What defines a beautiful person or an ugly person is based on one’s subjective perspective. The motivation on this issue stems from a very interesting and educative discourse by Vicky Fokala on the concept of keeping it natural – “the natural beauty” contest she made earlier in Cameroon. But come to think of it, how many women in Cameroon per se keep it natural these days? The practice of skin lightening has been cropping up as a means to look good!
Skin lightening is a practice by which women, as well as men, use various chemical and cosmetic agents such as creams, pills, soaps and lotions with hydroquinone and mercury contents in an attempt to lighten or whiten their skin color. The practice of skin bleaching is common within communities of ‘color’ such as India, the United Sates, South America, and within black populations in Jamaica and predominantly in Africa. Scholars who examined issues related to the skin bleaching phenomenon acknowledge historically the predominant influence of colonialism, black enslavement and global white supremacy over their colonies. A famous social scientist Jemima Pierre noted that “the desire for skin lightening is less about becoming white and more about becoming less black in other to gain certain social, cultural, economic and political resources that pertain to being white”, thus the practice of skin bleaching tends to revolve around the supremacy of the white color.
The desire for a white skin only makes sense against the background of colonial experience, this notion of beauty and whiteness is therefore articulated within the framework of colonial experience. Many people particularly those of the black populations tend to have some form of inferiority complex based on their body characteristics like skin color per se. The importance of the body was well described by Frankz Fanon (1952), in his book titled “Black Skin White Mask”, where he described how the colonizers used his body to construct the notion of blackness. His body was used as an illustration for blackness and inferiority, unlike whiteness which connotes superiority.The notion of white superiority is more than a collection of solely white people because it is a system in which many people participate and as an ideology; many people behave, think and operate according to it and in many ways uphold whiteness.
In Cameroon, “looking good is good business”, this is a famous local slogan common among young girls and boys who loves fashion and yearns for latest beauty tips via social media and from friends especially from those in the Diasporas. Experience with these young people being aware of these fashion trends is an asset and a privilege. When we talk about fashion, we mean latest designer bags, clothes, shoes, bracelets, anklets, human hairs, and more importantly lotions. Here, we lay emphasis on “lotions” because it is the bone of contention in this article. Every young girl wants to look beautiful and every woman wants to remain young and beautiful “tousjour jeune” as it is locally known in Cameroon. To remain young and beautiful pushes many into lightening/bleaching their complexion. The skin bleaching practice is more common among the Ewondo’s in the Centre Region of Cameroon. We presume they perceive lighter skin as being more beautiful to the darker skin.
As earlier mentioned, the skin bleaching lotions contain chemical products like hydroquinone and mercury. These products when applied on the body, reduces the production of melanin in the dark skin by killing melanin producing cells thereby resulting in a lighter complexion. Despite the fact that the actual process of bleaching is very expensive, labor intensive, often dangerous, the number of skin bleachers is still on the increase. This implies that the skin bleaching practice involves huge sums of money needed to purchase the various products and lotions for mixture into the bleaching cream. Considering the fact that some of the young women in Cameroon who practice skin bleaching are students, lowly paid employees, unemployed, farmers and petty traders, many find it difficult to afford these lotions. This brings about the practice of other deviant behaviors like prostitution (selling bodies for money), in order to make money and buy these lotions.
Most bleaching products that saturate Cameroons market with relatively moderate prices come from neighboring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. Caro Light is a bleaching cream commonly used in Cameroon, it is a product from DR Congo and it is very affordable. However, the side-effects (stretch marks, wrinkles, burns) are very dangerous particular when mixed with the serum and bathing soap. This brings me to the comment made by a friend on Facebook addressing so-called Mrs. Caro Light. Other lotions used include white-express, rapid Claire, fair and white, HT 26 product from France, among other varieties.
It is common place to find local retailers in Cameroonian markets who mix bleaching creams for costumers at very expensive prices ranging from 10.000 Francs or more. Of which 10.000 Francs can buy about two sets of medium sized natural body lotions like cocoa-butter palmers, nivea or dove per se. More interesting is the fact that, when you go to these retailers, they will ask what kind of method you want; whether the super fast, fast, or normal bleaching method. For those who want instant transformations, they go in for the super fast or fast method. What seems intriguing and ironical about this issue is that these lotions once you stop using them or you skip a day without using them, your complexion starts to darken. It must be used/applied daily, thus it becomes like a daily routine, a ritual, and a prescribed medication for the people who practice it.My question now is what happens to the black color “true African color”? From a subjective note, a true African man or woman is tall, well-shaped, strong and above all dark in complexion. These bleachers (those who bleach their skin) are in a way denying their black identity by seeking beauty in “Western mirror”!!!
To be continued
By Akame Gerald For BaretaNews