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Beauty in Darkness

Published in the issue.

When it comes to beauty standards in America, race plays a large part. There are many dimensions to this, but here I will explore the subjects of dating, skin bleaching, and dark-skinned celebrities.

 In the dating world, dark-skinned women are considered the least attractive. An article by Centric confirms that women with “middle eastern” features are the most attractive, with “one in every two men writing back” to them on dating sites.

Light-skinned women like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Tinashe fit the middle eastern mold, while dark-skinned women don’t, causing shunning not only in the outside world but sometimes also in their own communities. This rejection directly correlates to low self-esteem, and a desperation to fix what a person can’t control. You might think the fix is impossible, but you’d be wrong: skin bleaching is massively popular in countries such as Jamaica and parts of Africa, where many use it as a daily regime.

In stores, bleaching treatments are usually hidden among skin products explicitly targeted at Black women. In 2013, a BBC article titled “Africa: Where Black is Not Beautiful” [1] reported that one in three African women bleach their skin, and while some do it for medical purposes, most do it because they “want to be white.” The article focused on Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi, a musician

Nomasonto Mnisi: Before and after skin lightening.

in Cape Town, South Africa, who was dark-skinned until she bleached her skin to feel “more beautiful and confident.” Mnisi pays over $590 to get high-end lightening treatment and says it is no different than plastic surgery. “I’ve been black and dark-skinned for many years,” she says, “I wanted to see the other side. I wanted to see what it would be like to be white, and I’m happy.” Many people with dark skin do this, and their number grows by the day. “Over the past six years, there has been a significant increase in the number of skin lighteners flooding local markets,” the article quotes researcher Dr. Lester Davids of the University of Cape Town as saying, “some of them legal and some illegal.” Meanwhile, a Cape Town dermatologist reported seeing patients from all over Africa who needed treatment for a condition called ochronosis that is associated with skin-lightening creams, which can lead to chronic inflammation, joint pain, and osteoarthritis. “There is very little we can do to reverse the damage,” the dermatologist told the BBC, “and yet people are still in denial about the side-effects of these products.”  It is largely a question of low self-esteem—something that Mnisi confirms. “I am happy now,” she said—but her happiness is based on being artificially light-skinned. And that is sad.

It is the same for men. When the BBC article was published, Congolese hair stylist Jackson Marcelle had been bleaching his skin for ten years with special injections, but the self-hatred started much earlier as his mom used creams to bleach his skin at a young age. Now nicknamed Africa’s Michael Jackson, he said “I like white people. Black people are seen as dangerous; that’s why I don’t like being black. People treat me better now because I look like I’m white,” he continued, “I pray every day and I ask God, ‘God why did you make me black?’ I don’t like being black. I don’t like black skin.” This is a common thread for many dark-skinned people. They feel self-hatred because of their looks, and it leads to extreme action such as bleaching. But where does the self-hatred originate from? Some say they had it their whole life, but it could be from what they see on television.

Dark skinned Celebrities

Rihanna – “Light-skinned women like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Tinashe fit the middle eastern mold, while dark-skinned women don’t.” Photo: Wikipedia.

Many dark-skinned celebrities such as K. Michelle, Rihanna and even Beyoncé have bleached their skin to be more desirable, although many onlookers don’t notice the change, as it’s done subtly and incrementally, without much attention. This kind of thing has been happening for years now, producing more of a desire among dark-skinned people to achieve white beauty standards—which in turn leads to more and more insecurities.

Final Thoughts

In spite of all this, I believe that we are making progress towards a more inclusive world, although we are nowhere near where we need to be. To get there, we need a healthy dialogue. With positive attitudes and open minds, we can create an environment for expansion of thought and communication which can eventually lead to a solution to all the discrimination and pain we face as Black and Brown people. I have faith that I will be able to see this world in the coming years.

For there is beauty in darkness. Don’t let the light dim your shine as you glow best being you, being true and being bright.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-20444798