I recently listened to an NPR report called the “Dark Side of Being Fair,” which talked about the $20 billion skin bleaching industry. The segment also talked about how Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o discussed at a recent event the subject of beauty, skin color to be exact. The actress talked of a recent fan mail she had received from a young girl who said she was happy to see someone dark-skinned like Lupita become popular in Hollywood. It turned out that the young fan was thinking of buying a skin bleaching cream to make her skin lighter. With Lupita’s fame and recognition, the girl started to doubt her decision to make her skin lighter. Lupita then talked about how she too felt unattractive in her youth. It’s hard not to feel this way when you are bombarded with media images that glorify traits that do not reflect or resemble your own features.
Why do so many of us who have darker skin tones want to be fair? Are society and the media to blame for portraying that lighter is better? At the same token, why do so many fair-skinned women risk the possibility of skin cancer by laying outside for hours?
Personally, I was teased non-stop as a child for being darker than my siblings and cousins. I vividly remember one uncle who would joke about my skin color by pretending he could not see me. Every time I saw him, he would sit on the chair that I was sitting on and ask everyone in a mocking tone, “Is there anyone sitting here? Really, Myla is sitting here, I don’t see her.” The adults in the room would just laugh along with him, not wanting any conflict. His jokes continued until my teenage years. As a child, I felt like that there was something wrong with me and who I am was not good enough. It was not until later that I started feeling better about myself, largely due to my college boyfriend.
I think the scary part of this whole skin color/skin bleaching business is not simply the emotional damage it inflicts but also the physical harm. Hydroquinone, an ingredient in many skin-bleaching products, is quite strong and a potential carcinogen. Why should anyone want to use something that can cause cancer on their skin?
So to my darker-skinned sisters, I say let us all make a promise to love our natural skin color, be proud of who we are and stop pretending what we are not. Let’s not allow society define our true worth. Let’s use all our energies to pursue something more substantial and less superficial.