Last week I bumped into an old friend I met in the 90s, but could hardly recognise her.
She initially waved at me, but I could not figure out who she was and then she decided to cross the road to greet me after realising that I had not responded accordingly.
I just couldn’t believe what I saw. The woman’s skin tone had changed from dark chocolate brown to light caramel colour.
The first question that I asked was: “What have you done to your skin?”
This is a woman who was much darker than me when we were neighbours at some block of flats in Avondale. She was a beautiful woman who had lovely ivory teeth and dimples that everyone so admired.
Why then did she decide to colour herself that way, to the extent that I could see blood veins underneath her skin?
She didn’t expect such a question from me and all she said was that everyone in the city is doing the same.
The notion of light complexion as being sexually attractive (compared to dark skin) which influences some skin bleachers points to colonial values about beauty and sexual attraction in contemporary Zimbabwe that the black physicality is ugly.
“But it is not called bleaching for nothing — bleaching involves removing the melanin pigment of the skin. Melanin absorbs ultraviolet light, thus protecting humans from harmful UV radiation. Using chemicals to lessen the concentration of melanin is one of the most common forms of potentially harmful body modification practices in the world.
“Active agents in skin bleaching products include hydroquinone, steroids (of which there are many types, with different potencies), mercury, lemon, citric acid and even cement water. I know of a woman to overcome ‘Fanta face, Coca-Cola body’ would soak her feet in concentrated Jik,” says African Science Heroes, a website on the Internet.
But why are women doing this?
Prophetess Ruth Makandiwa, wife of celebrated charismatic preacher Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa who is the founder of United Family Church International (UFIC), at a meeting dubbed Glorious Night which was targeted at women about two weeks ago, spoke at length about how women had stooped so low in their quest to look lighter.
She also showed a film about the devastating consequences of using skin lightening creams which seem to be a trend in the whole of Africa, Jamaica and other parts of the world where there is a concentration of black people.
But one point that she raised was the fact that women were actually the ones that drive fellow women into bleaching their skins.
Prophetess Makandiwa said women pass comments about how black other women are and urge them to find “solutions” for their dark skins.
There is a belief that lighter-skinned women are beautiful and hence some models and some well-known personalities in Zimbabwe have resorted to colouring their skins to look “attractive”.
But no matter how much you bleach your skin, the knuckles on the fingers somehow don’t change colour.
“Misuse of hydroquinone (found in products like Body Clear, Fair White, Peau Claire) paradoxically leads to blue-black darkening of the skin, ie, increased pigmentation in the skin called ochronosis. In the United States and European Union, over-the-counter sales of products containing hydroquinone are banned.
“Over-the-counter versions of Fair & White contain 1,9% hydroquinone, but bootleg versions are being sold with 4% to 5%,” the website says.
However, these products find their way into Africa where there is even a larger market for these products. Although Zimbabwe has banned these skin lighteners, they still find their way through the porous borders of the country and hence the problem persists.
What some smugglers do now is that they squeeze these skin lighteners into familiar body lotion containers to evade immigration officers at border entry points, and repackage them into smaller units when they arrive their destination for resale.
There is a huge market for these products in Harare with some being sold on the streets and at Mupedzanhamo Market in Mbare. Some of the popular brands that are sold are known as Lemon-vate and Carolite.
“Long-term uncontrolled use of products which have steroids can lead to increased risk of skin infections, fungal infections, scabies, hypertension, elevated blood sugar, skin thinning, poor wound healing, acne and permanent stretch marks!
“Mercury is the most harmful culprit found in products like Lemon Herbal Whiting Cream (misleading or what?), Lulanjina, Diana and Fasco. Topical use can lead to mercury poisoning; the symptoms are memory loss or forgetfulness, headache, emotional instability, fatigue, inflammation of gums and mouth. In most cases if not discontinued it leads to kidney damage and psychiatric problems,” the website said.
There is a comment posted on the website and this is what the reader who is called Butterscotch had to say:
“Well, I have the best of both worlds. I am a brown-skinned black who turns high butterscotch during winter and dark milk in my coffee during the summer. Recently, I did an experiment and bought green contact lenses and dyed my hair blonde. And, yes, I got more attention from all types of men even the most racist couldn’t deny their attraction to my gleaming clear brown skin.
“There is self-hatred in the black-skinned races and if a person wants to capitalise off of others’ ignorance or self-hatred, I say go for it. But know that black skin doesn’t age the way fair skin does and if you strip your skin of what makes it youthful (melanin), it will age quicker. So love you no matter what because and while you may lack in one department, you may trump in another department,” Butterscotch said.
So is it true that light-skinned women attract more attention than the dark-skinned ones?
Let’s hear your views.