"I've been black and dark-skinned for many years, I wanted to see the other side. I wanted to see what it would be like to be white and I'm happy."
Errrr, say what now?
Last year, South African Kwaito artist Mshoza turned a number of heads with her controversial reason for skin bleaching. Speaking unapologetically to the press, homegirl made no secret of her tale of transitioning from her natural hue to looking in her own shocking words - “Christina Aguilera white."
Her brazen in your face delivery had folks seething mad and ready to call her out on what they believed was an astonishing act of self hate. I agreed, this was some B.S. However, I secretly wondered if underneath all that anger, the reason behind our collective disgust was that Mshoza was holding a mirror back to society – and perhaps, just maybe.. we weren't happy with the image reflecting back?
According to a recent study by the University of Cape Town, one in three women in South Africa bleaches their skin. And it's not just an Africa specific issue, the skin-lightening industry is expected to reach $2 billion this year, with the fastest growing markets in China, Japan and India.
Riddle me this, why is that women (and even some men) are willing to risk potentially fatal side effects all in the name of fairer skin?
Do we as society really believe the old adage of “if it ain't white, it ain't right”? Khanyi Dhlomocertainly thinks so. In her tenure as the editor of True Love magazine, a publication for women for color, she was quoted as saying "it is part of making yourself less black, ripping away at your roots. It is the residual effects of the past, when black was seen as unworthy."
What Africans consider beautiful has always been a complex issue. In some cultures, being fat is a symbol of good life and wealth. As a matter of fact, in parts of Mauritania and Nigeria, girls and soon-to-be-brides are force-fed to make them plump and attractive. Fast forward to 2013, and most young women are dying to be fashion model thin. I cannot for the life of me understand the desire to want to shift from Miss Fat Booty to Miss No Booty. We are hustling backwards, folks. I would be remiss not to mention the effects of colonialism but heck, even white women are paying major dollars to get buttocks, lips and hips like women from Africa, so what gives?
It's no secret that our appearances have been dissected endlessly in popular culture. Remember when Lauryn Hill rapped, “Look at what you be in, hair weaves like Europeans. Fake nails done by Koreans. Come again."
I understand what Miss Hill was trying to convey but let me be clear on this - there is a fine line between changing one's appearance for the sake of spicing things up, versus a blatant form of self loathing. Wigs, weaves, nails, and yes, even plastic surgery (within reason) are totally a woman's choice. After all, she has to live in that body and should be able to do what she wants to make her stay as comfortable as possible. But the buck stops there. Skin bleaching, regardless of race, is unequivocally where we should all draw the line. The risks of infertility, weaker muscles, skin cancer, just simply outweigh the “purported” benefits.
A wise man once told me that where there is chaos, there is opportunity.
For Ghana's Amey Oben, the hectic skin bleaching world has translated to building a booming business empire. As one of West Africa's most successful businesswomen, she has made a fortune with products promoting the beauty of the black skin, at a time when many of her competitors are selling dangerous skin-bleaching formulas. The business she started a quarter of a century ago with around $100 now has an annual turnover of between $8 million and $10million.
There is serious money to be made in the beauty industry. As reported by WWD, Mac Cosmetics recently announced plans to expand throughout Africa using a three-year strategy to include Zambia and Botswana by the end of the year. Let's not let history repeat itself. Yes, I buy Mac products and swear by my Ruby Woo lipstick. But as Africans, let's also feel free to dive into the beauty industry and set the trends on what true beauty means to us. There is room for all burgeoning African cosmetic owners, models, designers, stylists and even plastic surgeons - to play nicely and lucratively in the sandbox.
Makho Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean born celebrity reporter and blogger based in New York City. You can follow her @MakhoNdlovu. To learn more about her, check out her personal blog Makho-Ndlovu.blogspot.com