gradually coming into their own and realizing their self-worth.

The antidote to all these is an increase in the number of dark skinned people shown on our tv screens and used on the covers of magazines. There’s also a need for cheap and accessible toys that are truly representative of the diversity of skin shades. We also need to take control of the narratives of beauty (which has started and presently gaining momentum) and most importantly encourage the boycott of products, like Dove, that demeans black womanhood.

  • Ayodele Olofintuade

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