What Is Skin Lightening? I Want To Know

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I was in the shop the other day and heard the strangest thing from my friend, B. As we were getting our nails done, B and the manicurists started talking about this thing called skin lightening. I have to admit, I have never heard of it before.

This is strange, you may think, because I am African American and come from a background of women who have always grumbled about the shade of their skin. I don’t really want to get into the nitty gritty details of race and all that, but as you can imagine, it’s a point of contention for many people like me.

skin lightening for africanThat’s why I was surprised to hear about this thing called skin lightening. Oh, I suppose it’s not that surprising. People have been wanting to change their skin tone for thousands of years. I’ve heard of Asian royalty making their skin lighter long before the white Europeans showed up.

I think in some cultures having white skin meant that you didn’t have to work outside. Kind out of like how being fat meant you got to eat a lot and didn’t have to work hard. Both things were status symbols that we don’t think of as much today.

So I was intrigued by what the women were talking about while nails were being done. Heck, even having my nails done is a status symbol. It means I don’t have to work in the dirt and have the luxury of being idle. In my case it means I work a desk job that is mostly filing and typing, but I’m sure a lot of manual laborers would love to have my job instead of theirs. I can’t blame them. I would feel the same way.

Of course this whole thing about skin lightening also has me thinking about the perception of skin tone for people who already have alabaster skin. You know, pale people are often encouraged to become darker, usually by tanning. For them, being dark is a status symbol of being able to go on vacation and not be cooped up in an office all day.

Skin lightening Cream for African womenSome people would say this makes us equal, but I don’t think so. There’s a huge difference between being able to work inside out of the blistering sun and being able to go out and enjoy said sun whenever you wish. You can’t ignore the power imbalances when it comes to this sort of thing.

That’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about skin lightening lately. Not for myself, but what it means for people (especially women) like me and those they try to emulate. I hear that this sort of thing is very popular in West Africa, especially in Nigeria.

I guess a lot of the big actresses and singers over there endorse skin lightening creams, and women buy it in droves. I find the whole thing utterly fascinating. Since I haven’t been hearing about it much until recently in my life, I’m wondering what else I’ve missed out on around the world.

So now I ask myself, “What is skin lightening?” Is it something that makes a political statement, or is it something that will only harm us in the long run? That is something that I cannot answer on behalf of anyone else. In truth, I don’t think many people can answer that question honestly without representing some sort of bias. That’s how we are as humans. Absolutely biased.

I am also looking into the various ways people lighten their skin. It seems that the biggest method is by using skin creams that are supposed to gradually change the color of your skin over time. Now I admit that it doesn’t make much sense to me. Why would you put those chemicals on your skin and possibly poison yourself? It can’t be good for you.

skin lightening creamI’ve read that there are many “toxins” instead those creams. I just can’t imagine willingly putting out the money to slather my natural skin in chemicals that do nothing for my health. At least other skin creams are meant to treat conditions that are bad for you. Last I checked, my darker skin was not one of those things.

I suppose that I will never truly understand what is at play here. After all, I am only hearing about this phenomenon later in life, when I am confident in who I am. But I bet that there are a lot of young people out there who are getting mixed messages about who they are and who they should strive to be. Not to mention who they should look like.

We’re being told that we have to be lighter. That being dark isn’t a good thing. Of course, I also believe that people should make their own decisions about their bodies, and that includes what skin color they want to be.

In the end, I am at a crossroads. I want people to be able to safely change their skin tone if that’s what they want, but I would also like for them to be able to make informed decisions about it. Why are they doing it? What will it accomplish? Will it get them something good? Certainly they think so. After having this conversation in the salon today, I have aa lot to think about as well. I think we all do.

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