Skin Lightening in the Black Community

Dencia, an upcoming African musical artist

Dencia, an upcoming African musical artist

 

Hello readers. I thought i’d bring up this old contentious issue about skin-lightening products since the  artist known as Dencia decided to create a world-wide ripple again which highlights (no pun intended) the serious but slow-to-fade  (I know, I know) ideology of skin tone vs levels of human success.

Dencia's 'whitenicious' cream

Dencia’s ‘whitenicious’ cream, looking even more fair-skinned than her current skin tone

 

Dencia, who has been hailed as the Africa’s answer to Lady Gaga is of Cameroonian and Nigerian heritage. She has had increasing success, but I was only made aware of her due to the debate about her fast selling product interestingly known as ‘Whitenicious’ which is claimed to be a seven-day treatment for ‘dark spots’ and hyperpigmentation. Interesting.

 

 

Dencia and her product Whitenicious

Dencia and her product Whitenicious

 

However what has got the media by the throat is that Dencia used to be dark in complexion, but she is now several shades lighter in skin tone and appears completely different to how she looked when she first appeared on the music scene.

Hence with the comparisons of her skin tone and also the awareness of her ‘whitenicious’ product, the old topic of ‘whiter/lighter equals better’ which is born out of slavery, has come up like a fireball and seen Dencia defending her product and the name that she gave to it, vehemently.

Dencia before and after skin lightening

Dencia before and after skin lightening

 

Dencia was interviewed in a BBC ‘Focus on Africa’ report where she was interviewed about her whitenicious product. Before I even talk about what she said, I must admit that she didn’t present herself very well unfortunately. She appeared very defensive, even on the border of arrogant. So even if you wanted to hear her point, it was difficult to. Although on the other hand, all bad press is ‘press’ afterall in the music industry, so I guess from her perspective, all is not lost!

She does however defend herself stating that her product is not for skin lightening, but for hyperpigmentation as it says on the tin. However she was deflecting the point that she herself had used general skin-whitening treatment to make her entire body look different. Even though she is promoting a ‘dark spot’ cream, her message about skin tone in general was undeniable- to be whiter, seemed to make her feel better about herself and her image.

 

She rather interestingly compared ‘perming your hair’ to be on the same level as whitening your skin as if to make out that it was based on the same thought process and was born from the same origin. On one level I agree with her, but permed hair you can cut off. You cannot revert back to your original skin tone after it has been lightened. So thus, it can never be the same in my opinion. She goes on to say that everyone is a ‘hypocrite’- I take this to mean, because most of us in some way change or augment how we look, whether through what we wear, how we do our hair, makeup we use. Therefore am I being hypocritical? Could she actually be right?

Are we too quick to point the finger about body part and skin augmentation. Millions of women are with fake breasts (as she is ), hair weaves (as she is), hair perms, butt implants, lip implants, face lifts, sun bed tans, spray tans…the list goes on. So why are most of these ‘normalised’ but her skin lightning grabs so much attention in the most negative format?

 

 

On the Channel 4 UK interview, Dencia was asked if she equated ‘looking lighter with looking better’- she swiftly and boldly denied this fact, but she argued that changing her skin tone was by her choice and basically no-one else’s opinion matters. She makes points that she is not influencing anyone to lighten their skin, and that she is purely promoting her ‘dark spot’ cream and that is the media that are generating this argument about skin lightening changes and not her. Which she has a point here. This is true.

But what just makes her argument really hit one in the heart and brain, is when she goes on to answer the question of why she named her cream ‘Whitenicious.’ Her answer is that “White means pure”  and that “people don’t feel clean with dark spots.” Hmmm, here I have a profound problem with.

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definitions of white are as follows:

  • Free from colour
  • [from the former stereotypical association of good character with northern European descent]:  marked by upright fairness<that’s mighty white of you>
  • free from spot or blemish
  • free from moral impurity: innocent: marked by the wearing of white by a woman as a symbol of purity (white wedding)
  • Not intended to cause harm (a white lie); (white magic)
  • Favourable, fortunate

Compare these to the definition of black:

  • very dark in colour, having a very deep or low register: heavy, serious (the play with black intrigue
  • dirty soiled (hands black with grime)
  • characterised by the absence of light (a black night)
  • thoroughly sinister or evil: wicked (a black deed)
  • indicative of condemnation or discredit (got a black mark for being late)
  • connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil (black magic)
  • Very sad, gloomy or calamitous (black despair)
  • marked by the occurrence of disaster (black friday)
  • characterised by hostility or angry discontent: sullen (black resentment filled his heart)
  • characterised by grim, distorted or grotesque satire (black humour)
I know that the above are words and definitions. They are what they are. Black will always mean black. White will always mean white,  regardless of the negative or positive connotations. So when dencia says ‘white means pure’- she is right in one respect, but what I don’t agree with is her relation to skin tone and thus her product promotes a change from being “unpure to pure”- and so is the same as her reasoning for her changing her skin using skin lightening treatments. Doesn’t she get it? It’s not just her by any means- there are hundreds and thousands around the world doing the same thing, giving the same futile justifications to using skin bleaching products, whilst being blind to the fact that changing skin colour is self-depreciating and a self-loathing form of behaviour which extends miles and miles further than changing your hair or wearing a weave (although some would beg to differ).  And this is what Phinnah Ikeji of Black Role Models UK alludes to as the counter-argument. Dencia becomes very defensive and fiery in the discussion…you just have to watch the video!
The discussion then goes onto Lupita Nyong’o who gave her speech at the Essence Annual Awards. She’s a beautiful dark-skinned actress who won an Academy Award for Best supporting Actress for the British directed film 12 years a Slave .  Lupita gives an emotional and empowering speech born from a letter from a
Alek Wek, the Sudanese British Model

