By – Faith Gaplong
Black is beautiful has become a very common phrase that is popular in this day and time. In music, social media, books, movies and anywhere there’s a gathering of millennials. It would interest you to know that it has not always been a common sentiment. First things first, why are people dark or light skinned? What is responsible for the color of the most prominent features of the human body; skin, hair eyes and so on. That would be melanin; a broad term for the natural pigments found in organisms. The most common type of melanin is eumelanin which is found in people with dark skin — black people. According to the evolution theory, dark skin is believed to have developed in light skinned early hominid species because they moved to places — savannas, which were too hot for their bodies to handle basically. As they moved from the equatorial rainforest to the sunny savannas, they gradually became darker. Why then is this pigmentation seen as inferior? Melanin to a very large extent protects the body from the following: damages to the body caused by harmful UV rays of the sun, skin cancer, folate depletion and macular degeneration, hearing loss among other things are least likely to happen to people of color.
Today a lot of attention has been given to skin color prejudice and the damage it has done regarding beauty standards. The first question that should be asked is perhaps; what fuels this perception of beauty? Skin color bias has existed long before I could comprehend it. As a child I noticed that light skin was perceived as beautiful generally, especially in women. Admittedly, as a child I used to ask God to make me fairer so that I could be beautiful sound familiar? If you have never noticed it or have learned to ignore it, good on you! Why? You would ask should a child think or feel that way. Where does this come from? The leftover white supremacy that leaked into our culture and a multi billion dollar beauty industry built on skin color prejudice that has given life to colorism in societies far and wide. Everywhere I went all I saw on TV, posters, billboards were models; with skin shades ten times lighter than mine. They were often used as the face of beauty and success.
This prejudice was created and strongly strengthened by colonialism, in the dozens of countries ruled by a European power. They put forward the notion that rulers are fair skinned every where in the world. The powerful could stay indoors while the less privileged worked outside and were dark skinned. Globalization also has a hand in the promotion of this bias. An interesting Spread of whiteness has crossed over from the US to shopping malls in other countries, featuring white models; you can trace this back to colonialism, post colonialism and globalization. Western beauty standards like white skin, dominate worldwide. These ideals have given raise to products to service them. In Nigeria, too many women use skin lightening products; also in Togo and other parts of Africa. In recent times the largest and fastest growing market is in the Asian Pacific region!
Historically, in many parts of Africa, women with lighter skin are seen as more beautiful and likely to find more success than women of darker skin tones. Often this obstacle leads to women turning to skin whitening treatments, many of which are harmful to the body. The origin of skin lightening takes its roots in colonialism, where individuals with lighter skin received greater privilege than those of darker tones. This put in place a racial hierarchy and color superiority within colonized African nations, leaving psychological effects on many of the dark skinned individuals. Colorism affects both genders in African countries, but it has control over the beauty standards related to a woman’s ability to find success and marriage. The number of women across African countries using bleaching agents have gone up with up to 77% of Nigerian women, 59% of women in Togo, 52% of Senegalese women and 25% of Malian women.
There are many dangers associated with the use of skin lightening products. A good number of skin lightening treatments target the skin’s ability to produce melanin. Every human being has roughly the same number of cells that produce melanin, but how much you actually produce depends on your genes. Leaving your natural melanin alone entails that, your dark skin is more likely to develop fewer wrinkles and the risk of you getting skin cancer is less. Skin lightening products often aim to drastically reduce the production of melanin in the guise of generally improving the skin. They may consist of natural ingredients like liquorice, soy or arbutin, sometimes combined with the chemical lightening agent hydroquinone. Not all creams contain: hydroquinone which is potentially a cancer causing (carcinogenic) ingredient. Products containing it are outlawed in Ghana, Australia, South Africa, the Ivory Coast, Japan and the European Union, although they are still being used illegally. Mercury has also been previously found in some whitening creams and soaps, according to the World Health Organization. Mercury subdues the production of melanin, but can also cause harm to the kidneys and brain if it is absorbed through the skin and accumulates in the body. Other whitening methods include; chemical peeling and Laser treatments. Chemical peeling involves the removal the top layer of the skin. This exposes the sensitive layer of the skin to harmful solar radiation and environmental pollutants. Laser treatments can present more damage; the process breaks up the skin’s pigmentation.
Whether or not this issue has come to your notice, the world has started taking a step in the right direction. This change could not have come any sooner. Dark skin is celebrated, seen as exotic and cannot be shamed openly anymore. Dark skin is going places in society, places where decades ago it could only dream of. Although there is still an undercurrent of fear, inferiority and shaming, the very little progress that has been made speaks volumes in the direction of positive change. Young dark skinned people need more role models that inspire them to have pride in the magic of their melanin. For the magic in your skin, that beautiful shade that embodies twilight and night has and may continue to inspire fear and scorn from others. You must also notice that it inspires strength and a boldness that is laced in your individuality. Whether you choose to like it or not, it is part of your identity. YA