However, despite the fact that Africans and other black populations seek for beauty in whiteness, the bleaching phenomenon in Africa is also associated with local ideologies of race than with attaching value to whiteness. Also, one might depict the desire for whiteness within the framework of individual benefits and self-identity.
On a serious note, the fashion and beauty industries have won the heart of their customers worldwide because they know exactly what they want. They are extensive and well established commercialized brands/industries; this shows that it is something that is widely accepted yet the practice of skin bleaching at an individual level is to an extent largely perceived negatively. This is a kind of paradox that revolves around the controversies of skin bleaching; this is very true in Cameroon as well as in other black African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and DR Congo.
Many people tend to find products to solve facial problems like pimples and end up bleaching their bodies. I observed that even natural glycerin bear brand names like “Clere”, with contents like moisturizer, soften dry skin, removes dark spots among others. This is what consumers are looking for in these products. The manufacturers of these bleaching chemicals always warn customers to stay away from the sun because their exposure to direct sunlight may make the chemicals ineffective and may equally cause hyper-pigmentation. Like the case in Cameroon, Jemima Pierre ascertained that these precautions are very important and because of the hot climate in Cameroon and other African countries, it is easy to identify someone who bleaches especially the poor
The beauty bleachers yearn for through the practice of skin bleaching has so many ramifications to the individuals; many bleachers have suffered burns on their bodies especially those who wished for an instant transformation and thus make use of lotions with very high levels of hydroquinone contents. This is very dangerous to their skin layers because it makes the skin to become lighter, softer and ‘fragile’ as I can describe it. A simple fall may leave lifetime scars on the bodies of bleachers. At the end of the day, the beauty one sought for in whiteness has become a burden; many bleachers come to be aware of this only after they must have suffered the dangerous effects.
Also, bleachers in Cameroon suffer from prolonged wounds resulting from cesarean operations or accidents on their bodies. When operated upon, it takes longer for their wounds to heal as compared to someone who is not bleaching. Furthermore, it becomes like a stigma, a social hazard in which the society’s perception about the individual changes automatically. Those who bleach are usually ridiculed in the open especially poor women who use the most local means to be white in complexion. More often, bleachers are considered prostitutes who are said to bleach because they want to attract customers. Worst still is the fact that bleachers are said to have body odor. I observed that many people especially women who were bleaching their skin and decided to stop, becomes darker than they were before they started the practice. For those who bleach, if bleaching could maintain the light color even when they stop the process then it could have made some sense, but it becomes unusual that immediately you stop the process your complexion changes. Thus, I term bleachers as “faces behind the mask”, this is because they are trying to put on a new look which is like a mask per se while their true selves hidden behind these masks.
In view of these negative connotations towards the practice of bleaching, many Cameroonians who bleach their skin tend to shy away from this term “bleaching”. I have come across so many Cameroonians who lighten their complexions but refuse to accept that they are bleaching. This single act of refusal shows that they are ashamed of what they are doing, and that they understand the importance of the natural black color. This does not imply that naturally light skinned Cameroonians are not true Cameroonians. Of course they are true black Cameroonians because they were born naturally light skinned and did not artificially bleach their bodies to become light.
Most Cameroonians I have come in contact with regards to this issue of bleaching and who are actually bleaching have never accepted that they are bleaching their bodies even though everything seems very visible. Instead, as a means to shy away from the term bleaching, they use “softer words” such as “polishing” or “toning”, this is the same case in other African countries. The concept of polishing and toning becomes very important in this study because it helps to reveal the diverse meanings and reactions behind skin bleaching among Cameroonians. On a subjective note, these concepts are borrowed from descriptions from natural body lotions such as Cocoa-Butter Palmers, Vaseline, Nivea, Dove, and Olay.
The aforementioned analysis reveals that skin bleaching in Cameroon and in the rest of Africa and other black populations is a practice perceived negatively, the question to be asked is whether the phenomenon of skin bleaching can be treated as a comparative fashion or as one of the many body interventions of contemporary beauty trends like tanning, tattoos, hair ironing, hair coloring, anti-age creams, plastic/cosmetic surgeries, and breast enlargements amongst others? Certainly without any doubts, I affirm that to an extend skin bleaching is just one among the many fashion trends in contemporary times. Like cosmetic/plastic surgery, these practices have very dangerous health and socio-cultural and psychological impacts to the individuals. The phenomenon of cosmetic and plastic surgery can be situated in a larger framework in which women’s bodies have become a technological experiment in Western culture. Thus, it is important to “keep it natural”, “be natural”, “act natural”, and “look natural”, by accepting and maintaining who you really are… as per Vicky’s concept. In this light, I rest my case…!!!
By Akame Gerald For BaretaNews.