Alek Wek, the Sudanese British Model

fan who was to buy Dencia’s skin lightening cream but after seeing Lupitas success, decided against it.

Lupita gave ode to Alek Wek and her mother for being inspirational role models as she admits herself that when she was younger she also ‘prayed’ for fairer skin as a result of self-hate that many dark-skinned young girls and women around the world sadly feel. Watch the video and see for yourself (you may need tissues at-the-ready!)
The part the sticks out the most is when Lupita’s mum told her that “you cannot eat beauty” and that  “it cannot sustain you.” Beauty is certainly from the inside. There is no denying that Dencia is beautiful now as she was before. But the point is that she potentially feels even more beautiful with her current lighter skin.

 

 

I thought id add in another video from Cameroon news about this whole argument. It is quite funny!

 

 

 

Now my last note on this is really to say that this argument about skin tone, and ‘whiter meaning better’ has been going on for hundreds of years. Yes, it is born from slavery where being fairer skin also gave you certain advantages and benefits. Yes, images of light-skinned models, musicians, actresses etc is fair more promoted- so it seems in popular culture.

However I agree, it is down to choice. You choose to colour or straighten your hair. You also have the choice to lighten your skin. But to understand the reason why one would choose to do so is far greater than simply ‘because I want to.’ It is much deeper than this whether one chooses to agree or not. A lot of skin lightening products are not safe. Do people know what they are doing to their bodies internally? The damage that it could potentially do can be far worse than you could imagine. I don’t think there is a lot of research on direct links to certain cancers, but anything powerful enough to change your skin tone is something that I would stay away from- which the government agrees, hence why many of these products are actually banned from being sold, although shopkeepers will find a way of still stocking them.

Skin bleaching or lightening is not just limited to the black community. It also happens in the Asian communities and it is for the same underlying reasons. Not related to slavery necessarily, but to the historical thought process that to be ‘whiter’ was equivalent to enhanced beauty, higher class and wealth.

The question is, why is there such a massive argument when it comes to Dencia? Im sure many other artists lighten their skin. The prime example being Michael Jackson. Is it different if it is a woman or a man? Did Michael changing his skin/hair change how you felt about them as a an artist?

The darker-skinned Michael Jackson that we used to know

The darker-skinned Michael Jackson that we used to know

 

The Michael Jackson that most will remember (Still a Musical Genius of course)

The Michael Jackson that most will remember (Still a Musical Genius of course)

 

I guess the bottom line is also that artists such as Dencia become automatic role models, whether they like it or not. They are influential. As are other women and men- who are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and friends. If you decide to ‘lighten’  your skin, you are consciously or subconsciously perpetuating the argument that your darker skin is not ‘good enough’ or ‘pretty enough’ . It does promote self-dislike and hate and it is important that we try and promote more positive messages as Lupita Nyong’o says in her speech. And that is to love and appreciate who we are on the inside, and to strive to battle old and outdated negative thought processes about ourselves so that the younger generation do not continue this self-deprecating way of thinking.

I have nothing against skin tones and its variability. I love that we are all different. I appreciate the human form. I don’t care much in whether you are black or white, mixed-race or  asian- if you are ugly on the inside, then you are ugly on the outside. From my view, one is not better than the other and this is what I will want my children to know.

Although I am realistic that unfortunately stereotypes and discrimination exists which I am not blind to. Conversely to be white/mixed race etc does not make someone less or more worthy. Absolutely no way. It is important that there isn’t this divide between us all. It should never be that in the extremes of thinking, that  a fairer skinned person should feel that they are at an advantage, nor a darker skinned person feel that they are at a disadvantage. I know that that seems all idealistic. But why not look to that ideal? And its this ideal which is down to each of us to perpetuate for future generations.

 

Oprah is one of Lupita's Inspirations

 

3 responses to “Skin Lightening in the Black Community

  1. It’s not fair to attack Dencia when skin whitening has been around for over 500 years in all continents. Also, celebrities aren’t automatic role models. They began and became known by the hard work they have put into what they love. Like your mom and dad, as a fan, you choose which of their practice or ideas you will adopt.

    • True words Vonnie, I agree. Skin lightening isn’t just limited to the Black community. I guess she was an easy target and her frustration made her come across not so well even if she had valid points to make!

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