This is why African women feel the need to change the colour of their skin in spite of the health risks
Following the hullabaloo surrounding Blac Chyna's upcoming trip to Nigeria to launch a bleaching cream, we take a close look at the main issue here - colourism in Africa.
On November 20, 2018, she took to Instagram to announce the launch of her special product - 'Whitenicious X Blac Chyna Diamond Illuminating & Lightening Cream' - in collaboration with Whitenicious which is created by Nigerian and Cameroonian singer, Dencia.
Chyna's collection claims to restore the skin's 'natural glow,' reducing 'the visibility and intensity of age spots by lightning their appearance' and 'improving the appearance of dull, discoloured skin by visibly stamping out unevenness to leave the complexion illuminated.'
This has resulted in an outrage online with many accusing the model and mother of two, Dream and King Cairo, of preying upon colourism, a deep-rooted problem among black women.
Colourism in Africa
The term was coined by writer Alice Walker in her 1983 book "In Search Of Our Mothers' Gardens."
It is a skin tone bias that negatively affects the way people of colour see themselves and how they are perceived by others. Manifested mostly through beauty standards, it results in the lighter skin being regarded as being more beautiful and essentially better than darker skin.
Deeply rooted in slavery, it goes as far back as the 19th century when Hegel's "Philosophy of History" depicted a black person as a wild animal who needs to be saved by a white individual. Due to this bias, many women, even some men, feel the need to bleach their skin.
77% of Nigerians use bleaching products on a daily basis, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). This makes Nigerians the highest users of bleaching creams, followed by Togo with 59%; South Africa with 35%; and finally Mali at 25%.
This is in spite of the official bans in many black countries and public awareness campaigns carried out because of the dangers associated with these creams. They include a form of hyper-pigmentation which causes the skin to turn to a dark purple shade and blood cancers like leukaemia.
Why African women feel the need to change the colour of their skin
In an attempt to understand why African people ignore the health risks associated with bleaching, Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa reached out to Clinical Psychologist Toyin Alatise-Abimbola.
According to the founder of PsychNG Services, a psychology outfit in Lagos State, the need to change one's skin tone is an indication of something deeper.
In her words, "Altering one's appearance may be an indication of more pathological problems such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder or body image dissatisfaction . This may be a sign of non-acceptance of one's cultural background due to the belief that the only standard of beauty is those defined by European ideals for instance."
The Clinical Psychologist further explains that body image goes way beyond the physical appearance.
She tells us, "When most people think of body image, they think about aspects of physical appearance, attractiveness, and beauty. But body image is so much more. It's our mental representation of ourselves; it's what allows us to contemplate ourselves. Body image isn't simply influenced by feelings, and it actively influences much of our behaviour, self-esteem, and psychopathology."
Abimbola continues, "Our body perceptions, feelings, and beliefs govern our life plan - who we meet, who we marry, the nature of our interactions, our day-to-day comfort level. Indeed, our body is our personal billboard, providing others with first - and sometimes only - impressions. Low self-esteem and fear of negative evaluation has been shown to be a core element of body image dissatisfaction, according to the research by Alatise (2016)."
Solutions to negative body image
In the interview, she goes on to proffer solutions to negative body image, the root of colourism.
The PsychNG Services founder notes that treatment for BDD or negative body image can be treated by the following therapies:
This is a type of individual counselling that focuses on changing the thinking (cognitive therapy) and behaviour (behavioural therapy) of a person with body dysmorphic disorder. The goal is to correct the false belief about the defect and to minimize the compulsive behaviour.
Certain antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are showing promise in treating body dysmorphic disorder, as are antipsychotic medicines (either alone or in combination with an SSRI).
3. Group and/or family therapy
Family support is very important to treatment success. It is important that family members understand body dysmorphic disorder and learn to recognize its signs and symptoms.
While it is understandable to be mad at the likes of Blac Chyna, it is important to remember that this is not the solution to colourism, which remains a major issue for the African community.
We need to completely erode the idea that lighter skin is the standard for beauty by denouncing the stereotypes and prejudice against the dark skin.
It is time to put an end to bleaching by constantly celebrating and embracing our beautiful, enviable, melanin popping dark skin #BlackGirlMagic.
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